I love the challenge of reinventing the leftover items languishing in my fridge. Perhaps it’s a product of the time & attention I put into choosing ingredients, or maybe it’s just all my Scotch blood, but I try very hard not to waste anything that we buy. I’ve been successful focusing on what new creation can be made from previous dishes, a strategy more appealing than having a “clean out the fridge” dinner. Learning to use leftovers has the added bonus of leaving you a little extra jingle for your wine budget. Here are my basic strategies for maximizing both the use and appeal of leftovers:
1. Freezing. This is a gimmie, right? But I don’t mean freezing items individually — I’m talking about combining a plethora of like-flavored ingredients in one container to eventually make something totally new. This way, you don’t waste portions that amount to not-eoungh-to-save-too-much-to throw-away. These spoonfuls don’t seem like much on their own, but in the aggregate, their addition to a soup makes a substantial and flavorful contribution. I generally have two of these containers going — one intended for soup (containing everything prepared with olive oil and seasoned with herbs e.g., cabbage, beans, roasted veg) and another for chili (holding, e.g., black beans, quinoa, and tomatoey-cumin-y concoctions).
The freezer is my answer. If you, like me, are committed to making the vast majority of your food from scratch, freezing certain components will save you valuable time and lots of money. It saves parmeggiano-reggiano rinds to flavor soups and stocks. Give stale bread a blitz in the food processor, and you can freeze your own breadcrumbs (many commercial brands contain corn syrup and hydrogenated oils) to have at the ready. Freeze the bones of whatever meat you’ve eaten and make a delicious stock when you have the time.
2. Salads. Cold beans and grains add heft to any salad, which increases satiety and eliminates that lackluster salad feeling (you know, the one that makes you eat a bag of Pirate’s Booty at 3:00) . Roasted vegetables, even cold, offer texture, and the oil they were cooked in will reduce the amount of dressing you need.
We took the latter option for today’s lunch, and the salad hit it out of the park. There are 4 inches of snow on the ground, and this cold leftover salad did us so right.
We combined the following disparate items to make a gorgeous fiesta on the plate: the remnants of an Organic Girl super greens package (a swiss chard, spinach, arugula blend), appx. a cup of leftover quinoa, appx. a cup of garbanzo beans (soaked earlier in the week), alfalfa sprouts, and 1 sliced avocado. To the mix, I added 6-7 huge leaves of kale, thinly sliced and massaged (yes, massaging kale is a thing that I do. Laugh it up, family).
We added toasted pumpkin seeds, and topped the salad with a goddess-style cilantro dressing (the recipe for which will follow). My husband, who is decidedly not a vegetarian, had his with sliced chicken breast. I think it took longer to type out the ingredients for purposes of this post than to put all these items together, a 5 minute commitment that turned our once sad leftovers into a totally satisfying salad.
For the cilantro dressing, add the following to a blender:
A large handful of cilantro, leaves & stems
1 clove of garlic, green center shoot removed
2/3 c. veganaise (greek yogurt will also work)
Juice of one lemon (or lime)
Capful of white vinegar (I used rice wine; you could also just use more lemon or lime juice)
Salt & pepper
Enough olive oil to make a thick, viscous spread — appx. 1/2 cup.
Blitz until it looks like this:
This dressing is divine like Vishnu, and would taste great with any summer herb (basil, parsley, chive, etc.) substituted for the cilantro. It would also work well as a great veggie dip (use less olive oil), tossed with canned tuna for an easy tuna salad, or as a mayo replacement on your sandwich.