Leftover Turkey Chili

I’m thankful for leftovers this week. A big day of eating has come and gone, and as usual, the fridge seems to be more full than depleted afterward. The prized item in this cache of Thanksgiving leftovers? The roasted turkey carcass. With it, the opportunities are endless. You can make a soup, or just stock to use for things like making risotto or braising vegetables. But along with that carcass—and with most leftover Thanksgiving meal caches—is plenty of leftover turkey meat. And there’s never quite enough gravy for it all.

So for an easy, post-Thanksgiving weekend meal, I made chili. It’s a shredded, chunky, turkey-filled chili with lots of flavor thanks to the roasted meat and stock made from the roasted bones. Roasted turkey, or chicken bones are arguably the best for making soup stocks with, because they’ve acquired an intense, roasty flavor that you can’t get when they’re raw. The longer you let the water reduce from boiling it with the bones, the more concentrated and flavorful the stock will become. I didn’t want to have mountains of stock sitting around in the freezer this time, so I let that stock bubble down for a good long while.

ancho chilies and chiles de arbol

To complement this extra-tasty turkey and stock, I soaked dried chilies (in the strained stock) to blend up for this chili. These included ancho chilies and a few stray chiles de arbol, common Mexican ingredients often used to soak and blend up for mole. Ancho chilies are actually dried poblano peppers, so they’re not too hot and have a deep, raisiny sweetness and earthy richness. They also lend a deep burgundy color to whatever you’re adding them to. (I had a mole-making excursion recently, for a friend’s birthday meal, and these dried chilies were sitting around in the pantry.) Ancho chilies are especially easy to peel apart and shake out the seeds that are rattling inside them. If using the dried chiles de arbol too, be careful not to touch the seeds too much as they’re hotter and will get in your pores (using dried chili powder is an apt substitute).

the soaked and pureed dried chilies are stirred in

While the chilies were soaking, I sauteed a medley of onion and bell peppers–green and orange, but you can choose any color. To this was added lots of garlic, a couple spices, and a can of peeled plum tomatoes. Then you’ll want to blend the soaked chilies in their soaking liquid separately, before adding to the pot.

leftover turkey is added

You won’t have to worry about dry leftover turkey breast when you shred it to add to a soup or stew. Once the whole pot was bubbling, this picked-at turkey meat was tossed in, along with some frozen sweet corn kernels and canned black beans. Covered and simmering, it needs only cook a little to let its flavors meld before eating. That turkey is cooked, after all. You spent long, laborious hours on it already.

I like to make leftover meals that are nothing like the original. Why not, when there’s so much you can do with a roasted bird besides smothering it with gravy?

Leftover Turkey Chili
(makes 4-6 servings)

2 cups turkey stock (from simmering the leftover turkey bones in water for about 2 hours and straining)
2 dried ancho chilies
3-4 dried chiles de arbol (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow, orange, red or green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
(if skipping the dried chiles de arbol, add 1 teaspoon chili powder)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, or add just to taste)
1 28 oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup cooked black beans (either from a can and fully rinsed or from dried beans)
1 cup frozen sweet corn kernels
about 1 lb leftover turkey meat, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
fresh cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, and/or cheese for garnish

Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chilies and discard. Add them to the stock in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cover. Let cook gently for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven and add the onions and peppers along with a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper if using and cook another minute, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped tomatoes and all the juice from the can. Increase heat to bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, and let cook about 5 minutes.

Puree the soaked chilies in their stock using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender thoroughly. Add the mixture to the pot of vegetables and stir. Add the shredded turkey, black beans and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the garnishes.

Cost Calculator
(for 4-6 servings)

2 dried anchos: $1.25
4 dried chiles de arbol: $0.50
1 onion: $0.50
1 green pepper: $1.00
1 orange pepper: $1.50
1 can plum tomatoes: $2.50
1 cup black beans: $1.00
1 cup frozen corn: $1.00
4 cloves garlic: $0.25
1 lb leftover turkey and 2 cups turkey stock: leftover
salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, 2 Tb olive oil: $0.50

Total: $10.00

Health Factor

Five brownie points: Turkey is a lean bird, so if you’re used to greasy, rich chili, then this is a change of pace. Beans add plant protein to the lean meat’s, and there’s plenty of vegetables, although not all fresh. But served with some greens on the side like a salad or plenty of herbs, and it’s a hearty meal perfect for winter.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: Repurposing Thanksgiving leftovers into a meal that tastes like something new is a virtue. You hopefully won’t let any leftovers go to waste. Taking stock of pantry items, like the dried chilies and canned vegetables, it’s easy to whip up any time of the year when you have a leftover roasted bird.

5 Responses

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