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Leftovers: Thanksgiving's Legacy

11/26/10 5:55PM
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When your holiday dinner is over, what's left can be an exciting inspiration for several original meals. The VPR Table offers a few ideas for how to re- energize your Thanksgiving leftovers. This VPR program offers inspiration and practical advice to all of us who prepare food and enjoy eating. What's your recipe strategy when you're fridge is full of leftovers? Listen Friday at 5:55pm during All Things Considered or Saturday at 8:55am during Weekend Edition.


Think you've got too many Thanksgiving leftovers? Think again!

The replay of Thanksgiving dinner - the turkey and all those trimmings - is possibly better than the first time ‘round.  You are not exhausted, or dealing with family dynamics, or worried about stains on the tablecloth.  One of the beauties of enjoying that second, reheated, Thanksgiving dinner, is that you are lounging around in sweat pants and watching a rerun of "The Sound of Music."

But...then what? After that satisfying meal, all the good stuff - gravy, stuffing, pie - is gone. You are left with a few straggly green beans, a spoonful of cranberry relish, and a very large carcass.   

If you are an old-fashioned sort of cook, you will pick that carcass clean, chop up the meat, whip up a white sauce, and produce turkey croquettes, pot pie, or turkey Tetrazzini. If you are an old-fashioned sort of cook, whipping up a white sauce is a snap.

If, however, you just want to use up the turkey with a minimum of fuss, the turkey sandwich is the way to go.  Chef Emeril Legasse published a grilled turkey sandwich recipe perfectly adaptable to localvore Vermonters: a layering of goat cheese, turkey and cheddar on sourdough bread. Dee-lish!

If you are kind of sick of turkey, and sated by the whole, heavy gravy, stuffing, pie-with-whipped-cream experience, you may want to go for lighter fresher flavors. Make a tortilla soup from turkey, cilantro and avocado, or one inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asia- fish sauce, lemon grass and lime.

There's a recipe for a complex fruit mole in "Daisy's Holiday Cooking," by Daisy Martinez, that is perfect for simmering with leftover turkey. Use the turkey and mole a as a filling for tortillas, tacos or enchiladas.

And, while you are munching, don't forget to give thanks...for the leftovers.



The bread, goat cheese, garlic and Cheddar can all be local...even the tomatoes, parsley and spinach if you buy from certain growers.

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

4 slices hearty white bread (such as sourdough)

6 ounces soft, mild goat cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 and 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 ounces spinach, thick stems removed if needed

8 thin slices tomato

8 to 10 ounces leftover roast turkey, sliced

4 ounces sliced sharp or extra sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and place the nuts in a baking pan. Roast until fragrant and toasty, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside.       

In a toaster oven or toaster, lightly toast the bread.

In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon garlic and the lemon zest. Mix well and set side.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft, about 4 minutes. Move the mushrooms aside and add the spinach and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until the spinach has almost completely wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the contents of the pan and set aside, draining off any extra liquid.

Position a rack close to the broiler element and preheat he broiler.

Spread the goat cheese mixture evenly over the bread. Sprinkle the walnuts on top. Add 2 slices of tomato and divide the turkey evenly, arranging it over all. Divide the mushroom-spinach mixture

Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 1 minute. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 sandwiches

Recipe adapted from "Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast," by Emeril Lagasse (HarperStudio, 2009)



For topping:

canola or other vegetable oil, for trying

6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, cut into thin strips (aim for matchstick-thin)


For the soup:

6 cups turkey or chicken broth

4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 or 2 chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce (see note) minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 (14 to 19-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 cups shredded cooked turkey

salt to taste

1 ripe avocado

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 lime, cut into wedges

Make the topping: Line a platter with paper towels and set it aside.  In a saucepan , heat about 3/4-inch of oil over medium high heat until it registers 350 degrees on a fry thermometer,  or until the top looks wavy. Working in batches, add about one quarter of the tortilla strips and fry until golden, 35 to 45 seconds. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the tortilla strips and drain on the prepared platter. Immediately season to taste with salt. Repeat with remaining strips, adjusting the heat as needed.  Allow to cool, and use within 3 hours.

Make the soup: In a large pot, bring the broth, garlic, chipotle(s) and pepper to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the chickpeas, turkey, and salt to taste.

Meanwhile, peel and  dice the avocado.

Ladle the soup into heated bowls and garnish with the avocado, cilantro, and tortilla strips. Set a lime wedge on the side of the bowl and invite diners to squeeze it over the soup.

Yield: 6 servings

Recipe adapted from "300 Sensational Soups," by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds (Robert Rose, 2008)



This recipe is made for shrimp. Substitute shrimp for turkey. Add the shrimp shells to the water and lemongrass tops when you first bring the water to a boil.

3/4 to 1 pound shredded, cooked turkey

3 stalks lemongrass, green tops trimmed off and reserved, white bulb pounded flat and cut into 1-inch lengths (see note)

1 15-ounce can straw mushrooms, drained (see note)

5 lime leaves (see note) or zest of two limes

1 small tomato, cut into thin wedges

1 large green onion, thinly sliced

1 and 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup bottled fish sauce (see note)

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

chili oil, to taste (see note)

About 3 cups cooked white rice

In a medium saucepan, cover the lemongrass tops with about 4 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, strain the broth and return to saucepan. Discard lemon grass tops.

Add the lemongrass pieces, straw mushrooms, lime leaves (or zest), and tomato to the liquid in the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 4 minutes. Add the turkey and simmer  until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the soup into a serving bowl or soup tureen. Add scallion, bean sprouts, lime juice, black pepper, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes.  Spoon rice into bowls and serve soup over rice. Pass around a bottle of chili oil.

Note: most of the ingredients marked (with the exception of lime leaves) can be found in the Asian aisle of the supermarket.  Asian markets are, of course, an excellent source.

Yield: 6 servings

Recipe adapted  from "The Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking," by Binh Duong and Marcia Kiesel (Prentice Hall Press, 1991).


Marialisa Calta is a nationally syndicated columnist, food editor and cookbook author. For her latest book, "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the Modern American Family" Marialisa traveled around the country interviewing working parents about the whys and hows of getting food on the table.




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