Three takes on leftover turkey: Mexican, Vietnamese and Indian recipes for the bird

Mole brings a full-bodied brightness and a hint of virtue to turkey the day after.
Mole brings a full-bodied brightness and a hint of virtue to turkey the day after. NYTimes
Turkey pho is a take on the classic Vietnamese chicken pho.
Turkey pho is a take on the classic Vietnamese chicken pho. NYTimes
Turkey tikka marsala borrows flavours from the Anglo-Indian favourite.
Turkey tikka marsala borrows flavours from the Anglo-Indian favourite. NYTimes

NEW YORK - (NYTimes) Whatever the particulars of your Thanksgiving meal, odds are the grocery list resembles a Simon and Garfunkel song: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

These aromatics, along with black pepper and celery, form a theme that runs through every dish in the typical Thanksgiving meal, which explains why the food is so comforting and familiar, no matter where you spend the holiday. It's also why the leftovers can quickly bore and burden the palate: Everything tastes the same.

When it's time to face the half-eaten bird in your fridge, look to classic flavour combinations from around the world for inspiration.

The first step to turning the leftover turkey into a dish that'll give you a sense of anticipation rather than obligation? Acceptance. Be honest with yourself: No matter what kind of brining, rubbing, basting or reverse-roasting wizardry you undertake, roast turkey is steadfastly bland. It's why gravy and cranberry sauce are so crucial at Thanksgiving.

And it also means that roast turkey is the ideal blank canvas for dishes built on the foundation of flavourful aromatics. Rather than competing with powerful seasonings, turkey will allow them to stand out.

If it's lightness you seek, make turkey pho, a play on pho gà, the classic Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. Its clear broth, spiced with star anise and ginger and seasoned with fish sauce, will transport you to the noisy streets of Hanoi, where the dish is as popular for breakfast as it is for dinner.

Serve it with thin rice noodles and a platter of vibrant garnishes including cilantro, Thai basil, mung bean sprouts, jalapeño peppers and lime wedges. To ensure that the herbs remain green and aromatic and the sprouts and peppers stay crunchy, add just a little bit of each as you slurp your way through the bowl.

For sheer comfort, turn turkey into tikka masala, the creamy Punjabi-style curry that Britain wisely claims as its national dish.

It may seem counter-intuitive to treat cooked turkey like the raw chicken traditionally used in the dish and marinate it overnight in yogurt, turmeric and garam masala.

But time performs magic, and the flavourful marinade lends the meat a welcome tang. The yogurt also acts like sunscreen, protecting the turkey from being dried out by further cooking. Broil the turkey just until it begins to char in spots, then add it to a creamy tomato sauce flavoured with ginger, garlic and green chilies. Serve it with steamed basmati rice to soak up all the sauce.

If after a meal rife with long-cooked flavours, you're craving brightness and a hint of virtue, consider cooking mole verde, or green mole. One of the seven traditional moles of Oaxaca, Mexico, this version barely resembles mole negro, its complex - and far better known - sister sauce.

Most Americans associate mole with chocolate, extensive ingredient lists and intricate cooking instructions. But mole verde is an outlier, defined by its clean flavour, short cooking time and a modest number of verdant ingredients.

The sauce comes together first in the blender, a purée of fresh chilies, tomatillos, chard, romaine, oregano and cilantro - so green it must be good for you. Layer that purée atop the pumpkin-and-sesame-seed paste at the heart of the dish.

Herbaceous, spicy and sour, this reincarnation of your leftovers will be so full-bodied, you'll have trouble deciding whether to sop it up with rice or tortillas. Why choose? Do both.

To make cooking with leftovers simple and smooth, and to save you a trip to the store Friday, plan ahead. Add the ingredients for any of these traditional dishes to your shopping list earlier in the week.

And if, in the midst of a grocery store crowded with holiday shoppers, you lose track of your shopping cart, don't fret. You'll be able to spot it easily: It's the one with cilantro and green chilies.

Turkey Mole Verde

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

2 cups turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade

1/4 cup neutral-tasting oil (such as canola or grapeseed)

1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into large pieces (about 1 cup)

2 garlic cloves, peeled

450g tomatillos, husks removed and halved

4 green chard leaves, stems removed, roughly chopped

5 romaine leaves, roughly chopped

3 to 4 jalapeños, stemmed and cut into large pieces, to taste

11/2 cups coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (about 1 large bunch)

2 tsps dried oregano

4 cups shredded cooked turkey (about 450g), light and dark meat separated

1 tbsp kosher salt

Steamed white rice, for serving

Corn tortillas, for serving


1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring constantly, until they swell, pop and turn a deep golden color, 3 to 4 minutes. Spread seeds out onto a baking sheet in a single layer to cool.

