If you think that the only way to use leftovers is simply to reheat them in the microwave, with every passing day giving less taste and more dread, you are mistaken. There are a number of techniques that you can use to help spice up your leftovers, helping to transform them into something different, and sometimes better, than what you had before.
Everyone loves cheese, so adding cheese and a browned tortilla to your leftovers is a great way to change them up. Making leftover quesadillas works best when you are using leftovers that are able to keep their texture and shape well, and that are fairly thin to begin with.
One of our favorite quesadillas to make involves leftover barbecue. Lay a large flour tortilla into a lightly oiled or buttered pan, then put a mild white cheddar or jack cheese on one half. Top with meat and barbecue sauce, and then top with more cheese. Fold the tortilla over the filling and brown on both sides. Serve with a mild salsa, sour cream, or even guacamole.
Quesadillas work well for applications where you have meaty, hearty fare, but what about a bunch of vegetables? In that case, a frittata may well be the way to go. A frittata is essentially a large egg pie, without the crust. You’ll need eggs, but beyond that, you can put almost anything into a frittata.
So let’s say that you have a bunch of roasted vegetables left over. Clearly, roasted vegetables don’t do well in the microwave. Start by heating some oil in a nonstick pan, making sure to coat the entire pan. Throw in your vegetables to get them warm, then mix in 4-8 scrambled eggs, depending on the size of the pan. Move them around so that curds set in the eggs, and once the edges are solid, slide it onto a plate to flip it. Cook until the curds are set throughout.
From meatloaf to Thanksgiving, a sandwich can solve many of your leftover woes. However, for it to be the best possible, consider what you are doing. Cold meats work well in a sandwich, but cold vegetables can be hit or miss. Also, if you’re just going to use white sandwich bread, your results won’t be as great as using a more interesting bread. In a pinch? Remember that toasting bread adds texture in less than 90 seconds.
An all-time favorite sandwich choice is the Thanksgiving sandwich. It uses plenty of leftovers, can be eaten hot or cold, and looks delicious. For it, we recommend a mild cheese like muenster, as well as a hearty bread like sourdough or rye. Pile it high with meat, but don’t stop there. Some purists may want to take the route of lettuce and tomatoes, while more adventurous souls will want stuffing and cranberry sauce. We do both, with some whole-grain mustard.
Stews and Soups
Want to really transform your leftovers? Consider making them into a stew or soup. This works great when you have large chunks of meat left over, say after Thanksgiving, and you’re tired of sandwiches. You could just throw everything into a pot, but if you’ve got 30 minutes or so, plus an hour to let it all simmer, we have a better idea.
The key to good soups and stews is layering flavor. Start by cooking onion, then garlic, in a bit of oil or butter. Don’t let it brown, but just cook till translucent. Add some diced celery and carrot, then deglaze with stock or water, scraping up all the good bits on the bottom of the pan. Then add whatever it is you want to stew, be it chicken, beef, or even vegetables, letting it all cook. Be sure to season with salt and pepper to taste.
A stew will take an hour, minimum. If you need something in under thirty minutes, try using pasta. There are dozens of applications, and some of which are overdone (we recoil every time we hear the words ‘turkey tetrazzini’), others are original and may prove to be family favorites.
Shrimp, be it fried, stewed, or steamed, is notoriously hard to reheat, but pasta lets you do it. Boil the appropriate amount of pasta, draining it, but do not rinse it. Reserve a half cup of the pasta water. Then stir with the leftover shrimp, tossing to combine. Do this over light heat, adding the pasta water as well as grated parmesan.
Flatbreads offer the easiest applications to use leftovers, with the stuff being easily purchased at grocery stores or easily made with equal parts of greek yogurt and self-rising flour. Once your flatbread is cooked, top with your leftovers.
Especially if you are trying to eat well, lentil soup is a great dish. However, it does get old after a few days, and the lentils start to lose their texture. Take advantage of this by smashing the lentils into a ‘sauce’ to top a flatbread, then top with roasted peppers, feta, or anything else that strikes your fancy.
Fried Rice and Stirfries
The original way to use leftovers, at least in East Asia, fried rice and stirfries were built to help you keep your fridge clean. When making them, remember that chopping everything to small pieces helps, that way everything reheats quickly. Also, it’s a great way to use up leftover rice!
It might sound crazy, but we love the taste of a meatloaf fried rice. To serve 4 people, crumble one and a half servings of meatloaf in a bowl and set aside. Meanwhile, prepare a sauce of meatloaf glaze with a bit of mustard, adding just a half teaspoon of oil and a half teaspoon of water to the mix to keep it light enough to coat. Then, over medium-high heat, warm a tablespoon of oil in a large pan before adding 3 cups of cold or room temperature rice. Cook the rice by stirring it over the heat, tossing it if your pan is big enough. Once it is lightly golden, add the meatloaf crumbles and the sauce, stirring to incorporate. Serve to a mildly incredulous, but soon to be believing, crowd.
Finally, if you’re looking to just clear out the fridge, burritos never fail. You can put almost anything in them, heat them up, and with enough cheese, sour cream, and guac, it all tastes good. Sometimes, though, it can taste even better than good.
Consider the humble hamburger. Everything that makes a great burger can make a great burrito. Start by chopping the patties, along with any bacon you may or may not have included, as well as cheese, and reheating it. Then combine with all your favorite toppings before rolling into a burrito. If you want, you can lightly toast the outside, but it is delicious either way.
Using leftovers can save your family considerable time and money, but it doesn’t have to be boring. By using the recipes and techniques above as a starting point, you can bring considerable variety to even the most basic of meals.