Leftover Turkey Soup

After a generous Thanksgiving feast or a satisfying roast turkey dinner, you’re usually left with more meat than you can immediately consume.

This is when the comforting and versatile turkey soup comes into play.

Not only does it provide an excellent way to utilize leftover turkey, but it also offers a warming meal that is both nourishing and easy to prepare.

The beauty of turkey soup lies in its flexibility— whether you prefer a broth-based version brimming with vegetables or a heartier, cream-laden variation, the foundational steps remain similar and simple to customize.

A pot of leftover turkey soup simmers on the stove, steam rising from the rich broth. Chunks of tender meat, carrots, and celery float in the savory liquid

Making turkey soup can be as straightforward or as creative as you like.

Start with a base of low-sodium broth to let the turkey shine, and add in any combination of vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onions.

Carbohydrates like orzo pasta, rice, or noodles can contribute bulk and satisfaction to your soup.

Seasoning with herbs can transform the flavor profile, taking it from a classic comforting bowl to something more adventurous. For example, you can use cilantro and lime for a Mexican-inspired version or ginger and lemongrass for an Asian twist.

A pot simmering on the stove, filled with leftover turkey, vegetables, and broth. A wooden spoon stirs the bubbling mixture, steam rising from the pot

The process of crafting your turkey soup can become a post-holiday ritual that helps in minimizing food waste while extending the enjoyment of your holiday cooking.

Personalize your soup with a roux for thickness, or keep it light with a clear and brothy consistency.

The option to freeze portions means you can savor the flavors of a festive meal well beyond the holiday season, ensuring that none of your efforts in the kitchen go to waste.

Whether it’s a simple family lunch or a meal prep solution for busy days ahead, leftover turkey soup is a testament to the kitchen’s alchemy, turning the remains of one meal into a fresh, satisfying experience.

Essential Ingredients

A pot simmering on the stove, filled with leftover turkey, vegetables, and broth. A wooden spoon stirs the bubbling mixture, steam rising from the pot

Crafting a delicious leftover turkey soup hinges on the quality of ingredients you choose, particularly the vegetables and the turkey. With the right selection, you can transform leftovers into a comforting and flavorful meal.

Selecting Vegetables

  • Onions, Carrots, and Celery: These are the foundational vegetables that build the base of your soup, adding sweetness and depth. Dice them up for a consistent texture.
  • Garlic: Mince a few cloves to infuse a pungent, aromatic layer into the broth.
  • Additional Vegetables: Vegetable Prep Note Potatoes Dice into bite-sized pieces Adds heartiness and texture Corn Strip the kernels from the cob Introduces a subtle sweetness Green Beans Chop into inch-long pieces Offers a satisfying crunch Zucchini Slice or cube Makes the soup more filling and nutritious Tomatoes Chop or crush, if canned Contributes a light acidity to the flavor

Incorporate these vegetables based on your personal preference and what’s available to you.

Preparing the Turkey

  • Leftover Turkey: Gather your leftover turkey—whether it’s turkey meat pieces or a roast turkey carcass—and ensure it’s properly deboned and shredded or cut into bite-sized chunks.
  • Maximizing Flavor:
    • Dark Meat: More succulent and rich, using dark meat from thighs or legs can enhance the soup’s savory quality.
    • Turkey Carcass: Simmering the bones can extract marrow and deepen the soup base. If using, ensure all small bones are removed after simmering to fortify the broth.

Soup Basics

When creating a satisfying bowl of leftover turkey soup, a flavorful stock and well-selected herbs and seasonings are foundational. These foundational elements will determine the final taste and nutrition of your soup.

Making the Stock

To start your turkey soup recipe, a robust homemade turkey stock made from leftover turkey bones is key.

You’ll want to gently simmer the bones in water, adding vegetables such as carrots, onions, and celery to create depth of flavor.

  • Ingredients for Turkey Stock:
    • Leftover turkey bones
    • Water: typically 6-8 cups
    • 1 onion, quartered
    • 2 carrots, chopped
    • 2 celery stalks, chopped
    • Salt (kosher salt is preferred), to taste
    • Black pepper, to taste

Instructions: Combine ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. Strain the stock and use as the base for your soup.

Herbs and Seasoning

The right combination of herbs and seasoning will enhance the natural flavors of your turkey soup.

Dried thyme and bay leaves are classic choices, infusing the soup with a warm, aromatic flavor.

  • Recommended Seasonings:
    • Dried thyme: 1 teaspoon
    • Bay leaf: 1 whole
    • Rosemary: a pinch for a piney touch
    • Salt: start with 1 teaspoon, adjust to taste
    • Black pepper: 1/2 teaspoon, ground
    • Lemon juice: 1 tablespoon for a hint of brightness
    • Red pepper flakes: a pinch for a subtle heat (optional)

Tips: Remember to season your stock in stages—start with the initial simmer and adjust again after adding your vegetables and turkey meat. Taste as you go for the perfect balance.

Cooking Process

Creating a hearty and delicious leftover turkey soup is an ideal way to extend the life of your holiday dinner into a comforting meal.

With a few key steps in the cooking process, you’ll transform simple ingredients into a fulfilling dish.

