Creamy soup with two kinds of mushrooms, onions and shallots. Creamy soup with two kinds of mushrooms, onions and shallots. Creamy soup with two kinds of mushrooms, onions and shallots. (Photo: Aedka Studio/Shutterstock)

How to reuse leftovers

Repurposing last night's meal doesn't have to be complicated. Here's how to get the most out of your leftover food and reduce waste.

Being stuck at home has its advantages. There's more time to enjoy the comforts of being indoors, binge-watching your favorite classic TV series, snuggling with the kids and/or dog, doing some meditating or podcast catch-up ... and flexing your kitchen muscles. In times like these when some of your favorite foods and products might not be consistently available, it's important to use what you have first. And what you have, most likely, are leftovers. (It's OK. I have them, too. We won't judge.)

Before the end of their shelf life, it's important to be able to salvage this food and make it last. Products like bread, vegetable scraps, soups and sauces are practically tailor-made for repurposing. So I whipped up this handy guide to help you make the most of your leftovers.

Sauces for shakshouka

Shakshouka is a traditional Mediterranean breakfast with eggs, tomatoes and vegetables. Shakshouka is a traditional Mediterranean breakfast with eggs, tomatoes and vegetables. (Photo: Wiktory / Shutterstock)

In my house, there's usually one person (my son) who doesn't like sauce on his food. So I have to make everyone else's food with sauce (otherwise known as flavor) and leave his plain. When we're done, I pour the remaining sauce in a plastic container, store it for up to three days, and take it out again for breakfast – when it's time for shakshouka. Shakshouka is a super-delicious egg dish that rose to popularity in Israel, and it involves nothing more than cracking a couple eggs into the center of a pan full of simmering, zesty sauce and your choice of veggies, cheeses and seasonings. Or, skip the last three, and just stick to the basics. Totally up to you.

Other shakshouka variations to try:

  • Green shakshouka (saute some green vegetables, garlic and onions in olive oil instead of using sauce)
  • Shakshouka pizza (basically use pizza dough instead of a pan, and bake in the oven)
  • Shakshouka with shrimp or chicken (add to the sauce base before adding eggs)

Meat, fish and poultry for salads

Honey smoked salmon salad with a garlicky sriracha dressing. Honey smoked salmon salad with a garlicky sriracha dressing. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

Not all meat reheats well, but there are many that do. Bacon, for one, makes a great salad topper, so crush up your leftover bacon for a salad later in the day. Just make sure it's crispy enough to break apart.

Chicken and fish, too, can be pulled and broken apart to turn a light salad into a hearty meal. Salmon is an especially great salad accompaniment, as it can be easily broken apart and sprinkled onto salad without overpowering it. Both of these are wonderful for salads in part because they don't have to be reheated.

I also recommend breaking up hamburger meat (but do reheat it first before adding to salads).


Bread for ... everything

Tahini is incredibly versatile. Here it's served on French toast and covered in honey. Tahini served on French toast and covered in honey. (Photo: The Integer Club/Flickr)

Repurposing bread is one of my favorite parts of this whole leftover experiment. Why? Because there's so much you can do with it! Here are a few tips, but it is nowhere near the limits of what you can do with leftover bread:

  • Turn stale bread into croutons by chopping into squares and toasting in the oven.
  • Puree old bread in a food processor, and use it as a thickener for soups.
  • Make sandwiches with leftover meat (hint: Meatloaf doubles awesomely as sandwich filler and family dinner.)
  • Make bread crumbs (pulse in food processor).
  • Make French toast.

Turn chickpeas into snacks, or use their byproducts

spicy roasted chickpeas Snack away on these flavorful, healthful roasted chickpeas. (Photo: koss13 / Shutterstock)

I'm giving chickpeas, with their mild, smooth flavor, their own category because of their versatility. It's amazing how many ways they can be dressed up. If you're like me and don't care for the texture of raw chickpeas, roasting them in your favorite seasonings is a great trick.

But the options don't end there. You can also turn them into hummus, stuff them into sambusak, fry them up for falafel and use their liquid as an egg white substitute (called aquafaba).


Foods that don't repurpose well

Woman choosing between healthy and unhealthy meal. It's hard to know which foods you can reheat. (Photo: IAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock)

In your leftover repurposing journey, you'll find that some items just don't work well after being reheated, frozen or stored. Use this knowledge to help you make smarter meal-planning decisions:

  • Pasta: Sometimes hardens or loses flavor, unless you add it to soups or stews.
  • Steak: Usually ends up tough and chewy.
  • Anything breaded or deep-fried: Tends to lose crispness and structure. This very much includes French fries.

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How to reuse leftovers
Here are easy ways to get the most out of your leftover food and reduce waste at the same time.