2. Place sesame seeds in heated pan and return pan to medium heat. Toast, stirring constantly, until they turn a deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Spread them out alongside pumpkin seeds to cool.

3. When cool, place pumpkin and sesame seeds in the work bowl of a large blender (or food processor) and grind them into a fine powder. Transfer ground seeds to a medium bowl, add cumin and 1 cup turkey or chicken stock. Stir mixture to make a thick paste.

4. Heat a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat and add neutral oil. When oil shimmers, add seed paste and fry, stirring and scraping constantly, until paste is dry and deep golden in color, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

5. In the blender or food processor, purée onion, garlic, tomatillos and 1/2 cup chicken stock until smooth. Add chard, romaine leaves, jalapeños, cilantro and oregano and purée again.

6. Return Dutch oven to medium heat and transfer purée to the Dutch oven. Add in remaining 1/2 cup stock, shredded dark-meat turkey and salt and bring to a simmer, stirring from time to time. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add light-meat turkey and simmer 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

7. Serve with steamed white rice and corn tortillas. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for as long as 3 days, or freeze for as long as 2 months.

Turkey Pho

Total time: About 1 hour

Yield: 6 servings

2 medium yellow onions, halved and peeled

1 (4-inch) piece of fresh ginger (do not peel)

12 cups turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade

1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste

1 star anise

2 tbsps brown sugar

1 (450g) package dried rice vermicelli

12 ounces mung bean sprouts (about 3 cups)

1 small bunch Thai basil sprigs 3 jalapeños, stemmed and thinly sliced

2 to 3 limes, quartered, to taste

4 cups shredded cooked turkey (about 450g)

11/2 cups coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (about 1 large bunch)

1 cup thinly sliced scallions (about 1 bunch)

Kosher salt, to taste


1. Cook onions and ginger directly over open flame of a gas burner for about 5 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are charred on all sides. (If you don't have a gas stove, heat broiler and set onions and ginger on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil, turning occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes until charred on all sides.) Allow charred ginger to cool, then slice it into 1/2-inch coins.

2. In a large Dutch oven or similar pot, combine onions, sliced ginger, stock, fish sauce, star anise and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

3. In the meantime, cook rice noodles according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.

4. Arrange mung bean sprouts, sprigs of Thai basil, jalapeños and limes on a platter and set on the table.

5. Remove onions, ginger and star anise from the pot. Add shredded turkey to the pot and return it to a simmer. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and/or salt, if needed.

6. Divide rice noodles, cilantro and scallions evenly among large soup bowls, then ladle hot stock over the top, making sure each bowl gets a healthy serving of turkey. Serve immediately, accompanied by platter of garnishes.

7. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, keeping noodles separate, for as long as three days.

Turkey Tikka Masala

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus 4 hours' marinating

Yield: 6 servings

For the marinade:

2 tsps garam masala

2 tsps ground coriander

2 tsps ground cumin

1 tbsp paprika

4 tsps ground turmeric

1 tsp kosher salt

6 cloves garlic, finely grated or pounded in a mortar and pestle

4 tsps finely grated fresh ginger

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

4 cups cooked turkey (about 450g), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

For the masala:

4 tbsps ghee or neutral-tasting oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

6 cardamom pods, crushed

1 bay leaf

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tsp garam masala

11/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 tbsps finely grated fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, finely grated or pounded in a mortar and pestle

2 serrano peppers, finely chopped

2 tbsps tomato paste

1 (790g) can whole peeled tomatoes

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish

Juice of 1 small lemon

Steamed basmati rice, for serving


1. Make the marinade: In a medium bowl, stir together garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, kosher salt, garlic, ginger and yogurt. Fold in the turkey. Cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Make the masala: On the stove top, heat a Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsps ghee or neutral oil, then add onion, cardamom, bay leaf, paprika, pepper flakes (if using), garam masala and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are brown and tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting temperature as needed so the onion doesn't burn.

3. Make space among onions in center of pot and add 1 tbsp ghee or neutral oil. When ghee has melted or oil begins to shimmer, add ginger, garlic and serrano peppers and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Combine that mixture with the spiced onions. Stir in tomato paste. Add tomatoes and their juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Add cream and chopped cilantro to the pot. Season with 11/2 tsps kosher salt, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

5. In the meantime, line a baking sheet with foil, turn on oven broiler and arrange an oven rack about 12cms from broiling unit. Lay the marinated turkey on the foil in a single layer. Stir any remaining marinade into the sauce. Broil until turkey begins to blacken in spots, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

6. Use a hand-held blender (or blender) to purée the sauce, then add turkey and return the sauce to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just warmed through. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

7. To serve, garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve hot, with steamed basmati rice. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for as long as three days, or freeze for as long as two months.