Turkey quesadillas Credit: Sandy Oliver

Besides being grateful on general principles, we have another reason for gratitude on Thanksgiving: leftover turkey.

As far as I am concerned, turkey is nearly a side dish with the plethora of vegetable concoctions, pickles, sauces and all those lovely pies. When I was a vegetarian, I loved Thanksgiving because there were so many other great things to eat that I never really thought about the turkey. It is the easiest holiday to have a vegetarian family member at table.

And now that I eat turkey, I’ve often thought that I could skip turkey at the great meal and proceed directly to turkey sandwiches on non-challenging bread spread with mayonnaise, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. (I know people who add cranberry sauce and even stuffing, but that is superfluous in my book.)

And turkey soup. Ahhh. And still the turkey goes on. Fortunately, I don’t get tired of it.

A few years ago, Josephine Belknap sent me a bunch of Tex-Mex-style recipes and among them was one for turkey quesadillas, a good way to get out of the New England flavor rut, and jazz up the leftover turkey bits with a Southwestern twist.

If you don’t want to stray too far from our Yankee way, you can still make a quesadilla with holiday leftovers. Spread a flour tortilla, small or fajita size, with cranberry sauce, crumble leftover stuffing over it, then distribute shredded bits of turkey, and top with a layer of grated Swiss cheese. Top with another tortilla and toast both sides in a broad pan, then serve. A friend of mine adds a little horseradish to the cranberry sauce. Pretty darn good.

Without verging on the kitchen-sink approach to a more Tex-Mex turkey quesadilla, choose judiciously from a list of add-ins that might include black beans, corn, guacamole or avocados, hot chili peppers, sour cream, salsa and, of course, cheese.

Josephine’s recipe includes turkey, corn, avocados and pepper jack cheese (plus cilantro, red onions, lime, salt and pepper). Another I saw included caramelized onions, fried red peppers, guacamole, sour cream and Monterey Jack cheese. Yet another called for black beans, red onions, cheese and salsa. You get the drift. Pretty flexible and ideal for people who don’t get too wound up about precision in recipes.

The recipe that follows is how I made them for my household, but you are free to tinker around for a version that matches what you have on hand and what you like to eat. I had small tortillas, and found that one of them filled me up nicely, though two each is better for bigger eaters.

So this weekend, we will eat up the leftovers, make some fragrant soup with lots of onions and celery in it to keep the bits of turkey company, and get ready to start baking cookies for the month ahead.

Credit: Sandy Oliver

Turkey Quesadillas

Yield varies

Vegetable oil

Onions, sliced

Red or green peppers, sliced

Flour tortillas, small or fajita sized

Shredded turkey


Monterey Jack cheese, grated

Sour cream


Cilantro, chopped

1. Put a little vegetable oil in a saute pan, and cook the onions and peppers until they soften.

2. Place tortillas on a hot frying pan, and top with the sauteed onions and peppers.

3. Add shredded turkey, avocado and cheese, then top each with a tortilla.

4. Toast the quesadillas on each side, at a medium heat, flipping them quickly so the contents don’t spill.

5. When they are hot through and the cheese melted, serve them.

6. Top with sour cream and salsa, and sprinkle on cilantro.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...