They’re not leftovers if repackaged right

Photo by Keri White

Leftovers are not a popular dinner option. And I can see why.

One could certainly make the argument that if there is a lot left over, the diners did not sufficiently love the meal. But that is often not the case — sometimes it is simply impractical to prepare a small amount, particularly in the case of dishes like roast chicken, meat loaf, soups and stews.

And if you use some creativity, rather than simply slinging the identical meal onto plates and nuking it, you can offer something different and tasty while avoiding waste and keeping it healthy.

I had an assortment of leftovers sitting around and, by weaving together these items in a new way, I managed to present an apparently fresh meal using virtually all bits that were pulled from the fridge.

Full disclosure: The arugula and romaine were not technically left over as in reused from a previous meal, but the quantity I had for each would have been insufficient to make a salad for the family. Combining them produced an economical merger, and they blended well.

The main inspiration, however, came from the melon baller. I had two halves of roasted butternut squash left from a previous dinner — these presented a challenge. The melon baller created lovely little orbs from the squash, and the salad looked a treat. This method could be used with sweet potatoes or any sturdy, starchy cooked vegetable.

My “clean out the fridge” salad also contained leftover new potatoes, roasted cabbage and, of course, the squash. I used a roasted tomato relish that had topped some grilled steak earlier in the week as a base for the dressing; adding oil and vinegar was the work of a moment, and the dressing delivered a flavorful zing to the salad.

Any protein or cheese could be added to bolster this salad, either as a leftover or as a freshly cooked (or bought) option — rotisserie chicken, anyone? The key to a successful covert leftover dinner is to have good-quality ingredients on hand, so consider using slightly larger amounts when you provision and cook for the week. It takes almost no extra effort to roast a second chicken, and that extra bird can pay dividends with salads, sandwiches, pasta toppings, etc. Ditto for roasting veggies, or cooking rice, barley, etc.

I recognize that salad may not be considered dinner for some, but that does not mean that this leftover repurposing method is not for you.

Consider putting all of the leftovers into a warming soup — rice, beans, vegetables, poultry and many meats can be stirred into a pot of purchased broth and seasoned nicely; just be mindful of the ingredients and be sure they play well in the sandbox with each other. I would avoid an abundance of really strong flavors, and would generally stay away from fish.

If soup is not your jam, consider tossing the ingredients into a frittata or tossing with pasta.

Leftovers also provide a great way to jump on the bowl bandwagon. The concept seems to be playing out deliciously in every trendy new café this side of Timbuktu. Start with a layer of a whole grain such as quinoa, brown rice or barley (or a combo), then add some protein (beans, meat, tofu, chicken, fish), then vegetables, sprouts, nuts, etc., and the dressing of your choice, if desired.

Covert Leftover Salad

Serves 2-3
The beauty of this is that you can seriously use anything you have on hand. The following recipe is offered as a mere guideline; be creative with what you have sitting around your fridge. If you don’t have roasted tomatoes on hand for the dressing, substitute your favorite.

1 large head lettuce, 1 package baby lettuce or a combo thereof
1 whole butternut squash, roasted and scooped out with a melon baller
1 cup roasted potatoes
1 cup roasted cabbage
1/3 cup roasted tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse, drain and tear the lettuce, if needed. Place it in a large, shallow bowl.
Place all other ingredients atop the lettuce, distributing
them evenly to create an attractive salad.
In a small bowl, whisk the roasted tomatoes with a fork to mash them slightly. Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk again.
Toss the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-based food writer.

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