Transforming Thanksgiving Leftovers

So it’s the day after Thanksgiving and your fridge is exploding with a mangled turkey carcass, half a pan of stuffing, gobs of gelatinous cranberry sauce…and you’ve got no idea what to do, right?

Don’t microwave another paper plate filled with stale leftovers.  Transform the leftovers into something different and better!

 Turkey Meat

Tamales Coming from Texas, Mexican food is always at the forefront of my mind.  What I do with virtually all my leftover turkey meat is convert it into tamales, which I then freeze in preparation for a Christmas Eve tamale feast.  (This is a tradition in Mexico.)  To make your turkey meat into tamale filling, simply chop it up and mix it with some finely chopped onions and garlic, along with generous amounts of chile powder and cumin.  If your turkey was a bit dry, you can solve this problem by making a roux with 4 Tablespoons of butter and 4 Tablespoons of flour.  When the flour begins to turn golden, add 3 cups of hot milk and stir until it begins to thicken, then add a cup or two of shredded pepper jack cheese and stir until it melts.  Then stir this cheese sauce into your turkey/onion mixture which will keep it moist and yummy.  Follow the directions on the back of a package of masa harina for tamales, which is available at most grocery stores these days in either the Latino foods section, or with the flour.  (You can order it on the internet or get it at a Latin American market if your local grocery store doesn’t carry it.)  Then take corn husks that you’ve soaked in hot water for a couple of hours, spread on the masa, place the filling in the center, and roll it up!  There are lots of YouTube videos on how to shape tamales…it’s very simple.  And since I usually have lots of nieces and nephews around at Thanksgiving, all those extra hands make short time making tamales!  Steam them for an hour, then let them cool.  Eat some fresh, and freeze the rest for Christmas!

Enchiladas Any recipe for chicken enchiladas converts beautifully to work with turkey.  Make a similar filling for the tamales above, except add 6 cups of milk to the roux and melt 8-12 oz of pepper jack into it.  Instead of mixing the cheese sauce into the filling, take corn tortillas and dip them into the warm cheese sauce for a few moments, then put some filling into the center and roll up the tortilla.  Place the enchiladas into a long pyrex cooking dish.  Pour the remaining sauce over the top.  Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Yummy!

Flautas/Taquitos This is a great way to use leftovers, particularly if you deep fried your turkey, because you’ve probably still got a giant pot of oil sitting around.  Even if your turkey was full of cajun spices, these translate easily into Mexican food.  Make the same filling for tamales including the cheese sauce.  Fill corn or flour tortillas with the filling, roll it up and poke a toothpick through to hold the tortilla in place, then deep fry in 375F oil until golden brown.

Egg Rolls Turkey meat makes delicious egg rolls…another great way to reuse fry oil if you’ve fried your turkey.  Don’t worry about Cajun spices, either, it will just make the egg rolls taste better!  Get egg roll wrappers in the refrigerated part of the produce section in your grocery store.  Fill the wrappers with diced turkey, sliced cabbage, scrambled egg, and shredded carrots.  Deep fry at 350F until golden brown.  I like to dip my egg rolls into sweet chili sauce, which is usually available in either the Asian section or the marinade/salad dressing aisle of the grocery store.  (Or make your own!)


Regardless of the type of stuffing you made, stuffing makes the most delicious filling for omelets!  Just reheat the stuffing in the microwave so it’s warm.  Then fill your omelet with it.  If you like, also add crumbled bacon, a dollop of sour cream, and some shredded cheese.  You won’t BELIEVE how good this is, and a 3 egg omelet filled with stuffing is a MASSIVE meal for one person…it can even be served for dinner!

Cranberry Sauce

I encourage you to make your own cranberry sauce.  (Here’s MY recipe if you want it.)  But even if you have that nasty can of gelatinous ooze left over, crush it up with a fork to improve the texture.  Toss in some diced banana or apple, maybe a few chopped up pecans or walnuts.  Now you’ve got yourself a DELICIOUS topping for pancakes or waffles (particularly pumpkin gingerbread pancakes!).  Heat it up and use it as crepe filling.  Or top vanilla ice cream with it!  YUMMY!

Turkey Carcass

A picked-over turkey carcass makes delicious stock, which you can immediately turn into any number of soups, or freeze in ziploc bags in 2 cup amounts for use throughout the winter.  If you have a pressure cooker that will hold the carcass (you can cut it up a bit if you need to), fill it with water (but not over your max fill line) and toss in carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, (no need to peel anything) and process at full pressure for 30 minutes.  If you’re using a stock pot, cover the turkey bones by a few inches, add your veggies, and simmer (NOT boil!) for 2 hours.  Strain off your ingredients and throw them away.  Now you’ve got a perfect stock!

You can immediately turn that stock into a hearty soup, either a turkey with veggies and dumplings, or my personal favorite, tortilla soup!  TO the stock, add your leftover turkey meat, some sliced carrot and potato, roasted poblano peppers, and simmer until the carrots are just crisp-tender.  Then throw in some diced onion and garlic and simmer for 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin.  Then thicken by adding masa harina a few Tablespoons at a time until you get your desired thickness.  Serve it with crisp tortilla chips on top, along with sour cream and shredded cheese or crumbled queso fresco.  Delicious on a cold Black Friday after hours of shopping!

These are just a few simple suggestions.  I know that you have your own go-to leftover transformations, so please share them with us by commenting below!

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