When it comes to Thanksgiving, turkey sandwiches and turkey soup are themselves cultural institutions, covert celebrations following all the rah-rah of the bird’s first run. Far from being presented on fancy platters or served with silver-plated spoons, leftovers humbly retire to the refrigerator’s distant corners, first-round remnants in plastic containers, memories of the big-deal real meal.
At their lowliest — microwaved as is and consumed as the diner leans against the countertop — leftovers offer ta-da! satiety minus much to-do. This is a gift of special appeal to the cook, who’s likely fried from staging a holiday. Many a prepared dish actually improves with an overnight in the refrigerator. Being plant materials, herbs and spices have cellular structures that break down and release their full-throttle flavor on staggered schedules. Some will be flavor-forward right away. Wait a day or two when all of the ingredients have emerged and married, and it’s a better balanced dish.
The downside of heat-and-eat is that it takes out of contention some leftovers that, held fewer than four days in the refrigerator (two days for poultry) and subjected to the cook’s engine and ingenuity, can be returned in new, exciting forms. Soups, stews and pasta sauces are obvious catchalls for leftovers, but pizzas, stir-fries, omelets, frittatas, quesadillas, burritos and stuffings (more stuffing!) welcome stray ingredients as well.
Stray you should as well. Unlike baking, where chemistry mandates that you precisely measure ingredients and control tangents, cooking invites freewheeling. View recipes as general frameworks within which to noodle around. Leftovers being leftovers, it’s not like you’re risking full-priced fresh ingredients to whim. Play! A cooking show judge isn’t going to descend from atop the refrigerator and grab the wooden spoon from your hand. Nor will anyone fish through the creamy vegetable soup, flag the green bean as having been yesterday’s casserole and turn the dinner bell into an alarm bell.
No, the pressure’s off. Thanksgiving’s over. Be our guest and play with the recipes below. Some of what you need awaits in your refrigerator.
NOTE: Substitutions may alter nutritional profiles of recipes.