Sometimes you really need to mix things up with some creative, exciting leftover turkey recipes after the holidays. This turkey gumbo is a great way to use up leftover turkey during the holiday season, but you can also sub shredded chicken and chicken stock to make it any time of year.
BRINGING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DEVASTATION
Ten years ago, I visited Louisiana for the first time. I was part of a team from Hawaii, doing disaster relief with the Southern Baptist Convention for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
We showed up in our distinctive yellow shirts and hats, excited to get dirty and make a difference. Since this was not my first experience with relief work, I knew that the wide eyed enthusiasm of our team would eventually be transformed to a somber and introspective need to just DO something in the midst of devastation. But even with that knowledge, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the excitement.
Our number one job was mudding out houses. This meant going through the house and taking everything outside to a giant dump pile.
I mean EVERYTHING.
Furniture, clothing, toys, mementos, appliances, carpets, walls, ceilings, floor tiles. We tore the houses apart to the bare studs and concrete slab, so they could be pressure washed with bleach to kill the dangerous mold and mildew that contaminated each and every house.
Night after night, I slept like a rock, passed out in a sleeping bag packed onto a church balcony with 15 other people. It was not only physically draining, but emotionally as well.
We were basically throwing away every single item of value that belonged to the family who lived in that house. Watching their life pile up into a giant dump was sad, and humbling. It made you start to silently evaluate your own life, what your pile might look like, and whether or not the things you’re holding on to really matter all that much.
As hard as the experience was, I loved it. I loved the exhausting 14 hour work days. I loved finding an item, any item, that miraculously survived the flood damage and could be returned to the homeowner. I loved it when my alarm would go off at 6:30am, and I jumped out of my sleeping bag to go spend some time in prayer and reflection to prepare for the day ahead.
But my favorite part of the trip was when I got to deliver food on an ERV, or Emergency Response Vehicle, to various neighborhoods in the area. For many, this was their only chance for a hot meal, unless they had the transportation and funds to travel to one of the open restaurants at least an hour away.
On these drives, I saw a lot of hardship, devastation, and hurt. I saw doors with numbers written on them to indicate whether people were rescued, or found dead. I saw places where beautiful homes used to stand, that instead looked like a box of enormous matchsticks had been dumped out by a careless giant. I saw light posts plastered with posters and signs bearing pictures of missing people and pets.
But I also saw hope.
As I ladled up big bowls of hearty turkey gumbo, and handed them to the weary people of Slidell, I saw their eyes light up with hope.
The hope that comes from a hot meal, a friendly face, a kind word. Hope that comes from the knowledge that people who don’t even know you, traveled across the ocean and over a continent to come and help you for a week.
Hope that warms the soul, even more than the heaping bowls of gumbo and rice warmed their bodies.
I handed out so many meals, shook so many hands, cried so many tears, and prayed so many prayers, that most of them blend together into one big blurry ball of intense emotion.
But there was one woman, elderly and quiet, looking far to frail to possibly survive a light rainstorm, let alone a hurricane. She clutched her gumbo to her chest like a life preserver, and timidly asked if she might have some rice for her dog.
A smile spread across my face as I reached into my backpack and pulled out a gallon bag of dry dog food. It was one of many given to our group by a woman from our church who had heard about lost dogs in the area going hungry. The elderly woman tucked the bag under her arm, then grabbed my hand with surprising strength, and looked directly into my eyes.
“You don’t know. You just don’t know. Thank you. Thank you.” Then she turned and began walking slowly down the street.
When we finished our run, we sat down in the back of the ERV, digging hungrily into our own bowls of hot gumbo and rice.
Chunks of sausage and turkey swam in a broth made with a dark red chocolate roux, a nutty flavor I’d never tasted before, that perfectly mellowed out the kick of cayenne pepper. I quietly savored each bite, imagining what it must feel like to be one of the hurricane victims eating that hot soup in their cold, dark homes.
I’ve made turkey gumbo myself a few times now, and every time, no matter how I make it, it tastes the same. With each and every bite, all I taste is hope.
RECIPE FOR LEFTOVER TURKEY GUMBO
This is one of my favorite leftover turkey recipes, not only because of the memories it invokes, but also because it doesn’t taste like turkey. As a food photographer, I’ve often made 3-4 turkeys by the time Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and I’m pretty much done with leftovers that have a strong turkey taste.
But in this gumbo recipe the turkey flavors meld together with the nutty roux, spicy cayenne, and smoky sausage in a way that tastes unique, and bold, and nothing like the holidays.
If you’ve never made a chocolate roux before, just know that it takes a good 20 minutes or so of constant stirring. It may seem like a pain, but it’s worth it.
We found a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to be pretty mild, but I recommend starting with a half teaspoon and tasting as you add it. You can always add more too!
We use our homemade turkey stock in this recipe, making it from the leftover turkey carcass after the holiday meal, but you can absolutely use chicken stock if you don’t have turkey. You can also sub leftover roast chicken in this recipe as well.
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- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 2 large green bell peppers chopped
- 3 stalks of celery chopped
- 1/2 lb smoked sausage very finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
- 10 cups turkey or chicken broth
- 1 1/2 lbs torn/shredded leftover turkey meat
- 1 lb smoked sausage sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onions green part only
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, combine the oil and flour.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 20-30 minutes. The roux is done when it is a dark brown the color of chocolate.
- Add all the chopped onions, peppers, celery, and sausage to the roux and cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the salt and cayenne pepper, then mix in the broth.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hrs.
- Add the turkey and sliced sausage to the gumbo and cook another 15 minutes.
- Top with green onions and parsley and serve over rice.
Approximate cost/serving: The cost will greatly depend on whether or not you're using leftover turkey and stock made from the turkey carcass. That's what we did, and this only cost us about $8 to make (I spent a little more than that but had leftover green onions, parsley, and sausage to use in another recipe so I just factored the cost for what we used). That's just 80 cents per serving!
Gluten Free: This gluten free flour mix from King Arthur has been hailed as the best gluten free flour for making roux.
MORE LEFTOVER TURKEY RECIPES
Here are some more of our family’s leftover turkey recipes, as well as some recipes from our food blogging friends:
Mom’s Famous Leftover Turkey and Barley Soup from Eating Richly Even When You’re Broke
Leftover Turkey Ramen Soup from Eating Richly Even When You’re Broke
Leftover Turkey Carcass Stock from Eating Richly Even When You’re Broke
Leftover Turkey Pasta Recipe from Eating Richly Even When You’re Broke
Leftover Turkey and Sweet Potato Soup with Black Beans from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Leftover Turkey Recipe for Chinese Congee from Steamy Kitchen
Leftover Turkey Pot Pie from One Hungry Mama
Curried Turkey Soup from Simply Recipes
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Nutritional and cost information is for estimating purposes only, and subject to variations due to region, seasonality, and product availability.