Recipe Inspiration: Liven Up Your Thanksgiving Leftovers with Ideas from Around the Globe
The classic recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers are often as good as the main meal — if not better! But if you’ve fallen into a rut, consider these twists on classic leftover recipes to add a bit of spice to your weekly menu.
I’m not sure what I look forward to more each year: Thanksgiving, or the Thanksgiving leftovers. Whether you prefer to eat them layered between freshly-sliced bread for a classic turkey sandwich, reinvented in a belly-warming leftover casserole, or simply microwaved for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner redux, one thing is certain — the feeling of plenty lasts for days after the main meal. And days … And days …
As delicious as your Thanksgiving meal was, even the best of dishes can get tiresome after a while (turkey salad, again?). Here, we share some of our favorite classic recipes to use up your leftover turkey, then take inspiration from cuisines around the world to provide alternatives that are sure to wake up those tired taste buds. Pack your bags and join us as we take our all-American meal on a (turkey) trot around the globe!
Take Stock Of Your Plans
Regardless of how you plan to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers, consider your first stop non-negotiable. Forget the Black Friday sales; it’s time to make stock! Turkey stock is easy to make, tastes way better when it’s homemade, and can be frozen for use later on down the road. If there’s any left, that is — it’s a common ingredient in several leftover recipes, so consider this the foundation of your post-Thanksgiving meal plan. Besides, what else are you going to do with that turkey carcass? Here’s an easy recipe to get you off on the right foot.
Pro tip: if freezing, consider freezing in 1 cup portions — your future self will thank you. If you don't have 1-cup containers, plastic bags work just as well. Simply measure a cup of stock into each zip-top freezer bag and lay flat on a baking sheet in your freezer. Once the bags are frozen, you can stack them on their sides to help save precious space in your freezer.
Easy Turkey Stock
Now that you’ve got homemade turkey stock on hand, let’s journey into our first classic recipe — soup.
The Classic: Turkey Noodle Soup
Turkey noodle soup is pretty straightforward, but you can add some extra smiles by using alphabet pasta in place of the standard egg noodles and serving the dish with salty, crunchy oyster crackers. Use any type of pasta you choose (or forgo the pasta altogether and opt for dumplings); either way, you can't go wrong with this traditional use of leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
Leftover Turkey Alphabet Soup
The Turkey Soup Twist #1: Congee
Congee is a traditional rice porridge eaten throughout Asia (read more about congee here). In this Vietnamese rendition, warm ginger and umami-rich soy sauce combine to bring maximum flavor as it warms you up. Feel free to replace the water and bouillion cube with chicken broth (or your own freshly-made turkey stock). You can also easily make this soup gluten-free by substituting tamari for the soy sauce.
Vietnamese Congee Chào Gà
The Turkey Soup Twist #2: Ramen
Regrettably, most Americans associate ramen noodles with the dried up packets of noodles and MSG-laden seasonings that have been a staple of college dorm rooms for several decades. Fortunately, ramen is having a renaissance in the US, and a more traditional bowl of this Japanese favorite is no longer hard to find. This recipe for homemade ramen is as easy as they come: It takes just 10 minutes to create your own turkey ramen bowl, scented with toasty sesame oil and containing a healthy dose of spinach to offset that extra serving of apple pie you ate for breakfast. Want more ramen? Take a look at other Unique Flavors to Spice Up Your Ramen
Turkey Ramen Bowls
The Classic: Turkey Pot Pie
If you're looking for something more substantial than soup — but no less warm and comforting — look no further than a traditional pot pie. This leftovers recipe is super versatile; while originally written for chicken, you're encouraged to turn it into a turkey pot pie, to vary the veggies based on what you have on hand (yep, green beans would be great), and to cut your pie crust to suit your whims: as a traditional pie, a slab pie, or individual mini pies. The individual pies are as cute as a button mushroom to boot.
Chicken (or Turkey) Pot Pie
The Pot Pie Twist: Turkey Samosas
With leftover mashed potatoes, turkey, peas, and a flaky crust, this spin on traditional Indian samosas ticks all the boxes of a turkey pot pie craving. But when seasoned with garam masala, mustard seed, cumin, and a kick of spicy chilies, there's no denying this crispy deep-fried dish's Indian heritage. Serve these golden brown favorites with mango chutney for a taste that will take your leftovers worlds away from Thursday's dinner. I dare say leftover cranberry sauce would work as well.
The Classic: Turkey Tetrazzini
Turkey tetrazzini was THE go-to recipe to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey in my house growing up. While a straightforward version might contain spaghetti, peas, and pimientos in a cream sauce, the version below from She Wears Many Hats really knocks it out of the park. With thick fettuccine, sherry, and a decadent amount of parmesan and breadcrumbs, it's the ultimate comfort food to cuddle up with as December draws near.
The Tetrazzini Twist: Turkey Stroganoff
No, this "tetrazzini twist" isn't the latest dance craze, but it might be the newest craze to hit your dining room table. Like turkey tetrazzini, stroganoff is, at its core, pasta slathered in a creamy sauce ... but by using egg noodles and sour cream we're transported from America to Russia (where the original dish was made with beef and rice). Bonus points to this easy recipe for incorporating your leftover turkey gravy as well. No one will miss the parmesan cheese in this hearty main dish.
The Classic: Leftover Turkey Sandwich
The turkey sandwich is usually the first stop on the leftovers train (anyone else have their first sandwich around 9 p.m. on turkey day?). But do you really need a recipe for a turkey sandwich? Perhaps you do, if it's this gorgeous turkey sandwich and grilled cheese hybrid from Talia Bunting. We promise it's still easy — and what kind of sandwich wouldn't be better with a little melted brie on top of your leftover stuffing?
Turkey, Brie, and Cranberry Sauce Sandwich
The Turkey Sandwich Twist #1: Cubano
I love a melty, crunchy swiss cheese laden Cubano any time of year, so when I saw this Thanksgiving recipe that substitutes leftover roasted turkey meat for the pork and adds a smear of cranberry sauce, I knew I had to give it a try. It's a riff on a classic with bright notes that will make your leftovers taste anything but "day old." Don't forget the pickles!
Pro tip: pull out the panini press if you have one, and you can skip the part where you weigh the sandwich down with a pan.
Thanksgiving Cuban Sandwich
The Turkey Sandwich Twist #2: Bao
Take a spicy side trip with your holiday leftovers with this tasty Turkey Bao. Bao, a Chinese steamed bun, is filled with turkey then spiced up with sriracha and a sweet hoisin sauce. Cucumbers add just the right amount of crunch to wake up those overworked taste buds.
Hungry for more original Thanksgiving leftover recipe ideas? Try one of these!