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Thanksgiving leftovers: Turning turkey and cranberry sauce into light dishes for one

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Don’t worry: I’m not here to suggest that you concoct a Thanksgiving feast sized to serve one — and that you then eat it alone, in the dark, in shame. This Thursday is nothing if not community-oriented, and single folks who are able to should be enjoying it in the company of family, friends or both.

But when you leave the party, no doubt stuffed more than sated, you may very well find yourself loaded down with something beyond an expanded waistline: as many containers of leftovers as your host can persuade you to carry. Well-meaning families tend to take pity on us solo cooks, assuming that we can’t possibly have the wherewithal to provide for ourselves and foisting off even more on us than on other guests; wouldn’t we like this turkey, and that cranberry sauce, and wouldn’t we get a lot of good mileage out of some mashed potatoes and gravy and dressing and pie?

I don’t know about you, but after carb-loading for 24 to 48 hours, the last thing I feel like eating a couple of days after Thanksgiving is a big plate of the same meal I had around the groaning table. Or, heaven forbid, some of the more indulgent, over-the-top suggestions for leftovers that start flying around this time of year (pumpkin pie smoothie, anyone?). So I’ve laid out a plan for turning that take-home bounty into lighter, tangier, crunchier meals that can awaken my palate after all the beige, cream-laden stuff I had on turkey day.

The first order of business is to decide what to take — and what to leave behind. For leftovers, I prefer to focus on the leaner turkey breast meat and on one of the brightest parts of the meal, the tangy cranberry sauce. Both are versatile enough to use in ways that seem light-years in flavor and heft from the Thanksgiving table. With the right ingredients added, they can remain seasonally appropriate as well.

Vietnamese summer rolls, one of my favorite light meals, become fresh fall rolls when I wrap strips of leftover turkey, baby spinach and mint leaves, carrots and apple in softened rice paper. (I leave out the usual vermicelli noodles to cut down on the carbs.) With a little lime juice, chopped mint and soy sauce stirred into leftover cranberries, I have a bold dipping sauce for the rolls.

Another day, I’ll whisk vinegar, Dijon mustard and olive oil into more of that leftover cranberry sauce for a quick vinaigrette, then drizzle it onto a textured salad of cubed turkey breast, carrot, celery, Bosc pear and feta. Pumpkin seeds give it even more crunch.

Finally, when my hunger for something spicy takes hold, I’ll pull out my trusty wok and stir-fry the last cubes of turkey with crushed red pepper flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, brown rice, peanuts, scallions and — for that seasonal touch — shredded Brussels sprouts. It’s a kung-pao-style approach, but it’s not traditional by any stretch. The real thing doesn’t include rice or Brussels sprouts in the stir-fry, naturally, but does entail a healthy dose of cornstarch to create that goopy sauce. Normally, I’m a fan, but when I’m in post-turkey-day mode, something that sticky would just weigh me down.

More from Food:

Holiday Guide 2011

Recipe: Turkey Salad With Cranberry Vinaigrette

Recipe: Turkey Fried Rice, Kung Pao Style

Recipe: Fresh Fall Rolls With Cranberry Dipping Sauce

Thanksgiving by the hearth

The lighter side of Thanksgiving

From Hawaii, a kalua turkey

Yonan is author of “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

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