leftover turkey quinoa biryani


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

leftover turkey quinoa biryani | A Brown Table

A couple of fun things happened this week besides, Thanksgiving and all the pies I ate. This interview I did with the folks at Blikki Magazine  and some tips on food photography and Instagram that I shared at The Kitchn. Do check them out when you can.

How was your Thanksgiving? I hope you got to eat plenty but more importantly had a fun time with your loved ones. My Thanksgiving on the other hand was an odd one this year, it was rather warm and sunny, something that I am not accustomed to. Back on the East coast, I’ve lived through more “white Thanksgivings” than “white Christmases” that I can remember (I swear it always seems to snow more during Thanksgiving than Christmas), spending one in shorts outdoors this year made me feel a little out of place. 

leftover turkey quinoa biryani | A Brown Table

One of the many things that I look forward to every Thanksgiving, is the leftovers. You can do some serious fun stuff with leftovers that I feel I’ve been handed a free license to experiment in the kitchen. I usually don’t play around with the desserts too much but whatever’s left of the sides generally gets a makeover. After eating the same thing day after day in one week, you get fed up pretty fast and to avoid the monotony, I’ll play around with the leftovers. If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant or if you cook Indian food at home, you’ll probably see biryani on the menu. Biryani is similar to a rice pilaf layered with cooked pieces of marinated spiced pieces of meat but it does require some time to prepare. I’ve taken a few liberties in this quinoa based version. Not only is my quinoa version of the biryani less time consuming but it’s also one flavorful way to eat up those leftovers. 

leftover turkey quinoa biryani | A Brown Tableleftover turkey quinoa biryani | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dish.

  • Wash the heck out of the quinoa to get rid of the nasty bitter tasting saponin. I rub the seeds with my fingers giving them a good scrub under running tap water. I used the tricolored quinoa variety but you can use any type of quinoa.
  • You can easily make this entire dish vegan/vegetarian by using vegetable stock to cook the quinoa. Substitute the turkey with the same amount of mixed frozen vegetables (peas, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, etc) or cubed pieces of extra-firm tofu or bean sprouts. If you make it vegan, skip the boiled eggs too. 
  • I’ve listed the cardamom and cinnamon as optional but if you have them on hand use them, they will make this dish extra flavorful and tasty. 
  • You could also serve this dish as a one-bowl meal by itself. 

leftover turkey quinoa biryani | A Brown Table

leftover turkey quinoa biryani

yields: 4 servings 


2 cups quinoa (regular or tricolored, I’ve used tricolored)

4 cups low-sodium chicken/turkey/vegetable stock)

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher sea salt 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

1 – 11/2 cups red onion, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded turkey (chicken or tofu or mixed vegetables*)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 

1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala 

1/2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon garlic, freshly grated

1/4 teaspoon ground green cardamom (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional) or 1 one inch piece cinnamon stick

1/2 cup plain unsweetened yogurt 

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, freshly chopped 

2 large eggs, hard boiled, peeled and quartered 

1. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a large strainer under running tap water for about four, 30 second intervals or until the water is completely clear. During rinsing, rub the quinoa seeds to get rid of the bitter saponin coating. Bring the stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium-sized thick bottomed saucepan to a boil on medium-high flame. Add the quinoa to the boiling stock and bring back to a boil, cover with a lid, reduce heat to a medium-low and allow to cook until the quinoa has turned transparent and is completely tender. Open lid and fluff with a fork, placed lid back and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before using.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan on medium-high flame. Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil, cook the onions for about 3-4 minutes or until they start to brown. Stir the onions to prevent burning. Remove  and transfer the onions from the pan, keep aside until ready to use. 

3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the turkey, turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, rest of the salt, along with half of the cooked onions. 

4. Heat the rest of the oil on medium-high heat, in the same saucepan that the onions were cooked in. Add the turkey-yogurt mixture to the hot oil and cook for about 4-5 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and fold in the cooked quinoa prepared earlier. Transfer the contents to a serving platter, garnish with the reserved cooked onions, cilantro and eggs. Drizzle the lemon juice over the quinoa and serve warm. 

8 Responses

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful. The best part is I think I have everything I need in my house right now. Thanks for a great, different take on using leftover turkey.

  2. i had a great thanksgiving – pumpkin pie was definitely the highlight. i am so glad you posted this because i have so much turkey left and im getting tired of sandwiches. I have seen several recipes but they were basically repurposing it with more mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce which i dont want to look at. i cant thank you enough for this!!

  3. This has to be the most gorgeous version of Thanksgiving leftovers, Ever.
    Congrats on the interview! I’ll definitley check out your photography tips.
    How lucky to be sporting shorts this time of year!! I’m super jealous. 😀

  4. This is SO GOOD!!!! When I was cooking it, my husband commented about how good it smelled (not his usual reaction) and he really enjoyed the flavor. I love Indian food, and am really glad my husband is on board with at least a little of it. The last time we were in India we had an amazing lunch in Mangalore and did a cooking class in Mormugao, but my husband was too sick to eat much of the food, let alone really enjoy it. I will look forward even more now to receiving your blog posts.

    1. Yay, I am so happy you liked it Susan! Too bad your husband had a bad time in India but I am really happy that you tried this recipe and hopefully will try and like more of them in the future.

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