We’ve all been there: Almost-empty jars of jam or gifted artisanal fruit butters lurk in the back of the refrigerator, because “I was saving the last bit for you.” The roasted vegetables from last Sunday’s farmers market haul no longer excite. The rotisserie chicken you grabbed from the grocery store looks as if a horde of angry vultures descended on it. The carton of french fries you took home “because maybe they’ll re-crisp in the oven” is getting pushed farther and farther back, out of sight and out of mind. Or, the worst, you open the refrigerator door and out tumbles half of a formerly juicy lemon, taking with it the tiny Polish teacup that was housing it, which promptly shatters on the floor.
By keeping a few things in mind, you can save your leftovers, your sanity and your teacups. Of course, you can easily reheat most. Often, though, you want something different, without starting from scratch. Repurposing your leftovers means a lot of the work is already done: You just have to mix them together. Use our chart as a jumping-off point. Dig into the depths of your refrigerator and freezer, crack open that languishing takeout, and gather your oils and vinegars. We’ve got work to do.
Preserves and condiments
Dressings, sauces, spreads: For salad dressing, whisk together spoonfuls of jams, fruit butters or other preserves with oil and vinegar. See Must-Go Vinaigrette. For a quick-braising liquid to cook proteins or vegetables, stir savory, sweet and acidic condiments together, adding broth as needed. After braising, reduce sauce until thick. For a sauce for cooked proteins or vegetables, caramelize dollops of tomato paste, then add balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs, thinning with water or broth as needed.
Soups, stocks, broths: Add salsas, ketchup or barbecue sauce to chilis or stews; sweet jams to chilled fruit soups.
Salads: Make dressing (see above).
Sandwiches, etc: Mix with mayonnaise or thick yogurt to make a spread.
Eggs: What condiment doesn’t go with eggs?
Dressings, sauces, spreads: Puree with leftover beans; use as a dip or a sandwich spread.
Soups, stocks, broths: Pureed soups: Cover chunks with broth by one inch, simmer until heated through. Puree, adding more broth as needed. (See Tami’s French Fry Soup.) Stews: Near the end of cooking, add chunks, cooking until heated through. Broths: Save scraps to make Scrappy Vegetable Broth. Consider adding mushroom stems or stripped corn cobs.
Salads: Cut into bite-size pieces and layer into salads. Warm roasted veggies in small saucepan, add oil and vinegar, use as warm salad dressing poured over spinach.
Sandwiches, etc: Put peppers, eggplant and broccoli in a sandwich, with a smear of pesto or another spread. Chunks can go on toast or grains, in tacos or dumplings.
Eggs: Add to scrambled eggs, tuck in omelets, bulk up a frittata. Top a bowl of reheated veggies with fried or poached eggs.
Dressings, sauces, spreads: Cook down with herbs, oil and spices to make a punchy spread.
Soups, stocks, broths: Puree dressed delicate greens (lettuce, spinach) into soups.
Salads: Use wilted (but not slimy) dressed greens to start a new salad.
Sandwiches, etc: Layer sturdy greens in sandwiches or puree with herbs and thick yogurt to make a spread for toast. Tuck into crepes. Shred into tacos.
Eggs: Cooked chard, kale, etc., go well in frittatas (see Farmers Market Frittata) or any number of egg dishes.
Meat and tofu
Dressings, sauces, spreads: Warm bits of bacon, pancetta, etc., in saucepan, add vinegar and oil, pour over greens. Save drippings to make pan sauce.
Soups, stocks, broths: Add chunks of meat to any soup or stew. Use most leftover bones to make stock. Flavor a pot of beans with lamb shanks or ham hocks.
Salads: Shred meat into leafy salads. Crisp small bits of meat in a pan and use as meaty croutons.
Sandwiches, etc: Layer in sandwiches and tacos or on toast. Enclose in wonton wrappers to make dumplings. Bind shredded meat with panko and/or diced vegetables, bake or fry into croquettes.
Eggs: Tuck into omelets, add to breakfast casseroles or Chilaquiles.
Beans and lentils
Dressings, sauces, spreads: Puree with vegetables or broth; use as dip or sandwich spread.
Soups, stocks, broths: Add to soups and stews. Save cooking liquid from homemade beans to add to soups.
Salads: Put in salads. Coat black or green lentils with oil, add salt as needed, and crisp in a small skillet; add to salads or eat as snack.
Sandwiches, etc: Smash over toast, add to tacos, put in dumplings.
Eggs: Stir into scrambled eggs, top with salsa. Add to Chilaquiles.
Breads and grains
Dressings, sauces and spreads: Puree bread with condiments, oil, vinegar and/or nuts and garlic to make romesco and similar sauces.
Soups, stocks, broths: Puree bread or rice into soups (acts as a thickener). Add cooked grains to soups and stews.
Salads: With bread, make croutons. With cooked grains, add to salads.
Sandwiches, etc: Use bread for sandwiches.
Eggs: Make bread crumbs, toast in butter, sprinkle over eggs. Make French toast.
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