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I love Thanksgiving.  My friends are talented cooks and we have a giant dinner every year that I look forward to for months in advance.  This year it was at my house, so I was responsible for the turkey, which I got from Whole Foods.  I ordered ahead and had plenty of time to think about the size I needed– there were seven of us, one guest is vegetarian and I knew there would be a smoked turkey breast (yum) on the table– but I got a 21 lb. turkey anyway.  We had approximately 600 side dishes and 4 desserts and I have a mountain of turkey left over.  I do this every year.

But I did not despair!  Everyone knows turkey is better left over.  Each year, I go through the process I like to think of as the Three Stages of Turkey Leftovers: Friday Excitement, No Turkey Today, and Leftovers Rebound.  I will explain.  On Friday, you get to have the meal you’ve been thinking about since last Thanksgiving.  For some of us, that means a giant Ross-style sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce and gravy; others look forward to soup or pot pie or casserole.  By Saturday afternoon or so, you don’t want to see, smell or taste turkey until next November.  And by Monday or Tuesday, you look at the giant container of turkey in the fridge, think how good it tasted the previous Thursday, panic a little about it going bad, and start meal-planning for the rest of the week.  My Three Stages were a bit delayed this year, but by last night I was hungry for turkey and ready to make some soup.

My creation ended up somewhere between stew and chili.  I used the last of the smoked turkey breast, which has been part of our Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now and is something I very much look forward to.  I started out thinking chili, but realized quickly that I didn’t have enough time to develop a true chili flavor (plus, I wanted to use beans and some people get weird when you put beans in chili).  The extra tomatoes and red bell pepper created a sweet base to play off the smoky turkey and spices.  If you have roast but not smoked turkey, no worries, but think about increasing the chili powder because you’ll need more oomph.  A patient chef who waits a day to eat the stew will be rewarded: it was even better at lunch today.  Now to plan how to use the rest of the 21 lbs. of roast turkey…

Smoked Turkey Stew (serves 4)

  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 chili in adobo sauce*, minced
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. aleppo pepper (optional)
  • 1/2-3/4 lb. smoked turkey breast, evenly cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 1 15 oz. can kidney or cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c. water or stock
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro to garnish (optional)

In a soup pot, heat oil on medium-high heat and add onion, cooking until softened and translucent, about 5 mins.  Add bell pepper and garlic and cook for 3-5 mins., being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add adobo chili, chili powder, cumin and aleppo pepper (if using) and stir until onion mixture is coated with seasoning.  Stir in turkey, then tomatoes with their juice, beans and water/stock.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 mins.  If your broth is reducing too rapidly, add more water/stock and reduce heat slightly.  Taste and season as needed.  Serve with cilantro if desired.

*If you have not used chilis in adobo before, please note that you need only one chili from the can, not the entire can!  If you prefer spicier food, add more chilis (one at a time) as desired.