Until very recently, I lived in a small apartment with a European-made, European-sized fridge. I tried to like it. I wanted to be the type of person who embraced the tiny fridge lifestyle, but my job (and maximalist personality) made that a little challenging. I have since moved into a house with a normal-sized American fridge, and it rules.
Not only does it fit more food, but the extra space means I can see the food that’s in there. I think I’ve actually wasted less food since upgrading to a larger fridge, because—once again—I can see it. This means I’ve been using my leftovers more effectively, and taking advantage of the many leftover-focused recipes and hacks we have featured on this very site.
These vegetable pancakes are the perfect vehicle for “like, one carrot, a handful of scallions that somehow haven’t turned to ooze, a sweet potato of indeterminate age, a rapidly-softening bell pepper” and any other less than fresh veg you may have languishing in your produce drawer. Besides a collection of sad vegetables, all you need to make these crunchy fritters is water, salt, and oil. Serve it with a protein—like a piece of pork, some tofu, or a nice poached egg—and you’ve got a full meal.
Three-ingredient, no-knead bread is a surprisingly good for that last bit of roasted vegetables, a few pieces of bacon, or pickled or cured vegetables. Just be sure to render the fat out of any greasy meats, and cook your vegetables down to intensify their flavor and drive out moisture. As far as combinations go: I’m particularly fond of cheddar and sautéed apple.
It may seem overly simplistic and obvious, but a pile of rice (topped with an egg) is the perfect home for an awkward amount of any leftover, be it takeout, poached chicken, or the inside of a soggy day-old burrito. It doesn’t matter how you prepare your rice—fresh works just as well as fried rice—but I do recommend you top the whole thing with a poached or fried egg. The runny yolk is important. It acts as a sauce, marrying all the random components into one cohesive dish. (Sprinkle on some green onions to make it feel fancy and finished.)
I’ve never see “spaghetti-stuffed mushrooms” on a menu, but maybe someone should put it on one. Same goes for “leftover pot roast-stuffed mushrooms” and “cheese grit-stuffed mushrooms.” I cannot think of a savory leftover that wouldn’t be good in a mushroom, is what I’m saying. (Pro tip: roast the mushrooms upside down for a bit before filling to drive off some moisture. This will keep your filling from getting wet and gross.)
Making a bunch of fromage fort is my favorite way to use up the contents of my cheese drawer, particularly if some of the cheeses have been hanging out for a bit too long. Besides a bunch of cheese bits, all you need is butter, garlic, and wine. Blend it all together and serve it as a cold dip or spread, or smear it on a carb and broil until it’s hot and bubbly.
Wilted herbs are not pretty enough for garnishing purposes, but they still have a lot to give in terms of flavor. Blending them into some mayo not only handles the optics, it results in a super flavorful spread that’s excellent when smeared on turkey sandwiches, mashed into potatoes, or mixed with sour cream (for a chip dip).
Basil isn’t the only leafy thing that can be blended with olive oil, parm, garlic, and nuts to make the green spread we know as “pesto.” Fluffy carrot tops, tough chard stems, wilted cilantro, and even bitter strawberry stems can be combined with fat and cheese to make something delicious. (Fat and cheese: What can’t they do?)
This is one of our favorite Thanksgiving leftover mitigation strategies, but there’s no reason for you to limit it to the leftovers you generate in November. All you have to do is gather your leftovers, mix ‘em all together, then add a heaped teaspoon of filling to the middle of a wonton or dumpling wrapper. Wet the edges with a finger dipped in water, fold in half, and seal tightly with your fingers or a fork, then boil or fry according to the wrapper’s package instructions. Repeat until you’re out of leftovers.
I live for a baked potato bar and I would die for a baked potato bar. They are fun. They are delicious. They are comforting. They are a great way to get rid of your last 10 capers, your fistful of bacon bits, your half a shallot. Bake some potatoes, heat up your leftovers (if needed), grab your almost-out condiments and pickled things, and spread it all out on a table. Take the hot and fluffy potatoes out of the oven and stuff ‘em full. Repeat once a week to keep your fridge orderly and neat.