Cooking your own food is great for many reasons: saving money, eating healthy, ensuring your dietary requirements are met, etc. Cooking in bulk has extra benefits: leftovers. If you are of those people who don’t enjoy eating the same meal over and over again, you should learn what to do with leftovers.
What to do with leftovers
The obvious thing to do with leftovers is to eat them as the original dish. However, I prefer to save leftover food components to put them together as different meals afterward.
- Serve the amount you know you’ll be eating now, then portion out the leftovers, let cool down and put them in the fridge as soon as they are close to room temperature.
- When portioning out leftovers, think about how much you will be using at a time to avoid getting more food out of the fridge than what you need.
- Store each category of food (e.g. meats, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, starches) separately.
- If you have memory issues, label each container with its contents and the day they were first cooked/prepared.
- Use leftovers within 3-5 days. Some leftovers can go a little longer. Before using leftovers, trust in your senses: don’t eat food that has mould growing on it, looks or feels slimy (unless it’s meant to be slimy) or smells off.
- It’s easier to add than to subtract. If you are cooking a big batch of something intended to be used in several meals, think about seasoning it simply (e.g. salt and pepper) and adding other flavourings (e.g. herbs, spices) later.
- Familiarise yourself with flavour profiles of different cuisines so that you can come up with exciting new meals using leftovers.
- Plan what to do with leftover food as soon as you know you’ll have it. This reduces the risk of having containers of food that won’t get used.
Cooked vegetables are very versatile. They can be eaten as a side for any protein, including eggs for breakfast or brunch. They can also be used as a base for sauces, in salads, soups, stews, pizzas, etc.
Most dressed salads can be eaten the day after without issues. Sturdy vegetables such as cabbage, kale and carrots keep their texture better when dressed than more delicate vegetables such as lettuces.
If you get the chance, store salad vegetables separately and undressed. This gives you the flexibility to build a different salad later on, perhaps with a different dressing, or to use the vegetables in other dishes. For example, you can use leftover salad vegetables in wraps, sandwiches and bowls. Some vegetables such as cabbage and kale can also be added to omelettes, frittatas, okonomiyaki, stir-fries, etc.
The most popular use for leftover rice is fried rice. Rice can also eaten as a side dish for many different mains, added to soups, made into a pilaf or used as a base for a Mexican/buddha/poke bowl. If you want to try something Peruvian, you can make tacu tacu with leftover beans.
Unsauced cooked pasta and noodles can be used with a different sauce or incorporated to other dishes such as soups, stir-fries and salad bowls.
Other starches such as cous cous, quinoa and buckwheat can be used similarly to rice. Cooked polenta and mashed potatoes can be used as a side dish for stews or proteins (e.g. sausages, steak, fish, etc.).
Cooked beans and lentils
Leftover beans and lentils can be added to salads, soups, stews, or eaten as a side dish. They are very versatile and can take many different flavour profiles: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Colombian, BBQ, etc. If you want to try something Peruvian, you can make tacu tacu with leftover rice.
Cooked meat, poultry and fish can be used with different side dishes for a variety. For example, if you had steak with salad when you cooked it, you can have the leftovers with mash and steamed vegetables the next day. You can also add cooked proteins to salad bowls, soups, stews, curries, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, pasta, etc.
Leftover sauces can be tricky as they inherently have a specific flavour profile. Having said that, many leftover sauces can be used on pasta, to make baked eggs (think shakshuka) and as a condiment for sandwiches or wraps.