Every frugal and time saving chef knows that leftovers are an easy way to skip a night of cooking and save money by utilizing too much food. He also knows that leftovers can get boring fast, and if you don’t always feel like eating last nights dinner a second time, you’re guaranteed to eventually find what looks like a science experiment in your fridge.
Luckily, there are ways to turn whatever you have left from last night into a totally new and delicious dish if you’re willing to put in a few extra minutes. Many times you can use staple ingredients you already have on hand to create a new meal. The following dishes are easily created using various parts and components of a previous meal.
1. Make a Pizza
Pizza doesn’t have to be marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese; it can be literally anything you want it to be.
Have leftover roasted vegetables you first served with your salmon filets? Put them on a ready-made pizza crust with some goat cheese and olive oil. Mashed squash or sweet potatoes can be a unique sauce, and you can put virtually any type of cheese or meat you have on a pizza crust.
Tip: Buy par-baked pizza crusts and keep a few in the freezer. That way, you can always make a pizza out of whatever ingredients you have on hand.
2. Make a Gourmet Omelet or Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast
Eggs are like a blank canvas when it comes to adding ingredients; anything can be used for a delicious meal. Leftover fajita vegetables are a good choice, as is chili or cooked asparagus. Anything cooked can be added to your eggs for a quick hot breakfast with minimal effort.
You can also put practically anything into a quiche or breakfast casserole, and whether you’re eating it on your own, or serving it for a brunch, no one has to know that the vegetables they’re eating were actually last night’s dinner.
3. Make a Dip or Spread
Mix leftover pesto with cream cheese for a delicious, flavorful spread for your sandwich. Cooked beans can be pureed into hummus, and cooked seafood can be combined with mayo and chopped celery for an easy seafood dip or salad. Top leftover chili with cheese and bake until bubbly for an easy hot chili dip that makes an excellent lunch or after school snack.
4. Bake Up a Casserole
Leftover pasta and rice make great casseroles, as does ground beef, shredded chicken, or steak.
Think outside the box when making a casserole. A lasagna like casserole doesn’t have to be made with lasagna noodles; you can throw leftover penne in a casserole dish with a jar of pasta sauce and some cheese. If you think the flavors will compliment each other, try it; it’s hard to mess up a casserole.
5. Stuff Enchiladas or Quesadillas
Roll leftover shredded chicken in some tortillas with some salsa and store bought enchilada sauce. Top it with cheese and bake for a delicious Mexican meal with little work.
Tortillas are like bread; literally anything can be sandwiched between them to make quesadillas. Roasted vegetables, leftover pork roast, pot roast, or even pork barbecue work well. Throw in some cheese, and either grill or microwave for an easy meal with little effort.
6. Stuff Some Vegetables
Stuffed peppers can be stuffed with any type of savory filling you like. All you need is a cooked grain, some type of meat, and some chopped vegetables. Combine everything and add it to your hollowed out peppers for a hearty, filling meal.
Leftover sausage can be crumbled and stuffed into a hollowed out zucchini for a quick meal, and cooked seafood can be made into a seafood salad and stuffed into a hollowed out tomato for lunch the next day. Any vegetable that can be hollowed out can be stuffed; just make sure your filling matches your vegetable.
7. Make an Easy Soup
Soup is one of the easiest ways to use up not only leftovers, but also anything in your fridge that you need to get rid of. You can turn last night’s chicken tacos into a chicken tortilla soup, and leftover vegetables make an excellent vegetable soup. You can turn mashed potatoes into potato soup, steamed broccoli into a broccoli cheddar soup, or puree spiced black beans with a little stock into a delicious black bean soup. The skies the limit when it comes to soups, so experiment with your favorites!
8. Make Sandwiches or Tacos
Leftover pot roast makes delicious tacos without a lot of hassle, or cooked salmon can be stuffed into pita bread with Romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing for an easy lunch. Turn roasted turkey breast or rotisserie chicken into an upscale lunchmeat sandwich, or turn hardboiled eggs into quick egg salad sandwiches. Shred chicken breasts and mix with barbecue or buffalo sauce for easy chicken sandwiches, or put some meatloaf on bread with some ketchup for easy meatloaf sandwiches.
Anything that can be put between two slices of bread can make a sandwich. For ingredients that might fall out (composed salads, beans, roasted vegetables), try using pita pockets or make a wrap out of a large tortilla.
9. Enjoy a Salad
A salad doesn’t have to be all vegetables. A bed of lettuce can be the canvas for virtually anything. Vegetables are an obvious choice, but they don’t have to be raw; roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed Brussels sprouts, or roasted bell peppers make an excellent start. Top with cooked and chopped chicken, sliced steak, or whatever leftover cheese you have, and you’ve got a salad that will rival any hearty meal.
And don’t forget about composed salads. Leftover roasted potatoes can be turned into potato salad, tuna into tuna salad, or cooked macaroni into macaroni salad. Remember, just because it was hot when you had it for dinner last night doesn’t mean it can’t make a delicious cold lunch the next day.
10. Cook Some Pasta or Rice
Cook up some pasta and toss with last night’s roasted vegetables, or make them into a stir-fry with rice. Leftover pizza sauce can turn into spaghetti sauce (and vice versa), and leftover pot roast can be turned into beef and noodles.
Pasta and rice are versatile ingredients that go with almost anything. They make a filling side dish or are easily tossed into leftover soup or stew to add bulk. Don’t limit yourself to spaghetti and white rice; use something different to make an interesting meal that doesn’t take long to prepare.
Leftovers don’t have to be boring, and they certainly don’t have to be the same. What was Italian last night can be a Mexican lunch, or Chinese dinner if you think outside the box a little bit. Another way to make cooking easier is to actually plan for using leftovers for another meal. A whole cooked chicken can be used so many ways, as can roasted or steamed veggies, ground beef, and whatever sauce you may have on hand. Once you get in the habit of using leftovers, you’ll be amazed at the amount of time and money you save by not throwing food out just because you’re tired of it!