Holiday Leftovers

Do you have Thanksgiving leftovers, or are you wondering what to do with your upcoming Christmas leftovers? Turn them into a comforting casserole with local ingredients. 

Despite having a lot of guests over Thanksgiving, I had a lot of turkey left over, especially white meat. I like dark meat turkey better because of its higher moisture content. I set out to find a good recipe for the turkey I had, preferably something creamy.

Many casserole recipes of the 1960s were practically a list of cans: a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of green beans, a can of tuna, etc. - combined into a dish and perhaps topped with cracker crumbs. But a casserole is also a great way to combine leftovers into something yummy.

Once I stopped eating grains I also stopped making casseroles. Too many of my favorite recipes had rice, pasta, white sauce, or bread crumbs in them, and I wasn’t sure what direction to take them instead. Thankfully there are a lot of recipes out there for “paleo” casseroles to help me out.

I found a great paleo recipe, interestingly, on Perdue’s website. While I in no way condone factory farmed poultry, I found Perdue’s recipe to be a good starting point for my own.

Paleo recipes, however, often include non-dairy substitutes. While I am happy for people who cannot eat dairy to have readily available options, I do not see any coconut trees, for instance, around Chattanooga. I do not tolerate coconut that well myself, either, so I substitute regular (local!) dairy in dairy-free recipes. One thing to keep in mind when doing this is fat content. Full-fat coconut milk has a fat content somewhere between half and half and cream.

I think about what I have on hand and what end result I’m looking for when I think about how to substitute for a non-dairy milk. In this case I wanted a creamy casserole and I had sour cream, so I used that in addition to milk. Some cheese would have been a great addition, too. I stirred some in my serving and wished I had put it in the whole casserole.

Don’t be put off by cauliflower rice just because it’s a trendy food item right now. It’s also a local food, unlike regular rice. If I had leftover roasted cauliflower on hand I might have used that instead or in addition to the “rice.” An interesting substitute or addition could be leftover sweet potato or white potatoes. It would change the flavor significantly but would add more substance to the dish. 

Photos by Zachary Cross

Photos by Zachary Cross

Another local addition or substitute is squash. I did not have leftover cooked squash or pumpkin on hand, but if you do, this recipe from Paleo Grubs uses it in a casserole to provide a creamy texture. I plan to try it in the future.

Spinach is in season and plentiful right now, but feel free to substitute other greens as desired. I used a mix of frozen spinach, fresh spinach, and a fresh, baby Asian green. Leftover, cooked kale or other cooked greens would work, too. If your greens are already seasoned (e.g., sautéed with onions and/or garlic), you could substitute them for the onion and garlic I’ve listed as well.

I’ve specified using a large pot for this recipe so you can adjust ingredients to suit you before baking. The original chicken casserole recipe I reference looked dry to me, so I kept adding liquids until it looked right to me. Start with less liquid than you think you need, and keep adding until it looks right to your eye. You might like it drier than I do.

Once your casserole is ready to bake, feel free to top with cheese, bread crumbs, paprika, or whatever strikes your fancy - maybe even cracker crumbs!


Leftover Turkey Casserole

Inspired by Paleo Chicken and Cauliflower Rice Casserole

2 cups leftover cooked turkey, chopped
1 large head cauliflower
1 large onion, chopped
Fat for sautéing (butter, palm, turkey, olive)
~8 oz mushrooms, sliced
~24 oz fresh spinach
1 - 1 ½ cups milk
¼-½ cup sour cream
~1 cup turkey broth
3 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Rice the cauliflower and set aside.

  2. In a large pot, sauté the onions in about 2 tablespoons of fat until soft, salt to taste. Add 2 more tablespoons fat, more salt, and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are tender. Stir in spinach until wilted then salt to taste.

  3. Stir in milk, sour cream, and stock. Adjust amounts to desired creaminess/texture. Taste and season, remembering that the egg will dilute the seasonings a little.

  4. Remove from heat. Stir in beaten egg quickly. Pour into a 9 x 13 inch or equivalent casserole dish. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes.


  1. Make dairy-free with coconut milk per the original inspiration recipe.

  2. Replace any or all of the vegetables with leftover vegetables, no need to cook but stir them into the pot to heat slightly.

  3. Add cheese to the mix and/or as a topping.

  4. Use leftover rice or noodles in place of the cauliflower rice.

Printable recipe here

Heather Cross