No one likes to see food rotting in the fridge. Using up leftovers is good for the wallet, good for the earth, and – if you’re armed with some recipe ideas – good for the taste buds too.
At this time of year especially, with frequent holiday dinners and parties, you might find yourself with more leftovers than usual. Have a plan for what to do with them, so that you can jump into action soon after the party and stretch those leftovers into yummy meals.
Whether you have cooked veggies, raw veggies, meat, grains, or herbs, combine them with some common kitchen staples to create something new and delicious for your next dinner, without much fuss. Here are 10 of my favorite easy recipe ideas for using up leftovers:
Make a Big, Cozy Pot of Soup
Soups are nourishing, nutritious, and easy-to-make. There are a few different kinds that I choose from:
Eat it with Eggs
If you have cooked vegetables, making egg-based dishes will be a snap.
4. Make a crustless quiche by starting out with some flavorful, cooked ingredients. If your
ingredients are too plain, add fresh herbs, spices, or cheese. Spread out about a cup of your
ingredients into a greased pie plate. Stir together the “eggy” custard with beaten eggs, milk, flour,
and salt, and pour over the top. Bake until puffed and starting to brown on top.
5. Frittatas are just as easy, but the eggy part contains only eggs, no milk or flour. Some people make
the frittata entirely in the oven, and others start it on the stovetop and finish it off under the
broiler. Frittatas are great for cutting up into squares and taking on the go, like for the next day’s
6. Omelets are in this same family, and are probably the quickest of the bunch. You can make a
stuffed omelet, by frying your beaten eggs plain, placing the filling in the middle, and then rolling it
up. Or, fry the filling mixed in with the egg, more similar to a frittata.
7. While the term casserole can conjure up images of canned tuna and canned mushroom soup, you
can absolutely make an updated casserole with fresh, varied, flavorful ingredients. I like to
combine leftover cooked quinoa with sautéed vegetables (like garlic, onions, and kale), chopped
parsley or cilantro, grated ginger, and ground cumin. I add some beaten eggs to hold everything
together, and bake until it's set. Other nice additions are grated cheese, yogurt, and toasted nuts.
Served with a side salad, it’s a simple and delicious dinner.
When you have bits of this raw vegetable and that one, frying up chopped vegetables is a good way to go. Start with your onions or garlic, then add the firmer vegetables, then lastly the softer ones, so that all vegetables are cooked the right amount.
8. Fry up your leftover vegetables into an Asian-style stir fry. It helps to have soy sauce on hand, as
well as some other flavorings, like garlic, ginger, hot sauce, or toasted sesame oil. If you have
leftover cooked chicken or steak, slice it up and use it here. Otherwise, keep around eggs to fry up,
cashews, or tofu to round out the protein of the dish.
9. Similar to a stir-fry, you can take it one step further into fried rice, although rice doesn’t
necessarily need to be the grain here. Toss your stir-fry, including plenty of its sauce, with a
leftover cooked grain like brown rice, barley, oat groats, or quinoa. It’s a great all-in-one meal.
10. Alternatively, sauté your leftover vegetables with lots of thinly sliced garlic and chopped onions.
Add Italian seasonings like dried basil and dried oregano (or certainly their fresh versions if you
have them). Then toss with your favorite pasta. Shaved parmesan or Kalamata olives make
flavorful toppings. For protein, I keep cans of BPA-free sardines on hand for impromptu pasta
Here’s a tip: Choose the recipes that appeal to you most, then stock your pantry, fridge, or freezer with what else you need to make the meal. For example, if you like frittatas, always keep eggs around, as well as aromatics like onions and garlic. If you like minestrone, keep around BPA-free beans and stewed tomatoes and pasta or grains.
While cooking with leftovers takes improvisation, having a plan makes it easier. Keep your kitchen stocked, and bookmark this list for this holiday season and throughout the year.
Chef Hilla Abel helps busy parents prepare healthy food easily and enjoyably. She's a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, and currently serves on the faculty of Bauman College, a holistic nutrition and culinary school.
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