Re-Use: 3 Rules for Reinventing Leftovers


My friend Matt in England has an incredible superpower. You wouldn’t know it if you met him—he’s more likely to be quietly releasing dry witticisms into the atmosphere over a glass of Bordeaux and a cigarette than jumping over tall buildings. You may even relax into your chair after one of his dinners, and pat your belly full of roast pork and crackling without even noticing the small but profound stroke of genius he has performed.

When Matt cooks, there are never any leftovers.

I must admit, I feel a fleeting sense of fear when I sit down to one of Matt’s dinners. He lays everything out on the table, and my heart skips in anticipation of the deliciousness in front of me. Then I panic that there just won’t be enough. I wonder, has his restraint got the better of him this time? There is no way that one little bowl of potatoes is going to serve four people. But it always does; you get to the last potato on your plate and realize if you ate one more you’d be uncomfortably full.


This may not sound like much, but just think about it for a second. Do you ever cook for two, four, six, or ten people—serving starters, a main, several sides, and a dessert—without misjudging the amount your guests will eat of any single dish? Have you ever counted out portions so precisely that everyone has exactly as much as they want and no more? I challenge you to try.

I certainly can’t. I’m greedy. I worry that there won’t be enough, and invariably end up with too much. It’s ok, I can accept my handicap. Instead of sharing Matt’s talent, I have developed one of my own: I make leftovers seem like something entirely new.


Now, I hear you starting to nod off. Do not fall asleep! You do not have to be bored by a repeat of last night’s dinner. I have developed a very simple, three-pronged attack on the coma-inducing quality of leftovers.

Here are the three prongs:

1. Go to the other side of the world

Made something all American last night? Go to Spain tonight. Meatloaf (don’t laugh, meatloaf is good. Use this recipe, it’s the best) becomes beef and potato tortilla with aioli.

2. Change the shape of the leftovers

Crumble it, chop it, form it into cakes and fry it: do whatever you have to do to make it look different on the plate. Creamy risotto becomes crispy arancini.

3. Give your dish a new name

Don’t underestimate the power of marketing. If you say ‘let’s use up last night’s chicken’ you will hear crickets. If you say ‘who’s up for Thai red curry with chicken?’ you will get the response you’re after.


For example, on Good Friday I had a nice homey dinner with my cousin and her husband and my aunt. Channeling my inner-Ottolenghi, I made a green bean salad with roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and basil oil. It turned out very well, if I do say so myself. Being a chronic over-spec-er, I made twice as much as I needed (and bought twice again that amount of beans to begin with, so we will be thinking of lots of ways to use beans over the next few days).

The night after the event, I did not just plonk down some leftovers with a command to ‘eat up’. I went to Asia (or rather, the fuzzy fusion-Asia in my mind), and made some pork and rice lettuce wraps. I even left the word ‘bean’ out of the title!

I suspect that some of you (not including Matt, of course) may end up with some leftovers in the house after today’s Easter extravaganza. Dice up your ham tomorrow and put it in a carbonara. Turn your lamb into a rogan josh. Bend leftovers to your will, and grow a superpower of your own.


Green Bean Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, and Basil Oil

serves 4 as a side with leftovers

  • 1/2 punnet cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus another t each for the tomatoes and onions
  • handful of fresh basil, sliced in thin ribbons
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 lb. green beans, topped and tailed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • handful of crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper


Start by roasting the tomatoes. Arrange them cut-side down in an oven proof dish or baking tray, and sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and olive oil over them. Put them in a 250 degree oven for 40 minutes or so, until they look shriveled and the juices mostly evaporated.

While this is happening, put your basil and olive oil into a glass or jar together, and let them sit while you prepare everything else.

In a frying pan, cook the onions in some olive oil over medium heat. You want to take your time with this: let them cook down gently for 20 minutes or so, until they are soft and caramelized.

Blanch your beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, taking them off the heat when they turn bright green but still retain some crunch. Drain and plunge beans into very cold water to stop them cooking further.

Now assemble everything: put your tomatoes, onions, basil and oil, beans, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, feta, salt and pepper into a big bowl and toss to combine.


Pork and Rice Lettuce Wraps

serves 2

  • 1 cup uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup leftover bean salad (or however much you have, no need to be exact)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped fine
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T chili sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • handful chopped cilantro/ coriander
  • 2 t sesame oil
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, whole leaves carefully separated and washed


Boil the water in a saucepan, add the rice, and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked through (or however you like to cook your rice, that’s up to you).

Sautee onion in vegetable oil over medium heat until translucent, then turn up the heat and add the pork, letting it brown. Turn the heat back down and add the chopped leftovers, garlic, and ginger, and stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, chili sauce, salt, and pepper, and let cook on low heat for 5 minutes or so, until the pork is completely cooked through and there is no liquid left in the pan.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro and sesame oil.

Serve with lettuce leaves and let each person fill their leaves with a little pork, a little rice, and some chili sauce (if you’re into that sort of thing), wrapping them up in little bite sized parcels, which they then eat with their hands.


Joey Mechelle said...

Brilliant! I'll be making the green bean salad this week.


Stephfret said...

Great, let me know how it turns out!

redmenace said...

Wonderful rule. I love reinvention. Thank you for the inspiration! xo

Stephfret said...

Thanks, enjoy!

Sarah-lee-cupcake said...

Speaking of classics and caramelized onions, have you ever attempted french onion soup? It's always one of my favorites and seems like such a basic, but I've never tried making it myself.

Stephfret said...

I have- it's actually really easy, you just have to get your onions very caramel-y in butter, which takes a good while. Then add a spoonful of flour and cook it for a few minutes, add beef stock, salt and pepper, and do the whole gruyere crouton thing on top (which is extra good if you can put it under the broiler so it gets melty and nice). That's pretty much it, but I think it's one of those things where you'd want to have a really good stock since there isn't much else to it. Of course, I've happily used stock cubes and still enjoyed it but I imagine people in the know wouldn't recommend that :)

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