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Thanksgiving 3 of 6: Rustic Turkey Tikka Masala (Made With Leftover Turkey)

Debra Redalia


I was wondering what to make for Thanksgiving dinner, then a recipe for Turkey Tikka Masala arrived in my email.

I have to say, in the end this turned out to be a pretty spectacular dish.

It has layers of flavor with a spicy tomato cream sauce over marinated turkey. You could just make the marinated turkey part and in the bits of turkey and you would love it.

But it’s not the tikka masala you find in an Indian restaurant. We didn’t puree the sauce and just left all the vegetables as they were, so it’s more like a vegetable and turkey stew than the traditional tikka masala. But the flavor is very much the same. If you love Indian food but think you can’t make it at home, try this.

I was going to give you my rewrite of the original recipe, but after rewriting in and reconceptualizing it, well, I think it’s different enough to call it my recipe, though I will tell you it has reliable authentic Indian roots.

This is not something I would make in my regular life because it requires advanced preparation and measuring a lot of ingredients. But for Thanksgiving, I enjoyed spending the time making something special.

I couldn’t access all the spices called for in the original recipe, so I used what I had available. And in the end I found I didn’t even have what I thought I had. If you need to buy spices, you can get away with buying just the garam masala. That’s what makes it taste Indiian. The other spices enrich the flavor and make it more complex.

I need to give you two big warnings: it takes a lot of TIME to make this recipe and it takes a lot of PREP.

First, you need cooked turkey. Since I didn’t have a turkey dinner the day before, the first thing I had to do was roast a turkey. I did that two days before making the masala on Thanksgiving.

Making the masala sauce takes more than an hour, which you need to allow for as well.

About the prep, the simplest way to do this is to create a mise en place, and I’ve included that in the recipe. If you do the mise en place the day before, on the day you want to serve it the whole assembly and cooking will go very smoothly.

One major change I made to this recipe was the addition of carrots. Traditionally, this is a meat-only dish with a sauce. oBut I wanted to add carrots and after I made that decision it occurred to me that I or you could change the balance of meat-t-vegetables to be whatever you want, from 100% meat to 100% vegetables. I made about 90% turkey / 10% carrots, but I can see adding a lot of different types of vegetables and little or no turkey, particularly if you have a lot of leftover cooked vegetables from your Thanksgiving dinner.

Also, I have left out the salt entirely, as we are on a low-salt diet, so I will leave it to you to salt to taste. We did not miss the salt at all.

YIELD: 6 servings
TIME: 1 1/2 hours, plus 4 hours marinating



  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 4 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
  • 4 cups cooked turkey, cut into bite-sized pieces (including any vegetables you want to add)



  • 4 tablespoons butter (or ghee if you have it or can get it)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 2 serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • Cooked brown rice, for serving



This needs to marinate for four hours or overnight. Be sure to allow time for this advance prep. I made this in the morning and allowed it to marinate until I was ready to cook the sauce at dinnertime.

1. Make the mise:

a. measure all the dry spices and place them together in a small bowl (also do step 1c for masala below at the same time)
b. grate and measure the ginger and the garlic and place them in a small bowl (also do step 1d for masala below at the same time)
c. measure the yogurt and place it in a mixing bowl that holds more than 4 cups
d. Cut the turkey into bite-sized pieces and put it in a larger-than-four-cup bowl.
e. Prep and cook any vegetables you want to add.

2. Add the dry spices, and ginger-garlic to the yogurt and mix to combine.

3. Add the turkey to the yogurt mixture and mix together until the turkey is evenly coated.

4. Marinate the turkey for at least four hours.

5. Place the turkey in a single layer in a baking sheet and broiler for 6 to 9 minutes, until it begins to blacken in spots. Set aside. Add any remaining marinade to the masala sauce.



This sauce needs to cook in stages. The total time is more than one hour. So schedule accordingly.

1. Make the mise:
a. Measure the butter into a 3 tablespoon portion and a 1 tablespoon portion and put them in separate ramekins.
b. Peel and thinly slice the onion and put it in a small bowl.
c. Measure the fry spices (paprika, red pepper flakes, and garam masala) and put them in the same bowl.
d. grate and measure the ginger and the garlic and place them in a small bowl
e. clean, seed, and chop the serrano peppers and place them in the same bowl with the garlic and ginger.
f. measure the tomato paste and place it in a small bowl
g. open the can of tomatoes and pour them into a bowl. Crush each tomato with your hands. There should be chunks of tomato in the juice.
h. open the carton of heavy cream
i. wash and chop cilantro and set aside several sprigs for garnish
k. cook brown rice and set aside

2. On your stovetop, heat a Dutch oven (or similar pot) on medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons butter, then add onion slices and spices. Reduce heat to medium and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are brown and tender.
3. Move the onions to the side of the pot and add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter is melted, add the ginger, garlic, and serrano peppers and sizzle for 10 seconds. Combine.
4. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes and their juices.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, until the liquid is almost gone.
6. Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer over low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens. 
7. Allow the sauce to cool, then puree it in a blender if you want to. We didn’t. We left it rustic with bits of vegetables.


1. Return the sauce to the pot and add the cooked turkey. Simmer 5-10 minutes, just until warmed through.
2. Serve over hot brown rice. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro.