Maybe you’re cooking for Thanksgiving; maybe you’re not. But chances are still good you will have leftovers — and probably on purpose.
We may be living in a pandemic. Our Thanksgiving dinner may be small this year. But none of that will diminish our appetite for leftover turkey, stuffing and more this weekend.
In fact, many people look forward to Thanksgiving leftovers more than the feast itself.
Because the Thanksgiving meal is usually so big, I often look to lighter foods made with the leftovers. Soups, salads and sandwiches are popular for good reason — and those are exactly what I chose for my leftovers this year.
Mexican dishes are probably the most popular category for turkey leftovers, and, well, who doesn’t like Mexican food?
But I started thinking of what it was in Mexican food that made for such a welcome contrast to the classic Thanksgiving dinner. A bit of spicy heat — notably missing at most Thanksgiving tables — is a part of it.
But I also thought about that classic Mexican pairing of creamy avocado and tangy lime that not only goes well with turkey but also is different from anything we eat on Thanksgiving.
So the accompanying recipes all pair turkey, avocado and lime — in a soup, salad and sandwich.
For the soup, I made a tortilla soup. Using cooked meat, this is ready to serve in under an hour — and most of that time is unattended simmering.
This works just fine with store-bought chicken broth, but if you have homemade turkey broth it will be even better. If you do cook a whole turkey this year, save that carcass. Those cooked bones with even just a tiny bit of meat attached can make a tasty broth. Throw them in a pot after carving the bird and simmer about 2 hours with or without some chopped onion, carrot and celery and maybe a bay leaf and pinch of thyme leaves.
For a shortcut, simmer those same bones in a pot of store-bought broth for 30 minutes to an hour. (Be sure to not add any salt before tasting the mixture.)
My tortilla soup starts with onion, garlic and jalapeno, and the broth is mixed with diced tomatoes. Corn and black beans are optional, but they add color and nutrients, and help to make the soup more filling.
You can make this with any store-bought tortilla chips. But — and this is kind of a big “but” — consider making your own. It takes just minutes, costs pennies and is oh so good. Fresh chips (or strips) will beat anything made a month ago in a factory a thousand miles away.
Just take some corn tortillas — you could use flour in a pinch, but corn is much better here — and cut them into thin strips — between ¼ and ½ inch works for me. Then heat up just a few tablespoons of oil over medium to medium-high heat — this isn’t deep frying. It’s important to do only a few strips at a time — say 12 to 15 in a Dutch oven or 12-inch skillet. But each batch cooks in just a couple minutes. When the strips just begin to brown, it’s time to take them out. Don’t forget to salt them while they are hot so that the salt sticks to them.
Finally, what makes this soup — in addition to the crunchy, salty tortilla strips — is the last-minute addition of a squeeze of lime juice and some raw avocado. This soup is all about the contrasts of soft and crunchy, cooked and raw, hot and cold, spicy and tart. Feel free to garnish the soup with a little cilantro and crema.
For my salad, I made a simple lime vinaigrette that will not only transform cold turkey, but also make just about any vegetable taste better. I like mixed greens here but use what you have — spinach, romaine, whatever.
I like to add some sweet bell peppers and red onion. But what really makes the salad are the toppers — toasted walnuts, croutons, avocado and freshly grated Parmesan. Again, this is all about the contrasts of flavors and textures.
For my leftover sandwich, I went all out, loading up a grilled cheese with several kinds of cheese as well as turkey, avocado and cranberry sauce. It’s good with a little sliced onion, too, if you’re so inclined.
One of the cheeses — Parmesan — goes on the outside of the bread giving the sandwich a cheesy crust. Inside the sandwich, I use a combination of cheeses. I like cheddar with Muenster or Swiss, but feel free to choose what cheeses you like.
I use mayonnaise instead of butter because I like what it adds to the crust. Inside, brown or Dijon mustard contrasts nicely with cranberry sauce. And don’t forget the squeeze of lime on the avocado when assembling the sandwich.
All of which makes a filling sandwich. OK, maybe it’s not the kind of light meal that that the soup or salad is. But it sure is good. And it’s simultaneously reminiscent yet totally different from what we had on Thanksgiving, which is exactly what any leftover dish should be.