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Reduce, Reuse, Recreate: Renaming Leftovers

Leftovers have a bad rap -- the name, for starters -- but they can be the building blocks behind fantastic dishes in no time at all.

So, that's it.  It's over.  All that planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and even (hopefully!) cleaning up.  Even if you took your time over Thanksgiving dinner, the meal was eaten in a jiffy compared to the time it took to prepare; and though this is true of most meals, it seems glaringly obvious when everyone has taken time off from work just to focus on food.

This can be a little depressing; especially if, like mine, your family prepared way too much of everything, and you now have a fridge stuffed full of leftovers.  (By the way, I'm pretty sure I have you beat: my parents cooked two turkeys, one of which we didn't even touch Thursday -- 11 people, but lots of side dishes to distract us from the tender smoked meat.)

Thanksgiving leftovers, however, are one of the great joys of life.  Leftovers in general are, in fact.  Despite their name, which implies they aren't wanted, many dishes are actually at their best the next day and need only gentle reheating before you can enjoy them all over again.  (Or, in the case of the time-honored tradition of pie for breakfast, cold is good too.)

But what if you don't want to enjoy them all over again?  Well, with a little clever disguising and some extra ingredients you probably have on hand, you can create a week's worth of dinners out of your Thanksgiving extras.  

Turkey Sandwiches

This humble tradition is only obvious if you let it be so.  Consider:

  • Vietnamese: quick-pickled slaw (toss carrot shreds with vinegar and pepper; re-toss every 10 minutes for an hour at room temperature), cilantro and sriracha on a baguette.
  • Indian: add a few spoonfuls of spicy-sweet chutney. (I adapted MB's Number 10 as follows: 12 oz. dried apricots, 4 cups water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 3 knobs ginger, 1 red chile, 1/2 cup raw sugar.  It was a huge hit.)
  • Mediterranean: spread with soft cheese (Brie, chevre) and instead of lettuce, use basil leaves.

Frittata

In case you still haven't tried this, it couldn't be easier: saute an onion in butter, add diced chunks of ham or turkey and whatever vegetables are left over or unused from the fridge.  Heat through, then cover with a blanket of beaten eggs; cook over low heat until almost set, then top with cheese (your choice) and place under the broiler until bubbly.

Thanksgiving Shepherd's Pie

This is genius: I've been making it almost ten years now.  Press dressing into the bottom of a pie plate, creating a "crust."  Layer on turkey and vegetables. Pour gravy over and top with mashed potatoes, smoothing to create a seamless crust. Bake until heated through with a golden top.  Why didn't you think of this?

Turkey Salad

Again, look to different culinary traditions for a refreshing change.  Start with a mayonnaise base; stir in seasonings, then enough chopped meat and vegetables to keep the dressing light. Serve over a green salad.

  • Far East: toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar; bean sprouts, chopped orange, red bell pepper and scallions
  • Indian: curry powder; chopped pistachios and golden raisins
  • Maryland: Old Bay and chopped celery (okay, maybe not so different here.  But can you blame me?)

Monte Cristos

There are so many variations on this theme that I'll just give you my favorite and let you riff as you will.  Make some French toast by dipping stale bread in beaten eggs with a generous splash of milk and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  Fry in equal parts butter and oil until golden; top with whole-grain mustard, thin slices of turkey and ham, and Gruyere cheese (Swiss works, too.)  Broil until bubbly; spread another slice of French toast with cranberry sauce and add to the top. Serve with pickles and a Belgian beer.

Potato Pancakes

Start with leftover mashed potatoes; add grated cheese, scallions and ground pepper.  Form small cakes, dredge in flour and pan-fry in equal parts butter and oil over low heat, about 15 minutes per side.  (Be patient here, or they'll fall apart and / or burn.)  While they're cooking, toss your leftover green beans almondine and let them come to room temperature; add a splash of tarragon vinegar and serve as a cold salad.  (Or make a new version from one of these recipes.)

Soup

Start by putting the whole turkey carcass in a pot; cover with water and boil for an hour.  Remove any edible pieces of meat and continue until liquid has reduced to your desired volume and proceed with my  for detox after a week of heavy eating: shredded turkey in rich, nourishing broth with soba noodles and tofu, topped with sliced radishes, carrots and watercress.

Meg Tipper November 27, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Thanksgiving left-overs shepherd's pie is absolutely genius because when do we go to all the trouble to make the individual ingredients that go into that classic comfort dish? Thanks for that one, now I have dinner all ready for tonight!
Sharon Stanton November 28, 2011 at 01:46 PM
sounds great to me. already do the turkey noodle soup with the thinnest noodles i can find. Add a bag of frozen sliced carrots, some onion & celery and parsley too. Makes a nice big pot. freeze some for later use. also fix cream turkey - along the lines of how you would fix creamed chipped beef gravy - only use the leftover turkey in place of the shredded chipped beef. Great for breakfast over toast and or a quick dinner meal - add a green veggie.

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