When you’re looking for tips and recipes that help you decide what to do with turkey leftovers, remember that turkey is a bland meat. This means you can incorporate turkey leftovers into most recipes – from a healthy American-style soup to Italian lasagna to an Indian curry salad.
Leftovers – turkey or not – can be a delicious, inexpensive way to serve lunches and dinners to your family. If you often struggle to use leftovers, read Love Your Leftovers: Through Savvy Meal Planning Turn Classic Main Dishes Into More Than 100 Delicious Recipes by Nick Evans. Each main dish will have eight to ten creative recipes for leftovers. So, if you make a turkey for Thanksgiving, you can then make Turkey Tortilla Soup, Creamy Turkey Pesto Pasta, or Turkey and Dumplings another night.
The following tips on what to do with turkey leftovers are from Victoria-based writer, Janet Caplan. Her ideas will help you figure out how to use the other leftovers – cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc – and spark your creativity whether it’s the first turkey dinner you’ve ever cooked, or the 100th. I’m not a big fan of turkey (or most meat, for that matter!), so I’m grateful that Janet is talking turkey here
7 Turkey Tips – What to Do With Leftover Turkey
by Janet Caplan
Thinking about family gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday brings food to mind…and mounds of it. There is always an interminable selection of side dishes and desserts, but at its core, taking center stage, is the great bird itself, the turkey. Most of us have a tendency to purchase a turkey that far exceeds the appetites of our guests, so we are inevitably faced with the age-old question of what to do with the leftover turkey.
Often we revert to standard issue recipes for turkey leftovers such as turkey-a-la-king or old family favorites like Turkey Club or Reuben sandwiches. There are so many more recipes and tips for turkey leftovers to tempt your appetite! Remember that your imagination is limitless. Turkey, being a bland meat, mixes well with any variety of vegetables, spice combinations and even fruit. That being the case, you can incorporate turkey into most cuisines and favorite food dishes.
Like most of you, I don’t have a great deal of free time and flipping through cookbooks for turkey leftover recipes can be a slow process, especially if I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. Not so the internet where all I have to do is come up with a phrase or question (eg, “what to do with turkey leftovers?”), and ask Google.
Here are some ideas for that turkey that might appeal to you for the day after the big meal…or the day after that.
Turkey Vegetable Soup
As a soup lover, I’ve always looked forward to making some sort of turkey vegetable soup with my leftovers. Admittedly, I haven’t been all that adventurous since my recipe is a pretty basic meat, potato, and carrot type of soup but I’m ready to branch out and try something new.
Note from Laurie: I recently started making my own soups at home, with whatever leftovers we have in the fridge. It’s so easy — I just use a soup base such as Bob’s Red Mill Soup Mix to start, then add vegetables, noodles, rice, leftover chicken or turkey, and even apples! Using a soup base is a super easy cooking tip, especially when you feel like you don’t know what to do with turkey leftovers.
For a real home style turkey soup start from scratch, using the carcass and making your own stock. Add celery, carrots, potatoes and maybe some leftover vegies from the big meal. Or how about rice as an alternative to the potatoes? Either way, you’ll have a great bowl of soup for lunch or supper.
Many other delicious but somewhat less ambitious takes call for prepared chicken stock as their base. You might like the Turkey, Dill and Orzo Soup – it’s a creative way to use turkey leftovers.
Turkey Waldorf Salad With Cranberry Sauce
One of my personal preferences is a Turkey Waldorf Salad a la Thanksgiving. I add cold leftover turkey and cranberry – whether in the form of whole berry sauce or dried cranberries. Either whole cranberries or dried cranberries works with leftover turkey, since I just love the combination. On my Turkey Waldorf Salad I combine apple, walnuts and celery over a bed of leaf lettuce. This salad makes a perfect lunch, and helps solve the problem of what to do with turkey leftovers.
My salad contains two apples, diced, a couple of sliced celery stalks, about ½ cup of toasted chopped walnuts, my turkey and cranberries and depending on what I have on hand and what I’m feeling like. I also incorporate some raisins, maybe some almonds and sunflower seeds. The dressing is really simple: ½ cup each of sour cream and mayonnaise and 1 tsp of lemon juice. Mix the whole thing up and serve on a bed of leaf lettuce. Very easy, very good way to use your turkey leftovers.
Main Meals With Turkey Leftovers
Leftover turkey is often accompanied by a variety of leftover side dishes. Try putting some of those vegetables to work with your sliced turkey in a Shepherd’s pie that uses up some of those sweet potatoes and peas.
Pasta is another great go-together with turkey. Shredded turkey can be added as part of a vegetable layer in lasagna, as in this suggestion from Turkey Lasagna Recipe. Or, add leftover turkey to cheese, such as in the Food Network’s recipe of Roasted Turkey Lasagna.
And of course you can always just take one of your current pasta recipes, such as for a turkey primavera or a turkey tetrazzini. Simply add your leftover turkey and some of those vegetables you’ve put away in the fridge.
Turkey Hash With Eggs
Some of the old familiar stand-bys are good ways to know what to do with turkey leftovers. For instance, a turkey hash with eggs, again incorporating leftover vegetables if you wish, makes a filling breakfast or an appealing brunch dish. A turkey Reuben is a great choice for lunch and so is a turkey/cranberry clubhouse sandwich.
Turkey and Corn Enchiladas
How about some leftover turkey and corn enchiladas…just as easy to make as that sandwich but with a bit of a kick. Other tempting lunch or supper dishes with that added heat might include a turkey gumbo that not only uses up some of that turkey, but andouille sausage as well.
Turkey and Black Bean Chili
Try a cumin, chili powder and oregano spiced turkey and black bean chili made with wonderful ingredients such as pumpkin, peppers and tomatoes.
Freezing Your Turkey Leftovers
Obvious for sure and simple enough but freezing your leftover turkey should be done properly in order to maintain moisture in what can already be a dry meat. Seal the deboned turkey meat in freezer bags or containers with a bit of gravy or broth to insure that it doesn’t dry out. Leftover turkey frozen this way should be fine for a few months.
Limitless Possibilities for What to Do With Leftover Turkey
Turkey leftovers are one of those foods that can be used in a multitude of ways. Sure there are countless recipes and ideas available in books and online but your imagination can be your best resource. Leftover turkey is easy to incorporate into a dish you make on a regular basis: maybe it called for beef and tomatoes. Change it up for turkey, broccoli and a cheese sauce or try it with mushrooms and scallions in a white wine sauce over rice.
The turkey dinner is not only about the main event…it’s about knowing what to do with the turkey leftovers to their best advantage. Enjoy some inventive fun incorporating them into your meal plan over the following days.
For more turkey tips, read Hostess Gift Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Janet Caplan is a Canadian writer living near Victoria on Vancouver Island. In addition to the variety of anthologies that include some of her personal essays and slice-of-life pieces, she is currently working her way into fiction via a collection of linked short stories set in her fabulous part of the world.
Janet’s writing about her life, her beautiful natural surroundings and her cocker spaniels has also appeared in several magazines, journals and online. Visit her Author’s Page at Amazon for a list of her work. She has contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Kitchen Table Stories, What’s Your Story?, Holiday Writes, and Seasons of Our Lives.
If you have any recipes or tips on what to do with turkey leftovers, please share below…