5 Healthy and Redeeming Takes on Thanksgiving Leftovers
Julia Sherman is partial to a grain salad and a fluffy dip.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:21 AM
I think we can all agree that the best thing about the Thanksgiving meal is the leftovers. I actually plan and cook for the leftovers, reinventing the components over and over again. I make more roasted vegetables than I need for the night so that I can play with them the next day, and I lean into the largesse of the turkey to ease the post-holiday meal prep in the coming week. Day-to-day cooking is so much easier when the pieces are squarely in place. Thanksgiving leftovers can reinvent themselves as healthy and redeeming, even if they originate with the most indulgent meal of the year—here’s how.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts → Grain Salads
Roasted brussels sprouts hold up well the next day for use in salads (this is a great one to plan to make extra for later use). Slice the cooked brussels sprouts as thinly as possible and toss with cooked grains like farro or wheat berries (you can refresh the sliced sprouts on a sheet pan in an oven set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes if you want them warm). Toss in some grated Parmesan or Pecorino, minced chives, toasted pine nuts or almonds, then dress with olive oil and lemon. A craveable but healthy vegetarian lunch or side dish.
Turkey Bones → Smoky Turkey Stock
The turkey carcass is gold—never throw that away! Make turkey stock the day after Thanksgiving by filling a large stockpot with water and simmering the carcass and any leftover bones with carrots, a bay leaf, celery, a small handful of black peppercorns, two halves of an onion, and an entire head of garlic sliced in half. Toast some dried chipotle chiles in a dry cast-iron pan and toss those in there while the stock bubbles away. Keep the stock cooking for 5 to 6 hours, strain, and you’ll have a rich, satisfying base for soups and a flavor booster for cooking grains or rice. Feeling less than perky the morning after? Mix the hot broth with a teaspoon of miso and a squeeze of lemon, and sip it out of a mug. All better!
Mashed or Roasted Sweet Potatoes → A Fluffy Dip
Whether you are making mashed or roasted sweet potatoes or roasted squash as your vegetable side this year, the leftovers will be the miraculous base for a creamy, healthy dip. Puree the cooked squash or sweet potatoes with a couple caramelized shallots, some toasted whole cumin seeds, and a few tablespoons of tahini. Add a little water as you puree to get a light-as-air, savory but sweet, fluffy dip (this one makes great baby food, too). The spread can also be the base of a vegetarian tartine, smeared on toast and topped with goat cheese, some pea shoots, and pomegranate seeds.
Turkey → Turkey Salad
Turkey tends to dry out, especially if reheated. So always bathe your leftover protein with lots of sauce, dressing, or liquid (in the example of soups). Use the turkey as you would chicken to make a healthy-ish version of a chicken salad. Cube or shred the meat with a fork (mix the white and dark meat together). Toss the shredded meat with a hefty spoonful of full-fat Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon, a dollop of Dijon mustard, and some minced shallots. Add some thinly sliced celery and celery leaves, toasted walnuts, and a handful of fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, even mint). Serve as a tartine with crusty sourdough or pumpernickel toast. Or use the cranberry vinaigrette (see my recipe, below) as your chicken salad sauce, adding an extra tablespoon of crème fraîche or Greek yogurt to make it rich and creamy.
Cranberry Sauce → Cranberry Vinaigrette
Cranberry sauce brings the sweet and the tart to a vinaigrette in one dose, and adds heft to a dressing so it clings to the leaves of your lettuce. I pair this tangy dressing with a mix of bitter greens in the chicory family (see my recipe, below). If you can’t find frisée, substitute with radicchio, endive, or escarole. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself making cranberry sauce all year round.
Cranberry Sauce With Dates and Ginger
The trick to making a cranberry sauce that remains relevant after the holiday is to not make it too sweet. Conventional cranberry sauce is so cloying and one-dimensional that it can be hard to integrate into everyday cooking. Instead of bland white sugar, sweeten with high-quality dates, complex with assertive notes of caramel and toffee. Add minced ginger for spice and star anise and black pepper for warmth, and finish with a handful of raw sliced cranberries for texture. The result is balanced, sweet, sour, peppery, and delicious.
- 12 oz fresh cranberries, washed, mushy ones removed
- 1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 9 small sticky dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- Zest and juice of one tangerine
- Cracked black pepper
- Remove two small handfuls of cranberries and slice them into ⅛-inch-thin rounds crosswise. Set aside.
- Add the ghee to a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the ghee is melted, add the minced ginger and the spices, and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
- Add the whole cranberries, the dates, the water, and the salt. Raise the heat to high. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until it thickens. Add the raw, sliced cranberries and the tangerine juice, stir to combine, and turn off the heat. Serve warm or store in the fridge for up to a week.
Frisée With Toasted Sesame Seeds and Cranberry Citrus Vinaigrette
A great salad dressing rests in the balance of acidity, sweetness, and the unctuousness of high-quality olive oil.
- 1 tbsp + 2 tsp cranberry sauce
- 1 tbsp + ½ tsp cider vinegar
- ½ lemon
- 1 tbsp tangerine or orange juice
- 2 tsp minced shallot
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup (60 ml) good-quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp crème fraîche (optional)
For the salad
- 1 head frisée lettuce
- 1/2 head radicchio
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 oz (85 to 115 g) chèvre (goat cheese)
- Add all the dressing ingredients besides the oil and crème fraîche to a blender. Blend to combine. While the blender is running, on low, stream in the olive oil slowly to emulsify. If using, stir the crème fraîche into the dressing at the end.
- Pull apart the frisée and radicchio and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Wash and spin them dry and put in a large salad bowl.
- Toast sesame seeds in a dry sauté pan over low heat, moving them around constantly in the pan until they start to turn golden brown, about 3 minutes.
- Toss the frisée and radicchio with the dressing until completely coated. Add the sesame seeds and season with salt and pepper. Crumble the chèvre, if using, over the salad and serve.
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