Mastering Leftovers

May 15, 2012


Here at FOOD52, we like to cook smart. We like to cook economically. We like to cook, as the writer Tamar Adler puts it, with grace. And cooking intelligently, economically, and gracefully means making -- and using -- leftovers.

But let’s not call them leftovers. Let’s call them, as FOOD52-er Verdigris does so poetically in this Hotline thread, ingredients. Here, then, are eight inspiring ways to use your ingredients all week long -- without a trace of taste-bud fatigue.

An Everlasting Meal
Our inspiration.

Shop the Story

Soup: Looking to use up roasted vegetables? Simmer them in stock, add a splash of milk or cream (if desired), and puree. Want to repurpose cooked meat or fish? Flake or shred it into a finished soup, add a cooked starch, and you’ve got a balanced meal. 

Hash: Crispy potatoes make everything new again. Pan-fry your cooked vegetable or meat with cooked (or shredded) potatoes, or if you’re feeling fancy, form the mixture into patties beforehand. You can substitute cooked rice -- or any grain, for that matter -- for the potato. 


Introduce The Egg: Eggs are your cooked ingredients’ best friends. The quickest, easiest variation: warm up your ingredients (we’re fans of the pan-fry) and throw a fried egg on it. A runny egg yolk can do wonderful things to last night’s dinner. For more options, lace a frittata with your cooked vegetable, meat or pasta, or throw the mixture into a savory pie shell for a quiche. Add some chopped fresh herbs, and make sure to taste for seasoning.

Sandwiches: The sandwich is a tried-and-true vessel for cooked ingredients, and it is dear to our hearts (see: Amanda’s Kids’ Lunch). The key: get creative. Doctor up store-bought mayo. Make your own aioli. Introduce a raw ingredient or two, and dig in.


Crostini: These are the sandwich’s elegant, refined cousins. As meganvt01’s suggests, toss cooked vegetables with balsamic vinegar, basil, good-quality olive oil, and soft cheese. Use to top garlic-rubbed toasts, and drizzle with some more olive oil.

Liven up a grain: Some FOOD52 favorites -- Leftover Salmon Kedegree, Thankful for Leftover Turkey Jambalaya, Turkey Tetrazzini -- use grains as a blank canvas. Since the cooked ingredients are more of a garnish than a base, feel free to switch up the seasoning from that of your original dish. Rice and pasta work well here, but you can also use farro, quinoa, bulgur, or couscous.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding: In the spirit of aargersi’s Don’t Hold the Anything Breakfast Bread Pudding, don’t hold the anything in your bread pudding. Using her bread-to-liquid ratio, layer your own savory bread pudding to your heart’s content. We’re always a fan of pudding for breakfast...or lunch, or dinner, for that matter.

Pizza or Flatbread: Use leftover vegetables -- plus some bacon, if you’re in the mood -- as a topping. Get creative; you don't have to be authentic!

How do you use your leftovers creatively?

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • soojasaurus
  • Christina @ Christina's Cucina
    Christina @ Christina's Cucina
  • Comeandcookwithus
  • Short Order Dad®
    Short Order Dad®
  • SleepyG
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


