Thanksgiving leftovers are almost as popular as Thanksgiving dinner itself. The lauded next-day Thanksgiving sandwich reached peak popularity nearly 20 years ago in an episode of Friends titled “The One with Ross’ Sandwich.” Since then, the Thanksgiving sandwich has become a late November staple, with dozens of iterations detailed online. There are even “leftover sandwich” recipes for people who didn’t grab any containers of leftovers to take home with them.
By late December, we’ve indulged in sweet treats and rich meals for months, so leftovers and edible decorations might not be as appealing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Other holiday leftovers and edible decorations can be, and should be, repurposed, too.
Most leftovers will last in the fridge for about four days, and most everything can be repurposed into an exciting, fresh meal. So think beyond the sandwich (though, yes, those are delicious, too) — pile meat on tacos, use bones for stock, throw veggies in rice bowls, repurpose just about anything as salad ingredients. And don’t discount your edible decorations, either. There are some surprising holiday recipes that use candy canes, Christmas tree needles, and more. We tested some of them out:
Mashed potato latkes
The only thing better than reusing holiday leftovers is transforming those holiday leftovers into another delicious holiday food. If you have mashed potatoes with Christmas dinner, this recipe is surprisingly easy and can be customized depending on what other leftovers you have around: Just mix together mashed potatoes and veggies (the recipe I followed uses broccoli rabe, but I used broccolini); add eggs, flour, parmesan, chives, and baking powder; and fry it up. If you don’t want to use leftover veggies or don’t have any on hand, you can make a more traditional-tasting latke with just the mashed potatoes. Don’t forget to top it with applesauce.
Frittatas are a genius way to repurpose leftovers. They require almost all of their ingredients to be cooked before being added, making them an easy vessel for meat, veggies, or whatever else you have on hand. They taste great with a variety of additions. Mini frittatas in particular can be made in bulk, freeze well, and are an easy single-serving breakfast option.
The idea, at it’s most basic, is to throw a bunch of eggs in a pan, along with flavorful ingredients. You can use most any holiday leftovers in your frittata — ham, potatoes, cheese, sausage, spinach, and so on. I made my frittatas with leftover turkey meat. Whole fat dairy makes for a creamy, fluffy dish, but can easily be omitted for vegans or lactose intolerant folks. Here’s one good version of mini frittatas, made in a muffin tin, to riff on.
Christmas trees aren’t just decorative — their needles are full of vitamin C. If your needles came from a Christmas tree farm be sure to wash them well, because they were probably sprayed with pesticides. And if you’re using needles from your Christmas tree at home, make sure you haven’t used preservatives in the stand water and check what kind of tree you have. Pine, fir, and spruce needles (which comprise most of the trees we drag inside for the holiday) are edible. Avoid yew (which is an uncommon Christmas decoration anyway) and don’t drink needle tea if you’re pregnant.
For tea, chop up the needles, boil them, strain the mixture, and then boil again. Add lemon or honey to taste. Needles can also be infused into syrups for cocktails and desserts. Just boil some water and corn syrup or sugar, and let it sit with the chopped needles in the fridge for several hours.
There’s no need to throw away the wrapped candy canes decorating your home. Crush them and keep them in the freezer to use as a topping for cake, to swirl in hot chocolate, and to flavor other goodies. Or go ahead and use them to make peppermint bark, which doubles as an inexpensive holiday gift.
The easiest recipe I found (and the one I used) only requires melted white and dark chocolate, coconut oil, peppermint oil, and crushed candy canes. However, there are paleo and vegan bark recipes that use cacao powder and coconut products.
Of course, you don’t need to wait for Christmas to start finding delicious ways to recycle your leftovers. But given that the EPA estimates that Americans generate 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which includes things like food and decorations, it’s as good an occasion as any to build new habits into your culinary routine.