Starting with a Mirepoix

You begin by crafting a mirepoix, a fundamental building block for flavorful soups.

In a Dutch oven or a large pot on the stove, heat two tablespoons of olive oil or butter over medium-high heat. Then, add the following finely chopped vegetables to the pot:

  • 1 cup of onions
  • 1 cup of carrots
  • 1 cup of celery

Cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the flavors meld together, typically around 10 minutes. This step paves the way for a rich and aromatic base for your turkey soup.

Simmering the Soup

Once your mirepoix is ready, add your leftover turkey pieces to the pot.

Pour in enough stock (chicken or turkey) to cover the ingredients.

Bring your soup to a boil and then simmer it on low heat to allow the flavors to develop.

Your simmering time is the main contributor to the cook time, which can range from 20 minutes to several hours based on your preference for depth of flavor. The longer the simmer, the more robust your soup will become.

Thickening with Roux or Cream

For a creamier soup, you can either make a roux or add heavy cream.

To make a roux, mix equal parts all-purpose flour and melted butter in a separate pan and cook it for a few minutes to remove the floury taste.

Gradually whisk this mixture into your simmering soup until it reaches the desired consistency.

Alternatively, stir in heavy cream toward the end of your cooking process for a creamy texture.

Adding Grains and Pasta

A pot of leftover turkey soup simmers with added grains and pasta

Enhancing your leftover turkey soup with grains or pasta not only adds texture and heartiness but also ensures a satisfying meal.

Choosing the right addition can transform your soup into a rich and fulfilling dish.

Incorporating Rice

You can add a whole grain dimension to your turkey soup by introducing rice. Each variety offers a unique flavor and texture profile:

  • White Rice: A traditional choice, white rice contributes a soft, somewhat neutral element, complementing your turkey without overshadowing it.
  • Brown Rice: For a nuttier taste and chewier texture, brown rice is your go-to, with the added benefit of more fiber.
  • Wild Rice or a Wild Rice Blend: If you’re aiming for a robust, slightly earthy character with a lovely bite, choose wild rice or a wild rice blend.

Remember to adjust your cooking times based on the type of rice used:

Type of RiceCooking Time
White Rice18-20 minutes
Brown Rice35-40 minutes
Wild Rice45-50 minutes

Selecting Noodles

Noodles swiftly bulk up your soup and cater to comfort.

Select the right type to match the texture you’re seeking:

  • For a classic feel, egg noodles are a popular choice, offering a soft yet slightly elastic texture, quite fitting for a homestyle soup.
  • Thin noodles cook quickly, making them a convenient option for a fast meal.
  • Potatoes: Cubed little potatoes require minimal prep and provide a satisfying bite.
  • Add them to your soup and boil until tender, typically 10-15 minutes.
  • Squash: Butternut or acorn squash introduces a sweet, nutty flavor.
  • Peel, dice, and add to the soup, cooking until squash is soft.
  • Cook pasta until al dente.
  • Sauté mushrooms and onions; add flour to create a roux.
  • Gradually mix in milk and chicken broth, stirring until thickened.
  • Add leftover turkey, cooked pasta, fresh thyme, and cheese to the mixture.
  • Bake until bubbly and golden brown.
  • Acidity: Add lemon juice incrementally, tasting after each addition.
  • Saltiness: Sprinkle in salt, stir, then taste. Repeat until the flavor is just right.
  • Depth: Enhance with chicken bouillon as needed, stirring well to distribute.
  • Freshness: Top with parsley for a visual and flavorful contrast.
  • Customization: Serve with lemon wedges for an individualized taste.
  • Texture: Consider a final touch like croutons for added crunch.
  • Homemade breadsticks
  • Fresh dinner rolls
  • Crusty French bread
  • Mixed green salad with a vinaigrette
  • Classic Caesar salad
  • Kale salad with a lemon dressing
  • Toppings:
    • Crisp tortilla chips
    • Shredded green cabbage
    • A squeeze of lime for brightness
  • Let your turkey soup cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to an airtight container.
  • Place it on a middle shelf, away from raw meat.
  • Cool the soup beforehand.
  • Leave some room at the top of the container for expansion.
  • Microwave: Place soup in a microwave-safe container, cover, and stir periodically.
  • Stove: Reheat in a pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Oven: Preheat to 350°F and heat in an oven-safe dish until hot.
  • Slow Cooker/Instant Pot: Use the “saute” feature on the Instant Pot or a low setting on the slow cooker, stirring occasionally.
  • Carrots: High in beta-carotene and fiber.
  • Celery: Low in calories and provides a modest amount of dietary fiber.
  • Onions: Offer antioxidants and potentially anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Garlic: Contains compounds that can contribute to a healthy immune system.
  • Turkey carcass
  • Onions, carrots, celery (mirepoix)
  • Bay leaf
  • Fresh herbs (thyme, sage)
  • Simmer turkey bones with mirepoix and herbs to create a stock.
  • Strain the broth and use it as a base for your soup.
  • Allow soup to cool completely before freezing.
  • Store in freezer-safe containers, leaving room for expansion.
  • Soup can be frozen for up to three months.
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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