Keep Leftovers Interesting

I don’t mind leftovers every now and then, but generally speaking I prefer not to eat the same thing meal after meal after meal.  Since two of the cardinal rules of food frugality are “don’t throw food away” and “don’t be a slave to the recipe” I have to get creative to avoid leftover overload.  In fact, I’ve come to derive a great deal of satisfaction out of repurposing leftovers, a cuisine I optimistically call Frugal Fusion.  Here are some ideas to get your creative gears turning:

1. Taco Fusion

One thing you can do with a lot of small amounts of leftovers is make tacos.  Although the taco seasoning packet would have you believe that tacos can only be made from a pound of ground beef, in actual fact you can mix just about anything with taco seasoning and have great filler for taco shells, tortillas, or on top of greens as taco salad.  Last night, for example, I threw together leftover amounts of cubed chicken, quinoa, and green beans, heated them up with taco seasoning and water, and served it on top of fresh spinach with a sprinkling of shredded cheese and Catalina dressing.  It was awesome!  My son, who rarely eats dinner at all, asked for seconds!  I’ve made leftover tacos from all sorts of things: beans, lentils, various meats and vegetables, rice, etc.  As long as the leftover is seasoned or sauced with something that goes with taco flavor or fairly plain, tacos will work.  Experiment.

2. Pizza Fusion

I keep a batch of whole wheat dough (from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day recipe) in the refrigerator so I can make a quick pizza dinner when I need to rush.  The secret to homemade pizza is that you can top it with anything.  Think outside the box!  For example, I recently mashed some leftover roasted squash cubes and spread it out on the crust as sauce, topped that with a leftover Persian chicken and spinach dish, and finished it with a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.  It was AMAZING.  We also like taco pizza. (Leftover leftovers!  Now we’re really getting crazy!)  My rule of thumb for pizza is not to top a pizza with a starch unless it’s a natural/vitamin rich one like squash or something, so rice pizza or potato pizza might not be a good idea, but tons of other leftovers make a great addition to basic crust and cheese.

3. Soup Fusion

They say that you know you’re an adult when you can cook an extemporaneous soup.  I’m not sure if that’s really a reliable indicator of maturity but the ability to cobble together a soup from whatever you have on hand is a useful skill.  You can put any sort of leftovers in broth, add vegetables or whatnot, season to taste and have a great dinner.  I keep a container in my freezer for storing odds and ends of leftover vegetables I can add to other on hand leftovers for soup.  Soups can be seasoned in a lot of different ways, so chances are you can think of something to add that will enhance the flavors of the leftovers you’re using.

Have fun with leftovers, but play it safe. Be smart about using leftovers – get leftovers into the fridge quickly, don’t keep meat too long, and of course don’t use moldy science experiment leftovers in new recipes!  If you treat your leftovers right they will probably be fine for a few days, and since you’re creating a whole new dish out of them anyway, you won’t feel bad about eating the same thing two days in a row.

What is your favorite thing to do with leftovers?

4 thoughts on “Keep Leftovers Interesting

  1. I personally think that chicken is the best leftover. In fact I usually buy a whole chicken and plan to have leftovers for chicken soup, chicken pot pie, salad topping, quesedillas, tacos, stir fry, pizza topping, casseroles, or just lunch for my toddler. I usually get 2-3 meals out of one whole chicken.

  2. I invested in in a good quesadilla maker and save leftover meat to use in delicious quesadillas. Pop little bits of leftover chicken and steak in the freezer until you have enough.

    My mom used to make wonderful pot pies from leftovers. It would help if I could make a decent pie crust, I suppose …

    Great ideas for leftovers, Catherine. Thanks for sharing them!

  3. Leftover spaghetti gets turned into spaghetti pie. Left over chili turns into chili 5-way. Sometimes left over pizza toppings go to pizza muffins to mix it up a bit.

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