How to Liven Up Thanksgiving Leftovers

Tired of turkey sandwiches? Add some zing to holiday food and make meals stand out in their own right

Those of us who prepare Thanksgiving dinner are truly grateful for this bountiful holiday. Meals based upon the leftovers, however, rarely match the original feast's glory.

A few years ago, after too many turkey croquettes and sandwiches, I decided to create dishes that would not only use Thanksgiving leftovers, but also stand out in their own right. The results were well received and began my post-Thanksgiving fiesta tradition, one that I invite you to celebrate with family and friends.

The menu was inspired by Latin cooking techniques, but there are several other ways to liven up Thanksgiving leftovers.

Try adding roasted turkey, either cubed or shredded, to an Asian-style mixed vegetable stir-fry seasoned with soy sauce and chile oil. Cubed, cooked turkey may also be stirred into a good commercial alfredo sauce. Add peas, julienne carrots, and minced herbs, and serve over your favorite pasta.

For cold dishes, like salads, marinate cubed turkey in your favorite salad dressing for an hour or so in the refrigerator before using. To make a Hawaiian Turkey Salad, marinate the turkey in a curry, poppy seed, or vinaigrette dressing. Toss with pineapple chunks, red onion slices, macadamia nuts, Ramen noodles, and extra dressing. Serve on a bed of mixed greens.

The other kind of dressing, what was stuffed in the turkey, makes an excellent filling for vegetables, like mushrooms and chayote squash. It helps to use stuffing with a low moisture content. A crumbly corn-bread dressing, for example, works well in the chayote squash recipe.

If you happen to have leftover creamed spinach, it can be transformed into elegant French crepes. Add extra bchamel (white sauce) to the spinach. Over moderate heat, stir in grated Gruyre, or other Swiss, cheese to taste. Cook until it is smooth and creamy, and spoon mixture into crepes. Top crepes with bchamel sauce. Sprinkle with additional grated Gruyre and broil until lightly browned.

Unlike creamed spinach, which is enjoyed year round, cranberry sauce is seldom served at any other time of year. Perhaps this is because of its strong association with Thanksgiving.

In recipes, cranberry sauce may be used instead of almost any fruit jam or jelly. I enjoy spoonfuls of thick, whole-berry sauce, sweetened with a touch of maple syrup, on fluffy buttermilk biscuits and pancakes. Leftover cranberry sauce also adds a delightful sweet-tart flavor to filled cookies, such as my Mexican-style Bizcochitos.

The recipe for these cookies is part of the following post-Thanksgiving fiesta menu featuring holiday leftovers. I recommend serving warmed flour tortillas and a simple salad of tossed greens to accompany the fiesta meal. Cranberry juice mixed with sparkling white grape juice makes a refreshing, alcohol-free and elegant beverage, especially when served in chilled fluted glasses.

Enchiladas Verdes

Con Pavo

(Turkey Enchiladas With Tomatillo Salsa)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 serrano chile, seeded and minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cups shredded, cooked turkey

1 (28 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with juices reserved

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

12 large corn tortillas, warmed until soft and pliable

Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saut chile and onion in olive oil until tender. Add turkey, chopped tomatoes with juices, salt, and cumin. Stir until mixed. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for three minutes.

Spoon filling into warmed tortillas. Fold over left and right sides of tortillas, then arrange seam side down into a lightly oiled baking dish. Pour Salsa Verde over the top. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes.

Uncover, sprinkle cheese over the top, and bake until cheese melts, about three minutes. Place dollops of sour cream over each enchilada.

Makes 6 servings.

Salsa Verde

(Green Tomatillo Sauce)

1-1/2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed

2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1-2 jalapeno chiles, seeded

4 green onions

1/2 teaspoon salt

Place tomatillos in a pan of boiling water. Cover and cook until softened, about five minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer tomatillos to a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend until just mixed. Makes about three cups.

Chayotes Rellenos

(Stuffed Chayote Squash)

3 chayotes

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups crumbled corn-bread dressing

1 tablespoon melted butter

Halve chayotes and remove inner seed. Place in boiling water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain and allow to cool. Spoon out most of the inner pulp and reserve. Arrange chayote shells in a buttered baking dish.

Saut onion, celery, and bell pepper in butter over medium-high heat in a large saut pan until tender. Add reserved chayote pulp, hot sauce, salt, and 1 cup of the corn-bread dressing. Cook, stirring, until warmed through.

Fill chayote shells with sauted mixture. Sprinkle each with remaining corn-bread dressing and drizzle with melted butter. Broil in the oven until top is lightly brown.

Makes 6 servings.

Bizcochitos de Salsa de Arandano

(Cranberry Sauce Cookies)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups shredded coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, coconut, walnuts, and salt. With an electric mixer or spoon, mix butter with sugar, egg, and vanilla extract. Gradually add to dry ingredients. Stir until just mixed.

Pat all but 1/4 of the dough into an 11-by-7-inch baking pan. Spread cranberry sauce over the top. By hand, break remaining dough into small pieces. Sprinkle over sauce. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. When cool, cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Makes about two dozen cookies.

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