How to: Make the Most of Your Leftovers

Posted by on Sunday Sep 11th, 2011 | Print

A fridge full of leftovers is a little bit like the sale rack at your favorite store. The dress that looked so gorgeous it pained you not to buy it when you saw it at the front, on the mannequin, a month ago, suddenly, in the dark corner of the sale rack, looks a little…cheap: the color’s off, the hem is clearly way too long. Likewise, no matter how delicious your risotto, your soup, your sandwich was yesterday, today it seems just a little less than desirable.

We know, there are some disciplined people who can make a pot of beans and eat it all week long. We’re like that with a few foods. But something in our psyche just snaps when we go to open the leftover container, and, contrarian, we seem to crave everything but what’s inside. But whatever you don’t eat goes bad in just a few days. That’s not just food in the garbage–it’s also your money and your time zipping down the drain.

But us preaching about the perils of waste is probably as effective as mom trying to prod you into eating that last pea from your plate–especially when you hate peas, and you’re already full. Obsessing about using your leftovers really has to come from within. Whether it’s tossing from the freezer two organic heritage pork chops you were too lazy to defrost and use, or week in and week out, throwing out wilted bunches of parsley from which you used but three measly sprigs, you’ll meet your match one day. From then on, you’ll be more diligent about using up the food that you buy.

Look, some of it is mental strength. If you’ve got last night’s black bean soup in the fridge, it takes some willpower to eat it instead of calling for takeout. Still, there are a few techniques to keep in mind. First, shop well. If you really don’t like parsley, just don’t buy it. Most recipes will be fine without that lovely green garnish. Second, know the expiration date of homemade food: fish dishes should be eaten within twenty-four hours; most meat and chicken within three days. Pasta, grains, and rice will last up to five. Soups and stews really are good for close to a week in the fridge. Condiments like pesto, chutney, pickles, and caramelized onions keep for two to three weeks. When in doubt about anything, open your container and smell. Third, keep track of your containers. Neither of us officially label our tupperware, but we do mentally–and we don’t let good food get pushed to the back-of-the-fridge graveyard.

Of course we don’t expect you to eat the same food every day for lunch and/or dinner. That’s why the key to making it through leftovers is to repurpose them. Here’s what to do with the most common leftover food.

**Tips and Tricks**


Pasta. We love leftover pasta so much we sometimes make extras on purpose! For best results, don’t sauce all of your pasta when you first make it; plain, it’ll be more flexible when you come back to it later. It’s important that no one underestimate the delicacy known as Fried Noodles. Best for breakfast, coating pasta with butter and frying it is one of the best meals around, and each shape yields a totally different taste sensation. Like many leftovers, pasta is revitalized by eggs: try a spaghetti frittata. If your pasta is sauced, simply heat it in a frying pan and add–what else?–an olive-oil fried egg.

 

Rice and Grains. There’s not much better than finding a bowl full of rice–white or brown–or grains–quinoa or barley–hanging tight in the fridge. These can lead to some of our favorite satisfying meals, and they streamline the process of cooking them, since half the dinner battle is already fought. Two baked dishes, Zucchini & Rice Gratin and Creamy Chorizo-Chicken Casserole, are bonafide main courses, rich, hearty, and delicious. We would eat Fried Rice every single day it’s so good, and though it’s easily made with simple pantry ingredients like carrots, onions, and soy sauce, you can also kick it up a notch if you’ve got other leftovers at hand: pineapple, cashews, pork, and, scallions can all up the ante on your rice. For dessert: Rice Pudding requires you start with plain cooked rice. For many of these, leftover rice is best anyway, since it’s dried out and conducive to absorbing new flavor you add. Another leftover–BGSK Peanut Sauce–can top any of these grains and make ‘em a meal.

 

Bread. Even once bread is stale, too dry for toasting even, don’t toss it. Unless your bread is moldy, we’ve got plenty of other uses for it. Try making Spinach Strata with Sage and Gruyere or a sweet bread pudding, and of course we must mention French toast. We’ve also got instructions for turning bread into garlicky croutons in our book.

 

Cooked Vegetables. You’ve hit the jackpot! A pan’s worth of roasted root veggies, eggplant and zucchini, or even baby carrots, can help your stomach get through the week. Great as snacks, pretty much any roasted veggie has a prized spot on an antipasto platter: just add cheese, crackers, and maybe some olives. You can incorporate veggies into leftover rice stir fries and pasta frittatas (see above), or tacos (see below), or blend them into soup.


Herbs. Take five minutes out of your busy life and blend any herbs–one kind or a mix, either way–into pesto (we’ve got about a million kinds), chermoula, or harissa. These condiments keep for a while in the fridge, and they make for the kind of intentional leftover that will enliven whatever occupies the leftover container sitting beside them. You can always toss them with pasta or spread some on a grilled cheese to make a delectable meal.

 

Roasted Chicken or Grilled Steak. One word: tacos. Shred the meat or slice it thinly, then pile it in tortillas with your favorite condiments: fresh corn salsa, mango chipotle salsa, or guacamole. Chicken salad and green salad with chicken (or steak) on top are also great vehicles for your leftover meat.

 

Cooked Beans. I don’t much enjoy more than one bean-centric meal per week. so the best way to get through a whole pot of dried beans cooked from scratch (or leftover white or black bean soup). That’s why leftover meals should include beans without necessarily focusing on them. Bean purees can be set under meat or fish, bean burgers sandwiched between good bread, spread with flavored mayo or homemade pesto, and layered with fresh or roasted veggies. Use beans as a binder in vegetable-based cakes like these Squash and Sweet Potato Pancakes, or toss a handful or white beans or lentils into pasta with tomato sauce or brothy soup. Blend beans into a spread or dip, and pawn them off on cocktail party guests.

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