soojasaurus August 29, 2013
Mostly because I have no time, I find that everything leftover gets pushed into a sauce for pasta or just sits on the top of a salad, which isn't awful, but pizza and soup sound pretty awesome!
Christina @. September 20, 2012
Stale bread, especially egg bread, challah, panettone etc. makes the BEST bread pudding, and after trying different ways of making it, I've settled on this lush version!
Comeandcookwithus May 17, 2012
I have different strategies for different left-overs and most have been covered by the article and my fellow readers. One thing to add is Fruit Salads: I like to make an extra large amount of fruit salad and turn any leftovers into fruit compote that can be used on top of natural yoghurt or on pancakes. Pineapple, mangoes, even papayas give the compote an extra exotic flavor. Simply place the chopped fruit in a saucepan, and add an inch of water to the pot. Heat it to a boil, then let it simmer until the fruit is cooked through (~30 minutes). No sugar needed here! The compote should be consumed within a few days – though it never lasts that long in my house.
Short O. May 16, 2012
Last night's leftovers are always this morning's breakfast. Roasted veggies, potatoes, even pasta go into the eggs - together with cheese, sauteed onion, bacon, etc. - to make hearty and healthy omelets, frittatas or breakfast burritos. Great way to start the day.
SleepyG May 16, 2012
Great suggestions! I pretty much started my little frozen foods company from this concept of "working with what you've got". With three small children (all under 2!) I had to learn to become economical w/out compromising health so I dove into the world of whole grains. Now they are a base for nearly all our meals (and leftovers) and we're about to make a living off of our ideas and efforts. I love to see the inspiration others get from the same well we got ours.
edowning2388 May 16, 2012
Growing up in an Asian household, we had rice at almost every meal, and thus, a constant supply of leftover rice which would get turned into:
A) Fried Rice: Saute onions in sesame oil and then add rice, peas, carrots, soy sauce, a beaten egg or two, leftover chicken/veggies, water chestnuts, and even canned abalone. Anything goes with this dish and it is the very best comfort food. Restaurant fried rice can't hold a candle to this bad boy.
B) Rice porridge: simmer two cups of cooked rice with a cup or two of veggie/chicken broth (enough so the rice is swimming) and about an inch or two of fresh ginger until it has mostly absorbed the liquid. Crack in an egg or two, add cooked chicken chunks and mix until creamy. Best served with soy sauce and chopped green onions on top to the ill, infirm, or vaguely mentally/physically/spiritually unwell. No joke, this shit cures everything...or at least makes it feel better.
sue J. May 16, 2012
I make flatbread pizzas with leftovers and assorted odds and ends -- just mist any kind of flour tortilla with olive oil, place on a sheet pan and add whatever you have on top. I always keep shredded mozzarella in the freezer for this purpose. It is amazing how far one forgotten sausage, some wilted spinach and a few olives can go. Great way to clean out the fridge!
viviancooks May 16, 2012
salads! you can toss just about any left over with lettuces to make a delicious salad, or top a salad.
GMA8.5 May 16, 2012
Leftover greens+leftover pasta+leftover white beans great warmed in garlic, olive oil and chicken stock, topped with parmesan: not quite a soup, but juicy. Great article, thanks!
NBrush May 16, 2012
I like to invite my long time friends--the Quesadillas and the Rice-Noodles--to help me host leftovers. They get asked often since they always bring something good to the table.
Kristen M. May 16, 2012
I wish I could like this comment -- we should do something about that!
Christina @. May 16, 2012
One of the most overlooked delicious meals made from leftovers!
Angela @. May 15, 2012
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)
drbabs May 15, 2012
I just made cookies a la Christina Tosi with leftover almond brittle and Rivka's maple yogurt pound cake. Even baked goods can be repurposed!
Brette W. May 15, 2012
Love that idea! Even though I rarely -- never, actually -- have leftover baked goods.
drbabs May 15, 2012
Here you go:
AntoniaJames May 15, 2012
