I feel like such a failure when food goes to waste. The money I’ve spent, the time I have invested to cook it; it altogether feels rotten. We always attempt to eat our leftovers, yet sometimes there just isn’t enough to construct an entire second meal, or we are bored with the food, or it doesn’t taste as good a day later. Rice, I am talking about you.
Here is what I have learned about using leftovers effectively and deliciously.
1. The best leftovers are foods whose flavors get better with time, such as curries, stews, soups and braised meats. Spicier foods become richer, and dishes in sauces such as meatballs in a tomato sauce retain their prized flavor a day later.
2. Make and freeze extra grains and beans. The lengthy cooking time of grains and beans can be an obstacle to a weeknight meal, so the next time you cook rice, another whole grain or beans, double the amount and freeze what you don’t eat. You will then have the foundation of a weeknight meal at your fingertips. Rice in particular tastes better when frozen and quickly thawed, rather than left sitting in the fridge to dry up.
How to freeze grains: Cool cooked grains. Spread serving-sized portions into freezer bags and freeze laying flat. Do not thaw slowly, as the grain can become mushy; instead, stick the frozen grain in a pan and heat with a splash of broth or water. Grains last for a few days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer.
How to freeze beans: Cool cooked beans. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the beans. Spread serving-size portions into freezer bags and freeze laying flat. Beans last for one week in the fridge and a few months in the freezer.
3. Make soup. Puree leftover cooked vegetables with chicken or vegetable broth to make a simple soup. Another idea is to pop extra chicken, pork, steak or tofu into a pot of broth with some noodles, scallions, mint and a dash of hot sauce to make pho.
4. Wrap up a burrito. Almost anything tastes delicious as a burrito. Wrap up extra bean salad, leftover grilled fish or steak, or even yesterday’s curry dish.
5. Stir-fry leftover grains and vegetables in oil and tamari . Add grated ginger and chopped garlic. Fried rice is nice.
6. Dip it. When bored by a leftover bean salad or yesterday’s lentil soup, puree it into a yummy dip to go with crackers or raw vegetables.
7. Eggs and more eggs. Leftover vegetables taste delicious in scrambled eggs or a frittata. Another idea is to saute extra roasted vegetables with bacon until crispy, then crack an egg over top. Hash, anyone?
8. Toss with pasta. Extra vegetables, leftover chicken or even a white bean salad can make the perfect pasta topping with a splash of olive oil and some chopped fresh herbs. Leftover vegetables and a can of tomatoes can also be quickly pureed into a tasty pasta sauce.
9. Dress a salad. Bean and grain salads, roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes, or leftover meats whip greens into a real meal.
10. Fill a potpie. No need to saute vegetables or cook chicken for a potpie if you have leftovers at the ready. Simply stick them inside a crust with some broth, and voilà, an original dinner.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, December 18, 2014.