Reinventing Thanksgiving Leftovers for the Best Ever Day-After Feast

Buh-bye turkey sandwiches. It’s time to turn your Thanksgiving leftovers into something exciting. Executive Chef Justine Kelly loves nothing better than to transform a turkey carcass into a delicious soup to serve at her annual Friendsgiving poker party.

While it may seem like a lot of work to cook another meal after preparing a Thanksgiving feast, Chef Justine recommends breaking down the work by planning ahead.

For her soup, she says, “I usually make the soup base with chiles and tomatoes a few days ahead and refrigerate it. I chop the vegetables for the stock when I make the Thanksgiving stuffing, since they include many of the same ingredients. Once the turkey is carved, I throw the carcass in the stockpot with the vegetables and set it to simmer while we eat dessert and clean up. If you happen to end up without any turkey meat left over, you can add shredded rotisserie chicken instead.”

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Tortilla Soup Recipe

Serves 6 to 8

Part one: make the tortilla soup base
Makes about 3 cups, enough for 1 batch Turkey tortilla soup (recipe below)

2 dried ancho chiles
3 dried New Mexican chiles
1 or 2 jalapeños, optional
4 to 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 pound Roma tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Neutral oil

Medium heatproof bowl, blender, large frying pan, sheet pan

1 Roast the garlic and tomatoes 

Heat the oven to 400°F.
Lightly oil a sheet pan. On one end of the pan, spread the garlic in a single layer; on the other end, arrange the tomatoes. Roast until the garlic is tender when pierced with a sharp knife and the tomatoes are blistered and starting to collapse, 12 to 15 minutes for the garlic, and 15 to 20 minutes for the tomatoes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a plate while the tomatoes finish roasting. Peel the garlic.
While the garlic and tomatoes roast, prepare the chiles.

2 Toast the dried chiles 

  • Remove the stems and seeds from the ancho and New Mexican chiles.

Warm a dry large frying pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chiles and toast, turning a few times, until soft and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium heatproof bowl, cover with 3 cups hot water and let soak for 15 minutes.

If using, add the jalapeños to the dry pan used for the dried chiles and cook over medium heat, turning a few times, until lightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool; remove the stems.

3 Assemble the soup base
In a blender, working in batches if necessary, blend together the tomatoes, garlic, dried soaked chiles, chile soaking liquid, and as many of the jalapeños as you like. Season to taste with salt. Use at once, or transfer to an airtight container with a lid, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Part two: make the turkey stock

Makes about 2 quarts, enough for 1 batch Turkey tortilla soup (see recipe below)

1 white onion
1 or 2 carrots
2 or 3 celery ribs
6 or 7 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 leftover carcass of one 10- to 20-pound roasted turkey
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Neutral oil

Peeler, optional, fine-mesh strainer, large stock pot

1 Prep the stock ingredients

  • Peel and coarsely chop the onion.
  • Scrub or peel the carrots and trim off the ends; coarsely chop the carrots.
  • Trim the ends from the celery; coarsely chop the celery.
  • Using your hands, kitchen shears, or a cleaver, break or cut the turkey carcass bones into large pieces.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have started to soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the turkey carcass, parsley sprigs, and 2 quarts water. (Don’t worry if the carcass pieces stick up out of the water a bit; as the stock simmers, the bones will soften and you can gently press them under the water with a spatula or spoon). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until rich and flavorful, at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours. Remove from the heat; strain over a large sauce pot, and use at once or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days, then strain before using.

Part three: Make the tortilla soup


1 white onion
Tortilla soup base (see recipe)
Turkey stock (see recipe)
3 cups leftover turkey meat, preferably dark meat, shredded into bite-size pieces
4 corn tortillas
1 large avocado
6 to 7 sprigs cilantro
3 ounces queso fresco
2 or 3 radishes
2 limes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Neutral oil

Large sauce pot, large frying pan

1 Start the soup

  • Peel and finely chop the onion.

In a large sauce pot over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the soup base, turkey stock, and shredded turkey and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the flavors have developed, 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. While the soup simmers, prepare the tortilla strips.

2 Fry the tortilla strips

  • Cut the tortillas into thin, ¼-inch-wide strips.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm ¼ cup oil until hot but not smoking, watching carefully to prevent scorching. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, carefully lower the tortilla strips, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Cook, turning frequently, until crisp and lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season lightly with salt.

While the tortillas crisp, prepare the remaining garnishes.

3 Prep the remaining garnishes

  • Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the pit, scoop out the flesh, and cut the flesh into ½-inch cubes.
  • Trim the ends from the radishes. Cut them in half, then cut the halves into thin half-moons.
  • Cut the limes into wedges.
  • Coarsely chop the cilantro.

4 Serve
Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with the tortilla strips, avocado, radishes, and cilantro. Crumble the queso fresco on top and serve with the lime wedges.

Tortilla soup nutrition per serving (8 servings: note this does not include garnishes): Calories: 230, Protein: 22 g, Total Fat: 10 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g, Saturated Fat: 2 g, Cholesterol: 45 mg, Carbohydrates: 15 g, Fiber: 3 g, Added Sugar: 0 g, Sodium: 480 mg

Bonus recipe—ingredients not included in box.