Okay, so stepping back a bit . . . my fridge is full of glass boxes and jars of fairly recently made cooked foods. Not all are "leftovers." Many are veggies, onions + aromatics, sausages/bacon, salsa verdes and chimichurries, etc. that were cooked or otherwise prepared at the same time as other foods that actually were used for a meal, etc I also roast nuts, seeds and vegetables whenever I bake bread. In the spring, summer and fall, I almost always grill extra meats and veggies, that we don't plan to eat the evening it was grilled. Those are not "leftovers." The majority of my meal prep in the past few years has involved using ingredients that have already been prepped/cooked to add with other just-cooked ingredients along with herbs, zest, cheese, flavorful smoked/cured meat products, chutneys, fancy oils, fragrant and often unusual vinegars, and other condiments to create dinner. I frequently add comments to the recipes here on FOOD52 when I re-purpose a FOOD52 recipe. E.g., (a) spoon leftover Merrill's Saag Paneer, or sdebrango's chimichurri sauce from her contest winning steak, into omelets; or (b) add ricotta whey to Merrill's Saag Paneer to make a dreamy Indian-spiced creamy spinach soup. Chicken marinated and grilled when we made pierino's Mysteries of Korea Town flank steak was put over the next night on spring lettuces with veggies + a sharp feta for dinner salad. The leftover steak will be wrapped in phulka roti, hot off the griddle, with roasted eggplant slices (cooked while I bake a loaf of bread today) and cucumber chunks in herbed Greek yogurt tonight. Leftover sauce from any roast, and even from meatloaf, is saved (adding a bit of water to retrieve the flavorful, crusty goodness) and spooned over cooked vegetables at room temperature perhaps with a splash of great vinegar, for lunch, or over soft scrambled eggs or omelets. (I never tire of omelets!) I have just in the past few days started reading Tamar Adler's book. There's little if anything that I've read so far -- I'm halfway through -- that I'm not already doing, but it's nice to know that there's someone else out there who shares these values. And although I don't care much for this writer's style, I'm glad that others will learn how to incorporate these practices and find joy in approaching food this way. I especially look forward to seeing the other FOOD52 responses on this thread. ;o)
garlic&lemon May 16, 2012
AntoniaJames, I'm with you! Several years ago, my husband became critically ill and was in the hospital for 22 days. Our son was 15 y/o and we had dogs, cats, horses and goats - as well as needing to take care of the pasture and work full time! (He is recovered, thank goodness). Anyway, out of necessity I started making 2 main dishes and various vegetables on Sunday. It took about 4-5 hours, multi-purposing the oven and grill. Because I get left-over fatigue after a couple of days, re-purposing the ingredients in the way you describe was essential. Things require a little more thought now that we are down to 2 adults (empty nest), but as far as I am concerned, it is the ONLY way to go. My husband and I are avid cooks, but it is just not possible to cook dinner every night if one is actively involved in life. We will usually make one more main meal during the week. My additions to yours, since I am allergic to eggs and do not digest cow's milk well, include 1) quick stir fries on fresh soba noodles; 2) keeping extra buttered, toasted and seasoned bread crumbs to sprinkle on heated up veggies (vary the seasonings); 3) keep fresh corn tortillas, pickled onions & crumbled goat cheese around to use with any soft taco filling I can throw together; 4) CONDIMENTS: black bean chile sauce; yuzu-soy sauce; anchovy sauce; miso; fresh salsa (varies); pesto; tapenade; aioli of the week; in addition to many of the condiments and vinegars that Fodd52-ers have mentioned having around. Thanks for your review of Tamar Adler's book. I am already stacked up on reading, so you saved me that one.
nykavi May 15, 2012
Great ideas!.... My leftovers are usually added to mashed potatoes or rice. I leave them in the fridge to firm up a bit, then i fashion them into patties, coat with breadcrumbs and shallow fry to brown them on either side. We call the Never Again Cutlets in our house.
Merrill S. May 15, 2012
Love the name of your patties!
arielleclementine May 15, 2012
great article, great tips!
Stefanie S. May 15, 2012
We had company for a week, so when they left, we had little bits of things leftover
- with the rice and broccoli, I made a cold salad,also using the fresh chopped veggies left over from a lunch of hummus, wraps and veggies
- with the leftover blackbeans, I used them in a wrap with a diced sweet potato, some toppings from the black bean dinner, plus cheese and salsa, then I rolled and heated it
- the leftover ice cream was no problem at all, I just added a little of my homemade jam and some fresh fruit!
My mom likes to call them planned-overs since she always cooked a little extra to save for another meal!