Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Putting a Fresh Face on Leftovers

by Lisa

Leftovers. We love them when we’re pressed for time and energy. We quickly grow tired of them. We often don’t know what to do with them. Like death and taxes, leftovers are one of few things in life of which we can be certain.

Now that I am cooking for only two, we seem to have a lot of leftovers, and I'm not complaining one bit. Last night we enjoyed leftover vegetarian chili that I supplemented with okra. Tonight we ate leftover ravioli on a bed of freshly sauteed chard.

The secret to making leftovers your friend instead of your enemy is to dress them up in something new—chopped herbs, dried or fresh fruit, or whatever vegetables are in season. Here are some creative ways to use up yesterday's meals. How do you put a fresh face on leftovers?

Note: Ingredient amounts are approximate. Don’t worry about making a mistake! If something seems too thick, too thin, not enough or too much, simply adjust the amounts as needed. Creativity, experience and flexibility are the keys to using leftovers successfully.

• Italian Bread Salad. Do you have a slice or two of bread or pita that is threatening to turn moldy at any moment? Tear the bread into bite-size pieces (if you want to get fancy, you can grill the bread first until it is a bit toasty). Rub a salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic, then combine in the bowl the bread pieces, some fresh tomatoes, red onion slices or scallions, any other leftover raw or roasted veggies you have on hand. You can add fresh herbs and Romaine lettuce, if you’d like. Toss gently with oil and vinegar dressing.

• Garbanzo Confetti Salad. This salad is a fast, easy, and pretty way to use leftover crudités and garbanzo beans. Dice a good handful or two of leftover crudités (raw slices of celery, carrots, green onions, zucchini, bell pepper, etc.) into small, uniform pieces. Combine with 1 can (14-15 ounces) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans. Toss with oil and vinegar dressing. You can also sprinkle in some chopped fresh herbs or grated cheese. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

• Vegetable Quesadillas. This is another good way to use crudités or cooked veggies, as well as extra flour tortillas. Quesadillas can be served for breakfast (see below), lunch or dinner. Simply heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a large flour tortilla. Top half the tortilla with chopped raw or cooked veggies, some salsa (optional) and shredded cheese or soy cheese. Fold tortilla in half to cover the filling, and cook until underside is browned. Flip and brown the other side. Covering the pan hastens the melting of the cheese. Cut into wedges and serve with guacamole or sour cream.

• Breakfast Quesadillas. Prepare Vegetable Quesadillas, but add a scrambled egg or mashed, leftover tofu, and perhaps some soy sausage.

• Gourmet Hash Browns. My son could eat this dish morning, noon and night. Grate or finely dice some leftover boiled potatoes. Add minced shallots or scallions, and some chopped parsley. Heat a thin coating of olive oil in a non-stick pan, and sauté potato mixture until golden brown. If desired, stir in a little sour cream, soy sour cream, soy-based mayonnaise or grated cheese before serving.

• Lone Shepherd’s Pie. Keep this recipe in mind when you have leftover mashed potatoes, and cooked veggies or chili. Fill a small, oiled casserole dish with cooked or roasted vegetables (or leftover chili). You can add some canned or frozen corn, or some canned beans if necessary. Fluff up mashed potatoes with a fork, and add them as a top layer. You can add some grated cheese or parmesan cheese to the potatoes, if you’d like. Sprinkle top potato layer with paprika. Bake until potatoes are browned and bottom mixture is bubbly, about 30 minutes.

• This and That Asian Soup. When you have leftover rice- or noodle-based Asian dishes (for example, Pad Thai or stir fry), you can easily make a single-serving soup to enjoy for breakfast or lunch the next day. Just heat a big spoonful or two of the leftovers in about a cup of vegetable broth or miso broth. Add some fresh chopped scallions or grated carrot for freshness. Serve hot.

• Béchamel Sauce. This recipe doesn’t use leftovers (except milk), but it is a fast and tasty way to dress up leftover vegetables, pasta, potatoes, or almost any other foods that are not already heavily seasoned. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. When the butter is melted, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons flour. Whisk constantly for about 2 minutes, until flour loses its raw quality. Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups warm milk or unsweetened soy milk, whisking constantly. Simmer on low until sauce is thick. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional) to taste. You can also add some chopped fresh herbs.

• Vegan Béchamel Sauce. In a blender, combine 1 1/4 cups unsweetened soy milk with 1/3 cup silken tofu and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until very smooth. Heat in a small saucepan over low heat. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional) to taste. You can also add some chopped fresh herbs.

• Rice Pudding. This is my favorite way to use leftover rice (white or brown) and, if I have it, a bit of leftover boxed silken tofu. Simply combine in a saucepan cooked rice with enough soy milk—regular or vanilla—just to cover (if you have a little silken tofu, first blend it with some of the milk until smooth for some extra creaminess). Add some cinnamon, raisins, and honey or maple syrup. Simmer, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until thick and creamy. A yummy breakfast treat!


  1. Replies
    1. Darlene, thanks! I know that sometimes I need to get a peek into someone else's kitchen to get my own creative juices flowing.