It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was hungry.
I stood in the kitchen, fridge door open, staring at leftovers. I could have turkey, ham, sweet potato pie, cornbread dressing, grilled potatoes, green-bean casserole, cranberry sauce, various pies; the list went on.
But I was already tired of those things. They all looked heavy, overly familiar — and cold.
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And that is how I ended up at Publix for the fifth time that week. I needed a couple of lemons.
The lemon turkey soup was worth the trip, but I vowed I’d plan better this year. With just a few key ingredients on hand for the day after Thanksgiving, I was sure I could make Thanksgiving leftovers that didn’t taste like Thanksgiving.
These ingredients would have to be small — like that lemon — because I can’t commit much fridge or counter space to them the week I feed a crowd. And the dishes they make should be light, because after the annual turkey gorge, no one feels like heavy food. Finally, after spending a couple of days cooking a feast, leftovers need to be easy.
Assuming you keep staples like onions, garlic and eggs around, a few extra ingredients can make the days after Thanksgiving a lot more interesting than microwaved plates of the big meal.
▪ First, the lemons. This lemon turkey soup is light, with a flavor that is refreshingly not reminiscent of Thanksgiving. It also fits the “easy” requirement, and the lemons don’t take up much space in a crowded kitchen. This also helped use up extra celery that didn’t go in the Thanksgiving dressing, though if you won’t have it around, it’s worth it to get some.
I skipped using carrots because no one in my family will eat them cooked, and instead of spinach, I used arugula, a good substitute that adds a subtle peppery flavor.
▪ A Granny Smith apple or two. Like the lemon, the fresh and tart flavor of a green apple changes everything. I accidentally had an extra Granny Smith around last year. This year, it will be on purpose.
A turkey sandwich can be just cold turkey on bread with mustard. Or it can be special with thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples and brie, briefly toasted. Maybe add some arugula.
▪ Cheese. This goes beyond brie for the turkey sandwiches. Last year, I didn’t have the cheddar I wanted for a frittata — that wonderful, throw-in-everything egg dish that feeds everyone for breakfast and works for lunch as well.
It will help use up ham, potatoes (as long as you didn’t mash them) and just about any veggies you want to toss in, even the mushy green beans from the casserole. Meanwhile, freshly grated parmesan will improve mushrooms stuffed with dressing and bits of ham.
▪ Plain yogurt. For the sweet stuff — the tropical fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, even the sweet potato pie — yogurt for smoothies adds just the right creaminess and tang to taste new and healthy.
▪ A few fresh vegetables. Something fresh and crisp makes everything else better. A package of arugula works in many things, added at the last minute to a soup or layered in the turkey-apple-brie sandwich.
Meanwhile, mushrooms and bell peppers can be stuffed with a mixture of dressing, ham and whatever else might be lurking in the fridge. By having just a few fresh vegetables around that you didn’t eat the day before, you can eat yesterday’s food without feeling like you’re eating yesterday’s meal.
Susannah Nesmith: email@example.com, @susannahnesmith
Thanksgiving Leftover ‘Monte Cristo’
Recipe by chef Spike Mendelsohn of Sunny’s in Miami Beach. To make cranberry jam, combine 10 ounces frozen cranberries, 1 1/4 cup sugar and 2 slices orange peel in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat, stirring, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend on high until berries and skins are pulverized. Return to saucepan and heat, stirring, until jam thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes.
8 slices Zak the Baker country bread
2 cups leftover sweet potato puree
8 slices Swiss cheese
16 slices leftover Thanksgiving turkey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup leftover turkey gravy
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups cranberry jam
Spread sweet potato puree on bread. Layer 4 bread slices with Swiss, turkey and cheese again. Place remaining bread slices on top.
In a shallow dish, whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture, turning to coat well.
Heat up the turkey gravy and add the maple syrup, keep warm.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. When butter is foamy, add the sandwiches, and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Open up each sandwich and add the marshmallows in an even layer, place under the broiler until the marshmallows are golden brown and toasted, ladle over the maple gravy, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with cranberry jam on the side.
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Leftover Turkey Shepherd’s Pie
Recipe from the cookbook “From the Tip of My Tongue” by chef Cindy Hutson of Ortanique in Coral Gables. “Like everyone else, I’ve become tired of using yesterday’s bird as tomorrow’s soup. I needed to find another way to use up the second-day turkey. Since a Thanksgiving-type meal usually involves not just a big bird but leftover potatoes and veggies as well, I figured it would be terrific to combine them all in one dish. And it is, especially when preceded by a crisp green salad and partnered with a nice dry rosé. Remember that you can use any leftover vegetables and are not limited to the ones listed here.”
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 to 2 pounds leftover turkey meat, diced
1/2 cup diced turnips, boiled in salted water for 5-10 minutes, until tender
3/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 cup shaved brussels sprouts, blanched in salted water for 2 minutes and plunged into ice bath to retain color, then strained
4 cups leftover mashed potatoes, pureed with extra butter
1 cup grated Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, carrots and celery until tender. Add flour and mix into a roux. Add tomato paste and stir. Add wine, stock and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a simmer while whisking out the lumps. It should simmer until thickened.
Mix in turkey, turnips, peas and brussels sprouts. Stir until well-mixed; taste for seasoning.
Fill a 4- or 6-ounce ramekin with turkey mixture, leaving 1/2 inch of room from top. Fill remaining space with pureed potatoes and sprinkle with grated cheddar. Repeat with remaining ramekins. Bake in oven until potatoes are golden brown.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Lemon Turkey Soup
Adapted by Susannah Nesmith from a recipe at allrecipes.com. The lemon helps lend a freshness and lightness needed after heavy holiday meals.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cups turkey, chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup diced cooked turkey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 cups fresh arugula or spinach
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Cook and stir onion and garlic in hot oil until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add celery and bell pepper; cook and stir until carrots begin to soften, 8 to 10 minutes.
Pour turkey stock into vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors blend, about 20 minutes.
Stir cooked turkey, lemon juice, and lemon zest into turkey stock mixture; simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add spinach leaves, salt and black pepper; simmer until spinach wilts and turns bright green, 1 to 2 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings