If you have a “sides” household like I do, you might have a lot of leftover turkey after the big feasts! No worries — and don’t waste a bit of it. Leftover Turkey Wild Rice Soup to the rescue! Not only is it a comforting, cold-weather soup but it’s also a great way to use up holiday and Thanksgiving leftovers deliciously!
If I’m being perfectly honest, the best part of Thanksgiving food is probably the leftovers. I’m a sides girl, for sure — especially the trifecta: mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese — and turkey sitting there on the plate … I can take it or leave it.
And, as a colleague at work pointed out this week, turkey preparation is so controversial and defensively defended with all the big feels — wet brined, dry brined, stuffing inside or not, stuffed with a stick of butter, basted outside with butter, roasted breast side up or down, or deep fried at great personal risk of life and property — because it’s the worst of the poultries and hard to get right for everyone at the table. Lol.
And if we look at the feast objectively, some of the sides are just … weird. Which is probably why they’re eaten only once a year. A fellow blogger recently asked on FB what Thanksgiving side dish people despise the most (more big feels about Thanksgiving food, lol), and the overwhelming winner, by hundreds of votes, was the green bean casserole. Second place: the marshmallowy sweet potato casserole.
I’m in complete agreement about both dishes, and unless someone has made a treasured recipe with their self-esteem and family honor on the line, neither touches my plate.
But, the leftovers are something else. For the rest of the weekend, we get permission to eat our fill of the dishes we love best, and tweak it all into weird and wonderful, once-a-year bliss. Think, stuffing waffles, fried mashed potato bites, pizza, turkey sandwiches of all kinds (clubs, melts, tacos, wraps), cobb salads. And soup.
Soup is never a bad idea. I firmly believe that if we could bring the world together over a delicious bowl of homemade soup, there would be peace in our time. Let’s get to it.
Ingredients and Substitutions Notes
Turkey – Leftover Thanksgiving turkey — or any holiday turkey! — is perfect for this recipe. Use both/either breast meat and turkey legs (or dark meat). Just remove the skin before adding to the soup, because floating islands of loose skin might be weird in soup, lol.
For the rest of year, you can absolutely use chicken as a direct substitute for turkey. Leftover chicken from dinner is perfect, as is a rotisserie chicken (remove the skin!). Some grocery stores package pulled or shredded chicken in their deli or meat departments (esp. Kroger).
And if you don’t have leftover chicken, using raw chicken is no problem. Although not included in the recipe below, here’s what you do: cut the chicken breasts or thighs into 2″ pieces (so they’ll cook quicker), and cook them in the simmering broth in Step 3 below for 10 to 15 minutes, until the insides show no sign of raw pink flesh.
From there, you can either shred or cut the chicken into smaller, spoon-sized pieces.
Side note: if you have a turkey carcass or turkey bones, don’t let them go to waste! Use it to make my homemade turkey stock.
Mirepoix – the fancy French name for the classic trio of aromatics: onions, celery, and carrots. It provides the flavor foundation for simple but delicious soups like Leftover Turkey Wild Rice Soup.
Wild Rice Blend – a mix of several kinds of rice is definitely my preference, for both taste and texture. Lundberg Wild Blend Rice is an excellent option and should be available at the grocery store. Hearty wild rice, while lovely, is a bit chewy and is better balanced by other types of rice. The choice is yours, though! My advice for all rice is to cook them separately from the soup, following the package directions, but see the next section below for other options. Plan on using about 1 cup of dried rice.
Cream – a nice amount of creamy dairy makes this hearty soup smooth and crave-worthy. I prefer heavy cream, but you can step it down with half-n-half or whole milk.
Three ways to cook the rice
There are a few ways to handle the rice, depending on your timetable, what you have on hand, and, of course, your mood.
Recommended: cook the rice separately from the soup. This is the method I use for the recipe. Not only will this save quite a bit of time, but depending on the blend you’re using, the cooking rice will discolor the cooking liquids to a murky brown.
Which, if you’re cooking the rice in the soup, means that the cooking liquids are the soup liquids. But when cooked separately, the rice will reabsorb that brown water without issue and will not discolor the soup when added.
Easier: For a one-pot meal, cook the rice right in the soup. Picking up in the recipe, add a cup and a half of water along with the chicken broth (or use extra broth!), and bring to an active boil. Pour in the dried rice and stir well. Cover the pot with the lid ajar and cook for 45 minutes. Then continue the recipe by adding the turkey, etc.
While this method saves cleaning a pot, it does add 45 minutes to the cooking time, and the rice blend might turn the soup a little muddy.
Faster: Many grocery stores carry cups or pouches of precooked rice. My personal philosophy is to never look down on such shortcuts because sometimes they’re the difference between making homemade soup or not.
If you go this route, add the precooked rice along with the turkey, and let the rice come up to soup temperature before adding the cream.
How to Make Leftover Turkey Wild Rice Soup
This soup is easy to make — here are the steps I use for perfect results, every time.
Step 1: Start the rice
Cook the rice in a separate pot, following the package directions, for best results. This saves considerable recipe time, if the rice or rice blend you’re using contains wild rice and/or brown rice, both of which need very long cooking times.
Step 2: Build Layers of Flavor
This simple soup benefits greatly from the addition of a few aromatics sauteed in olive oil, including mirepoix, garlic, and fresh herbs. The beauty of the aromatics step is that it only takes about 10 minutes over medium heat but makes a delightful difference in the flavor of the final soup.
I also recommend deglazing the pan with some white wine. It’s a great option for using up any leftover bottles you have from Thanksgiving. You can use red wine, but keep in mind that it will tint the soup a bit red. But there’s no flavor problem!
Step 3: Create texture
The soup gets its smooth, creamy texture from the addition of flour. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat, while letting the rawness of the flour cook away.
Things will be a bit pasty, so add a splash or two of the chicken stock to loosen and smooth out the mixture.
As the soup continues to cook, the flour will thicken the soup nicely.
Step 4: Simmer the soup
Add the chicken broth — or turkey broth, or vegetable broth, it’s flexible! — one cup at a time so that the floured vegetable mixture will not clump.
Then add a bay leaf and raise the heat to bring the soup to an active simmer (bubbling, not a roiling boil). Let the soup cook for about 10 minutes to let the seasonings within develop and flavor the broth.
Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaf before the next step!
Step 5: Pull it all together
Reduce heat to low. Pour the cream into a medium bowl and add a ladle of the hot soup liquids. Whisk until smooth. This prevents the dairy from breaking in the hot soup.
Stir in the leftover turkey, as well as the rice. If the rice is still cooking, no worries. The soup can hold at low heat until the rice is ready.
Mix in a nice squeeze of lemon juice — watch for the seeds — and taste. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Can you use something other than a wild rice blend?
Yes, absolutely. You can use any rice you prefer — wild rice, brown rice, white rice, or a blend — dried (to cook from scratch) or leftover cooked rice. See the ingredients notes above for the details!
Can this soup be frozen or refrigerated?
I would not recommend freezing this soup because of the cream and rice. But, leftover soup will store wonderfully in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. If the rice has thickened the soup too much, just add a little water or milk before reheating.
Can you use a rotisserie chicken instead of turkey?
Absolutely, yes! Cooked chicken can be a direct 1:1 substitute for cooked turkey. See the ingredients notes above for all the details.
Can you make the soup gluten-free?
Yes! The only gluten in this soup is the flour used for thickening. Instead, you can use a cornstarch slurry. Skip the step for adding the flour and continue to the step of simmering the soup.
When the soup liquids are nice and hot, spoon 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of hot soup liquids. Whisk to combine, and then add to the soup, stirring well, and continue cooking. The slurry will thicken as the soup cooks.
Also double-check your soup stock, if buying from the store, as some brands sneak in unexpected ingredients.
Can the soup be made dairy-free?
Yes, easily. Just substitute your favorite dairy-free milk, and make sure the soup does not return to a boil or simmer afterward. New dairy-free products are released all the time, so I’m hesitant to make a specific recommendation.
When I need to make this soup dairy-free, I use full-fat canned coconut milk. There will be a hint of coconut flavor, but I actually like it that way.
This is my favorite leftover turkey soup recipe and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too, for your holiday leftovers!
More Leftover Turkey Ideas
Leftover Turkey Wild Rice Soup
- 1 cup dried wild rice blend
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion , diced
- 2 ribs celery , diced
- 1 medium carrot , diced
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1/4 cup white wine (optional)
- 2 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups cooked turkey (or chicken), shredded or cubed
- 1/3 cup heavy cream or half-in-half
- Lemon juice (or 1 lemon)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a 2 quart pot, bring water to a boil and cook the wild rice blend according to the package directions (e.g., 1 3/4 cup water to 1 cup rice). Depending on the rice blend you’ve chosen, the rice will take about 40-50 minutes to cook.
- Meanwhile, prep the vegetables and heat oil in a 4 quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat until the surface shimmers.
- Add the onions, celery, and carrots and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Scoot the vegetables to the side. Add the dried herbs and garlic to the cleared area and stir them in small circles until fragrant (just 30 seconds or so). Mix into the other vegetables.
- If using, pour in the wine now and mix well with the vegetables. Let simmer for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture and stir. Things will become quite pasty. Keep stirring to cook off the rawness of the flour (about 2 minutes total).
- One cup at a time, add the chicken broth, stirring well with the floured vegetables. This will loosen and thicken the broth.
- Add the bay leaf, and raise heat to medium-high until the soup the bubbles, then reduce heat to medium to maintain an active simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove and discard the bay leaf and stir in the turkey.
- Pour the cream or half-and-half into a small bowl and add a ladle of hot soup liquids until smooth. Add to the pot.
- When the rice has finished cooking, spoon it into the soup.
- Now taste the soup. It probably could use a boost of brightness after the addition of the cream and rice.
- Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, a sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper and re-taste. Repeat until you’re happy with the flavor.