Thanksgiving is my hands-down favorite holiday. No gift-giving pressures. No nonstop frenzied commercialization. Lots of playtime with local ingredients. And yes, I even like the leftovers. In fact, I probably look forward to the bird carcass more than any other aspect of Turkey Day. It's all that potential: turkey tetrazzini, turkey enchiladas, turkey almond salad, turkey wild rice bake.
Leftovers, of course, aren't everybody's bag. Take my brother-in-law, who lives in Florida and at whose home I'll be spending Thanksgiving next week. Javier's not crazy about turkey, isn't much into Thanksgiving (he's from Peru) and has been known to spurn next-day dishes assembled from twice-cooked scraps. On the phone with my sister recently, I offered to cook a post-holiday meal for them and then began to wax poetic about the joys of simmering poultry stock and serving old-fashioned turkey noodle soup. She warned me off.
But I'm not giving up. You see, Javier does go for spicy and exotic fare. He downs garlic and hot sauces like there's no tomorrow and, being a restaurateur, is always on the lookout for big, new flavors. So I'm going to try something else out on him, a gutsy concoction I've been experimenting with lately. Based on a Florence Fabricant recipe for a Libyan chickpea and pasta soup, it has morphed into a fiery, cross-cultural potage that includes Mexican chilies, Spanish saffron and good ol' American turkey, and is finished with fresh herbs and cayenne pepper. It's leftovers, but it can make your hair sweat and your heart knock.
I think Javier will like it.
Spicy, Exotic Turkey Noodle Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups finely chopped onions
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, pulverized
- cayenne pepper
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup dried chile puree* or bottled Mexican red (enchilada) sauce
- 7-8 cups rich turkey or chicken stock
- 1 can (about 15 ounces) chickpeas, drained
- 2 or so cups cooked, chopped turkey
- salt and pepper
- thick, wide egg noodles
- 1/4 cup each coarsely chopped cilantro and mint leaves
Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium flame. Add onions and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and cook 1-2 minutes longer. Stir in paprika, saffron and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Add tomatoes and dried chile puree (or red sauce). Cook, stirring occasionally, a few minutes. Add stock and chickpeas. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer slowly about 30 minutes. Now add the turkey plus salt, pepper and additional cayenne to taste - as much as you dare. At this point, if you have the time, let the soup stand off the heat for at least an hour (or chill it overnight).
Cook the noodles in boiling, salted water until tender. Meanwhile, gently reheat the soup. Drain the noodles. Stir fresh herbs into the soup. Portion some noodles into individual bowls and ladle hot soup over them.
*First choice: the mahogany-toned pasilla, with its tobacco-like savor; anchos, guajillos or New Mexican chilies will also work well. To make the puree, soften dried chilies in boiling water, remove seeds and stems then puree the flesh with a little liquid to make a thick sauce. Leftover puree can be frozen and is great in salsa, bean soups, chili, cheese sauce, etc.
Three more easy-to-make soups
Creamy Wild Rice, Turkey and Corn Soup: Sauté shallots in butter with rosemary and sage. Add a little flour; cook over low flame for several minutes, stirring now and then. Whisk in hot, strong poultry stock. Add cooked wild rice, corn kernels, chopped turkey and cream. Heat gently. Add salt and pepper. Flavor improves if you let it stand off the heat for an hour or longer before reheating and serving.
Hot and Sour Turkey Mushroom Soup: Simmer sliced dried mushrooms in unseasoned poultry broth. Add chopped spinach or chard leaves, strips of leftover turkey and small amounts of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and hot chili oil. Heat through. Mix cornstarch with a little water; stir into soup to lightly thicken it. Vigorously stir the soup while you drizzle in a beaten egg. Add cilantro, green onions, salt and pepper. Serve now.
Turkey, Barley and Apple Cider Soup: Cook barley until nearly tender in equal amounts of apple cider and poultry stock. Add turkey, sautéed onions and carrots, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer to finish the barley. If time permits, let soup stand off the heat for an hour to develop flavor. Reheat and serve.
Originally published in Isthmus under the headline, "Transforming the Bird."