The MOM 100 Blog

The Eternal Leftover

by Katie Workman  •  June 03, 2009

When it comes to leftovers, the world splits itself into three groups (to immediately digress, there are so many things in the world that divide people into groups — mostly two groups, a.k.a. hate or love contingents: black licorice, roller coasters, sea urchin…

People usually either A) hate leftovers, and throw almost everything away; B) love leftovers, are so happy and secure knowing there is some of last night’s meatloaf waiting in the fridge (further digression, there is actually a subset of the B group, the B.1 group who have a slightly Depression era attachment to leftovers, really cannot bear to throw ANYTHING away, and have been known to wrap up things like two baby cooked carrots, or a bite of a chicken breast); and, C) people like me who look upon almost every single kind of leftover as a shimmering challenge, an exciting opportunity to make a brand new, equally-if-not-more-appealing dish.

This concept may leave most of you shrugging, but for those of you in Group C – right? Leftover roast chicken is like the platonic ideal of this kind of springboard food, but that’s just the beginning. In fact, I am trying to remember when I have ever conceded defeat in trying to morph a dish into something new again.

An eternal leftover would be exaggeration – eventually a dish gets completely eaten. But in my kitchen, turning one dish into another dish, and then another, and sometimes (steady now) yet another is becoming a sort of lowbrow art form. I will never ever compete in the Olympics, unless there is a courageous and forward-thinking enough member of the IOC who decides to make Leftover Repurposing into an Olympic Sport. Then I will be packing my bags for London immediately.

I realize I am not the only person to do this – and I also realize it may make some people a little hesitant about coming over for dinner. I swear, I never repurpose ingredients or dishes that could are of questionable freshness, and I never do it for a dinner party or significant occasion. It’s just so much fun to take something good, and find a way to stretch and bend it into something else…good.

A lovely beef barley soup is my most recent achievement (do I sound like I’m bragging here? Sorry.) And this particular transmogrification was of the most satisfying level, because it involved not just ONE leftover meal, ladies and gentleman, not just TWO, but THREE, THREE I tell you! Not possible, you say? Oh, but it is! It was! There was a vegetable soup, a beef stew, and then some cooked white beans I had in the freezer. One more sautéed onion and a little garlic to start, everything went into the pot, and with the addition of some barley and chicken broth – a whole new soup, a whole new meal, enough to share with my neighbor.

It’s a complicated world out there, and when you find something that not only brings such emotional and practical satisfaction, you should grab it, and simmer away. The pot of soup is dwindling and thickening…but I have a box of ziti calling my name and the reduced soup may well have one more incarnation as a rich pasta sauce. Then I’ll call it quits. Tomorrow is another day, and there is a package of chicken in my fridge waiting to become a leftover.

Postscript:

Here was last night’s leftover transformation. I had made Nancie McDermott’s Asian Chicken and Cabbage Salad the night before, and then last night turned the leftovers into a stir-fry. I had about 3 cups left, and here’s what I did:

• Heat a swirl of canola oil in a wok or big skillet, and sauté a cup or two of leftover cold cooked rice over medium high heat until it is browned and a little crispy, about 5 minutes.
• Throw in handfuls of grated carrot and the leftover chicken and cabbage salad, and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through.
• In a small bowl, beat two or three eggs. Shove the sauteéd mixture over to one side of the pan, add the beaten eggs, and stir them for one minute until they start to softly scramble.
• Then stir the whole thing together and drizzle on a bit of tamari or soy sauce.
• Turn onto a serving platter. If you want to show off, put some thinly sliced scallions on top to garnish, and some chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro.

Leftover, schmeftovers.

• Try the original recipe yourself, and make some leftovers! Chicken and Cabbage Salad with Fresh Mint at Cookstr

Originally published on thekitchn.com.

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