Finding dishes to use up the leftovers from a holiday turkey is a longstanding preoccupation for many cooks. Some dread it as a burdensome chore, but for creative cooks, the leftovers represent an opportunity to take the traditional bird in new and interesting directions. For example, turkey salad can be either simple and familiar or bold and fresh, depending how you make it.
Like chicken salad -- the two are very much alike -- turkey salad is very straightforward in its simplest versions. Coarsely dice or chop the leftover cooked turkey, using white or dark meat in any combination that appeals to you. Toss it with enough mayonnaise to bind the turkey together, and season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Most recipes call for a hint of onion flavor as well, in the form of finely minced onion, minced green onion or chopped chives. Another near-universal addition is chopped celery, for its moisture, crunch and flavor-enhancing character.
This basic pattern can be varied in near-limitless ways. The basic recipe's mayonnaise can be replaced or complemented by plain yogurt, ranch dressing, tzatziki or even a splash of buttermilk. Stir a spoonful of cranberry sauce into the mayonnaise for flavor, or take it in a different direction with a pinch of curry powder, chili powder or other spice mix. Aside from celery, other ingredients, including water chestnuts, apples, shaved or diced fennel, shredded carrots or kohlrabi, all add moisture, crunch and distinctive flavors to the mix.
Turkey salad can be served as a light meal in its own right, scooped onto a lettuce leaf or spooned into a hollowed-out tomato or bell pepper. It also makes a fine filling for a sandwich or wrap, whether you opt for simple sliced bread or an artisanal roll. Coarsely diced turkey is more attractive when served as a salad, but in sandwiches, large pieces can drop out and be messy. For a more sandwich-friendly version, chop the turkey finely. Better yet, pulse the crunchy vegetables in a food processor and add the turkey and pulse it to a fine texture resembling tuna salad. The finer-textured mixture holds its shape better, and this technique can salvage dry, overcooked turkey and make it palatable.
The classic mayonnaise-style salad -- a "bound" salad, in restaurant terminology, because its ingredients are held together by the dressing -- isn't the only option. Serve diced or thinly sliced turkey over a crisp Caesar salad, or opt for diced turkey in lieu of chicken in your favorite Cobb salad. Turkey lightly seasoned with chili powder or chipotle mayonnaise is perfectly at home in a taco salad. For a more exotic alternative, marinate diced leftover turkey in a sesame-ginger vinaigrette, then add it to Asian-style noodle salads. Feel free to improvise, adding turkey to any combination of other ingredients that appeals to you personally.