I’ll be the first to admit: I hate leftovers. I don’t like them the next day for lunch, I don’t like them a few nights later for dinner, and I certainly don’t like them the next night for dinner. I know a lot of people swear by them: making a large batch of something so there are lots left in the fridge for the next day or the next two days, or all week long. But not me. Maybe it’s because I am always too excited to try out something new, or because I love the act of cooking food and combining flavours just as much, if not more than the actual eating of the food and flavours. Whatever the case, I don’t do leftovers.
But inevitably it happens. I’ve become quite efficient at cooking just enough food for two dinner portions for the boy and I, but sometimes there’s some of it that lingers long after the last dinner dish has been wiped clean and the veggies have been put away. And something must be done with it. Because the other thing I don’t do is a lot of food waste. And luckily for me, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out ways to keep both sides satisfied.
I use the term leftovers lightly. It may indeed be leftovers of a dish that you made for dinner, but it can also be things like the last, wizzly carrot in the bag in the bottom of the crisper. The half a can of chickpeas remaining after last week’s falafel. The really really over-ripened fruit sitting in your fruit basket. Anything that is just kind of struggling to find its place in your foodie world. Anything that just needs a bit of a facelift . . .
1) Soup – If it is a pureed soup already, you’re good to go. If not, get out the blender and puree it all together. Now you can thin it out and use it as a pasta sauce or a sauce to drizzle over roasted veggies. You can slather it on sandwiches, veggie burgers or a toasty grilled cheese. You can also use it to make crackers in your dehydrator! Mix the pureed soup with flax seeds or chia seeds, add any other finely chopped seeds, nuts, grains, veggies or greens, stir and set aside. It will bind together nicely from the flax or chia and then spread it thinly onto parchment paper and place in your dehydrator for 8-9 hours or until crunchy!
2) Legumes – You know how it works, you open a can of chickpeas, black beans, lentils etc., and only end up using 2/3 of the can in the recipe. And then the last few get dumped into a container and continually pushed further and further to the back of the fridge. Do not despair! When you find the container, you have lots of options. First off, hummus is always a possibility! As long as you have 3/4-1 cup of chickpeas/white beans, you can throw in some garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and tahini and puree to a smooth, silky goodness. Likewise, beans become a great base for sauces. Leftover black beans? Puree with chili, smoked paprika, garlic, salt and some tomato paste to make into a sauce or topping for Mexican night. White beans become the base of this incredible pesto, which I make on the regular. Beans also work really well in desserts: black beans = black bean brownies; lentils = lentil chocolate pudding, white beans = blondies. And yes, you can add the leftover beans to your smoothie for a creamy, protein packed texture. Yes I’ve tried it.
3) End of the Line Veggies and Fruit – Smoothies and juices become your best friend when it comes to using up fruits and veggies past their prime. I have been known to put everything in smoothies from spaghetti squash to cucumber to zucchini to buttercup squash. Likewise for juices. And likewise for your wilted greens, that aren’t quite salad perfect, but will do wonders turning your smoothie into a pile of green goodness. I tend to juice left over scraps of raw veggies, like some sliced carrot from lunch, or the stalks of kale when I use the leaves to make a salad, and smoothie the cooked veg, overripe fruit and wilty greens. They all find their place somewhere. They also work well for soup or veggie stock. If you have a mish-mash of veggies – one carrot, half an onion, a wizzly part of turnip – toss them in a pot with lots of salt, summer savoury, thyme, pepper and a bit of apple cider vinegar and in a few hours, you will simmer away to a nice veggie broth. Alternatively, go to town making up some kind of soup. For me last week it was carrot turnip lentil soup, and with the spices and kombucha added, it was delicious!
4) Sauces, dips, spreads etc. – The best part of all of these is they are interchangeable. I make hummus as a snack with some carrot sticks and then the next day turn the little bit left that we didn’t’ devour into a creamy pasta sauce. Likewise, last night I made a white bean hemp sauce for our veggies and tonight I could turn the leftover into a dip for the boy by adding the rest of the can of beans to thicken it. Be outside the box. Homemade pizza sauce can be thinned out a little and become a great sauce for pasta with some roasted tomatoes and fresh basil. All of these sauces, spreads etc. work wonders on sandwiches and veggies burgers.
5) Stale Crackers – These work great to sub in for bread crumbs in a recipe, to use for crumbing meats, (if you’re into that), or I often use them as the coating on baked onion rings. They also work well in things like veggie burgers, or veggie meatloaf to help bind them together or for a crunchy topping on a casserole.
6) Proper Dishes – Finally, let’s talk about what to do when you actually have half of a main dish leftover. Think about changing the medium of delivery. For example, last night you had vegetarian chili. Tonight, reduce the chili down and add some tomato paste to thicken it up. Pile it onto flat breads with some extra beans, add some avocado, rice, fresh tomato, cheese, whatever your fancy and roll into a burrito, or bake it in the oven to crisp it up into enchilada style. Last night’s leftover stir fried veggies can be mixed with a can of tomatoes and some tomato paste and become an awesome, filling pasta sauce. Roasted veggies turn into awesome casseroles. Place veggies in a casserole dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make a sauce on the stove with veggie broth, some spices and some cornstarch to thicken (and I always add heaps of nutritional yeast), and pour over the veggies. Top with mashed sweet potato, stale cracker crumbs (see above), cheese, whatever you have on hand, and bake until sauce is thickened and it is bubbly and steamy. One pot wonder. If you’re going the other way, and starting with a casserole, pop the veggie base in a pan with some lentils. Spruce it up with some sultanas or crunchy nuts, toss in some fresh spinach and serve over rice or couscous. Win.
So there you have it. These are a few of the things that happen in our house when it comes to using up leftovers, whatever form they may be in. Hopefully you get the idea and this is enough to inspire you into some new creations with your own leftover. Generally speaking, other than peelings, cores etc. we really have very little food waste. And that’s just how I like it!
What are your suggestions for using leftovers?