Mexico Life
turkey pozole With leftover turkey and some hominy, create a fresh take on Mexican pozole.

Thanksgiving leftovers? Make classic Mexican dishes with that extra turkey

Look beyond soup and sandwiches to pozole, carnitas, enmoladas and more

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and in the food world (at least in the United States), that means turkey time.

And while in some parts of Mexico turkey isn’t regularly on the menu, in the Yucatán, wild turkeys are very much part of the local cuisine. They were domesticated and eaten by the Aztecs and Maya hundreds (maybe thousands) of years ago, and Spanish conquistadors shipped them back to Spain.

Those wild ocellated turkeys, found today in the Yucatán Peninsula forests in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, are a far cry from the highly domesticated ones sold in modern-day grocery stores.

They’re a different species, smaller and brilliantly colored with distinctive iridescent patterned feathers and bright blue heads. And they don’t make the classic turkey “gobble.”

In Mazatlán, where I live, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to find whole turkeys, and if you do, they’ll be frozen. That said, there’s no shame in roasting the biggest chicken you can find for your Día de Acción de Gracias celebration.

Wild ocellated turkeys
Wild ocellated turkeys in the forest, Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Yucatán.

Years of habit have accustomed many of us who celebrate to a week of leftover turkey, and the things we do with it are as much a part of our Thanksgiving traditions as the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. We all have our favorites: sandwiches, soup, the classic layered Thanksgiving-meal-in-a-goblet.

I thought to change it up a bit and share some Mexican-inspired recipes for leftover turkey or chicken. Enjoy!

Easy Turkey Enmoladas

These are so easy and delicious! Use whatever kind of store-bought or homemade mole you like.

  • 4-8 corn tortillas, warmed till soft
  • Leftover roast turkey or chicken (¼ cup per tortilla)
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup mole sauce per tortilla
  • 1 Tbsp. crema per tortilla
  • For serving: cotija cheese, sliced white onions, minced fresh cilantro, lime wedges

In each tortilla, place about ¼ cup of meat in a line, a bit off-center. Don’t fill them too much!

Roll tightly into a cigar shape and rest seam-side-down. Repeat with remaining tortillas and meat.

Heat oil in cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium.

Add enchiladas seam-side-down in a single row. Cook without moving until crisp on first side, 2–3 minutes.

Carefully turn with tongs; cook on second side until crisp. Remove from pan; drain on paper towels.

Season with salt immediately. To serve, spread half of sauce on a plate. Top with enchiladas, spoon remaining sauce on top. Drizzle with crema.

Sprinkle with cotija, onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

enmoladas
Find mole for enmoladas in cans or fresh in your market’s prepared foods section.

Turkey Tortilla Soup

For a milder flavor, omit one ancho and one pasilla chile and replace 1 cup stock with one (14.4-ounce) can of diced tomatoes with juice.

  • 2 pasilla chiles
  • 2 ancho chiles
  • 2 whole canned chipotle chiles in adobo plus 1 Tbsp. sauce
  • 2 quarts chicken or turkey broth
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 whole poblano pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 lb. leftover turkey or chicken, shredded
  • For serving: tortilla strips or chips, minced cilantro, diced avocado, jalapeño and scallions, lime wedges

Combine pasilla, ancho and chipotle chiles in a medium-sized saucepan. Add half the broth.

Simmer over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to blender; process until completely smooth.

Heat oil in large saucepan over high heat. Add onions and poblano pepper and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes.

Add garlic and cumin and cook about 30 seconds. Add remaining broth and chile purée. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer, add meat and cook about 5 minutes.

Season to taste with salt. Serve hot, with tortilla strips, scallions, cilantro, avocado, jalapeños as garnishes at the table, plus lime wedges.

Turkey Carnitas

Substitute these for the pork carnitas in any recipe. Delicious in tacos, burritos or quesadillas or on top of nachos.

  • Any amount leftover cooked dark-meat turkey/chicken (thighs and drumsticks)
  • Salt
  • Per lb. of meat: 1 orange, 1 medium onion, 2 bay leaves, 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, chicken/turkey fat

Combine meat (with bones if available), orange, onion and bay leaves in a pot that fits everything snugly. Add enough water to cover halfway. Cover, bring to boil, then reduce to a bare simmer and cook about 1 hour until turkey is fall-off-the-bone tender.

turkey carnitas
Make guilt-free carnitas with leaner turkey instead of the traditional pork.

Discard orange, onion and bay leaves; drain turkey well. Shred meat; discard bones.

Heat oil or fat in cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat, and spread into an even layer. Cook without moving about 5 minutes until meat is well browned and crisp on bottom. Then stir to incorporate the crisp bits and move new soft bits to the bottom. Continue this process until the meat is as crisp as you like it. Season to taste with salt.

Turkey Pozole

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large poblanos, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (29-oz. can) hominy, rinsed
  • Salt
  • 2 cups leftover shredded turkey/chicken
  • ½ cup minced fresh cilantro, plus more for serving
  • For serving: corn tortilla strips, radishes, avocado, cotija cheese, lime wedges

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and poblanos. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5–6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin and tomato paste; cook, stirring, 2–3 minutes. Stir in broth, hominy and ½ tsp. salt; bring to boil.

Reduce heat, simmer 10 minutes. Add meat and cilantro; cook about 3 minutes until hot.

Serve topped with tortilla strips, radishes, avocado, cilantro, cotija and a squeeze of lime.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Instagram at @thejanetblaser.

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