I love Thanksgiving—look a few posts back and you’ll see. I think about it for weeks leading up to the big day, and for weeks afterwards. I evaluate what I made, what I thought of everything, what everyone else thought, what worked and what didn’t, and so on. This year I tried a new recipe for dinner rolls; they weren’t bad, but they weren’t great, so more tinkering is in order (dinner rolls always turn out a little lacking for me, you know?). I also tried out a side dish I’ve been toying with: Pomegranate-Glazed Sweet Potatoes & Carrots with Thyme. I think they worked out well, but the pom needed to come through a little more. But what I really love about Thanksgiving are the leftovers.
Okay, I can’t say that leftovers are what I “really” love because it sounds exclusive, like it’s my sole love of the day. Obviously not the case.
I love to make Kentucky Hot Browns out of leftover turkey. Reheat some of the leftover gravy in a pan until it’s hot and thin it out with just a touch of milk before whisking in some sharp cheddar cheese. Grill some thick bread in a pan that you’ve crisped some bacon in (one piece of bread per person—it’s an open-face sandwich), top each piece with shredded turkey, pour over this gravy-gone-cheese sauce and slide it under the broiler until it’s hot and bubbly. Crumble over the bacon and top off with the traditional tomato slice, or a dollop or two of cranberry sauce (oh yeah).
I make Turkey Pot Pie every year, too. It’s a great way to stretch that last lingering bit of turkey to feed four people, when it’s really only enough to feed two. I’ve always got a spare rib or two of celery and a carrot knocking around in the fridge, too, so I can use those up. I make sure to buy an extra potato or two (depending on their size) to have on hand so I can chop and throw that in with some frozen peas. Best yet, you can use any topping you want; if you have enough leftover mashed potatoes this is a perfect use for them, or use puff pastry, make dumpling or biscuit dough or, hell, leftover stuffing/dressing—why not?! But for this you need Turkey Stock.
I guess you don’t really need turkey stock; chicken stock or broth would be a worthy substitute. But for me, turkey stock is really what it’s all about. I have to make it. The cosmos order me to do so. This is one of the reasons you will probably never—never say never, right?—find a lone turkey breast on my Thanksgiving table. I want the dismembered and mangled carcass of a turkey, still clung with tiny bits of meat that I’m too lazy to pick out as a result of my tryptophan-stupor. I simmer that marvelous bird’s bones in water with the usual stock suspects; onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns and so on. It’s flavorful and robust, but I keep it a little light and brothy. I use it in the Turkey Pot Pie, or to reheat leftover turkey in for other meals but what I really make it for is Asian Turkey Noodle Soup.
This is what I make in the eleventh hour, when we’re getting further out from Thanksgiving, and I’m all out of leftover turkey. Yes, this soup has no actual turkey meat. When all other leftovers have been devoured, and you want something to eat that’s seasonally substantial and filling, but without the full-on Thanksgiving heft in a bowl, this is perfect. It’s also a welcoming thing when you’re sick of turkey, too (especially if you’re like me and buy a turkey big enough to serve 12 people when there’s only 6 of you).
The soup has everything you might expect in an Asian soup—though I should really say Asian-inspired, and more specifically, pan-Asian-inspired. Garlic, red chili, green onion, fresh ginger (finely grate, pick it up in your hand, and squeeze above the soup to release its juices so you get the full on exotic zing without any fiberous bites), soy sauce, and a quick jaunt over to the Southeast with cilantro. For the noodle part of the soup it’s to Japan for udon noodles. The potentially unexpected ingredient here is Gai lan (sometimes called Kai Lan, or simply Chinese broccoli). It has a similar taste to broccoli, with a touch more bitterness, but it’s fairly gentle when it’s cooked. It’s slightly bitter, slightly sulfuric, and slightly sweet, but not so much so that its what I would call strongly flavored. Separate the leaves from the stalk, slice the stalks about ¼” thick and sauté them briefly in the flavorful base before adding in the turkey stock. As it heats, they soften but still keep a slight crispness in their center. At the very end of simmering, the leaves get chopped and chucked in just before you ladle the soup into bowls. What’s great about Gai Lan, flavor aside, is that you get both tender-crisp stalks as your vegetable, and wilted leaves as your greens; its like two vegetables in one. If your grocery store has an Asian produce section check there, otherwise you may need to go to an Asian market (it’s a tough life). If, however, you can’t find it then bok choy is a worthy substitute.
You can throw in a little leftover turkey meat if you feel the need or have any left, though I really don’t think it’s necessary. You also don’t need to limit this to Thanksgiving-time by using turkey stock – chicken or even vegetable would work fine—but there’s something about the turkey stock’s nirvana-inducing qualities and the feeling of balance you get from the Asian flavors.
Serve the soup with spoons for downing the broth, and chopsticks for catching noodles (or, of course, forks for the inpatient or inept, like myself). I’ll also mention that this recipe can be halved very easily, which I only say because the nature of noodle soups involves a little slurping and getting smacked in the face with the wet noodles… at least, for me it does.
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