Whereas Matt is happy to reheat leftovers for days on end – either for lunch at work or for dinner at home – I tend to be turned off by them the very next day, with two notable exceptions: Italian food and Asian food. I can reheat and enjoy pasta, lasagna, lo mein, and pad thai for days on end, though I’m guessing this has more to do with my love of carbs than with an appreciation for any cuisine in particular.
If you’re like Matt and don’t mind reheating and eating leftovers in their original form, try dribbling about a teaspoon of water over them before sticking them in the microwave. Microwaves work by heating the water within the food, so adding a bit of moisture beforehand will reconstitute the food and help it heat all the way through. I generally heat leftovers for 2:30 or 3:00 minutes on high, but I like for my hot food to be really, really hot. In fact, I spend most weekends waiting for Matt to get up so that I can say, “Oh hey, while you’re up, would you mind reheating my coffee?” My mother is the same way. Genetics are very odd.
Ask yourself as well if the food would benefit from being reheated by methods other than microwaving. Fried rice, for example, is delicious when reheated in a frying pan, and pizza stays crispy when reheated under the broiler or in a toaster oven. Be creative with your heating methods, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
When utilizing frozen leftovers like soup or pasta sauce, try running the container under the faucet for a bit to loosen the contents inside, as defrosting in the microwave can be a bit harsh and might alter the flavor. Once the contents have withdrawn from the sides of the container, dump them into a pot and bring them to temperature over medium-low heat, stirring frequently and leaving the top on in between. Make sure to bring the food to a boil to eliminate any harmful bacteria.
All this being said, sometimes, no matter how tasty I found the first iteration to be, I just don’t want to eat the plain old leftovers the next day. Or, alternatively, the leftovers don’t comprise a meal on their own, as is the case with rice.
Here are two recipes I enjoyed, both of which utilize leftover rice. In a time when everyone is trying to save money, every grain counts!
PINEAPPLE CASHEW FRIED RICE (adapted from gimme some oven)
(photo from gimme some oven)
2 cups leftover rice (I used Goya Curry Rice – my favorite! - which I believe I'd made for an Old El Paso Fajita Dinner Kit meal)
1 tbs vegetable oil or wok oil
2 – 3 scallions, diced, saving the green parts for garnish)
2 tbs minced ginger (I freeze mine and thaw under running water, then microplane)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 hot pepper, minced (I freeze jalapenos and thaw under running water, like the ginger)
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced (I bought the peeled, cored kind at the supermarket because it cost the same as a whole, unprepared one!)
¼ cup cashews
1 tbs soy sauce (I always try to use low sodium)
1 tbs fish sauce or oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
Warm the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat (wok oil is an easy way to add an Asian essence to your food - most contain hints of garlic, ginger, and some combination of spices and heat). Add the scallion whites, ginger, bell pepper, and hot pepper / chile. Saute until fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes.
Add the rice, stirring frequently, for 3 – 5 minutes. Add the pineapple, cashews (I can't remember if I used raw or roasted, but definitely don't use the seasoned snack kind), soy sauce, and fish sauce, and stir until well coated and heated through, about 2 – 3 minutes.
Season to taste, and add the green scallion parts as garnish.
CHEESY VEGETARIAN BURRITOS (original recipe)
1 tbs canola or other neutral vegetable oil
½ red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 – 2 chiles (I used the mild Thai chiles from my garden, so I added three and kept the ribs and seeds)
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp chipotle chile powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed
1 – 2 cups leftover cheesy vegetable rice (see stuffed zucchini recipe)
1 – 2 tbs minced cilantro (I used parsley since my cilantro plant died)
the juice of half a lime
salt and pepper to taste
4 whole wheat tortillas
reduced fat sour cream
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion, garlic, and chiles, and soften for 2 – 3 minutes. Add the cumin, chipotle powder, and oregano, and stir to coat. Add the black beans and leftover rice and stir to combine. Heat through, stirring occasionally, for 4 – 5 minutes. Squeeze in the lime and stir in the cilantro or parsley. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, heat the tortillas in the microwave for 30 seconds. Flip and heat for another 15 seconds. Lay them flat, spread with a tablespoon or so of sour cream and salsa, add about ½ cup of filling, and roll, tucking in the sides as you go. If you like your burritos hot, add a few dashes of Tabasco to the filling before rolling.
I hope that these recipes help you breathe some new life into your leftovers. Be flexible (neither of these recipes called for the types of rice I used), and use your imagination. In my experience, you won’t be disappointed, if only for the knowledge that you’ve saved so much money and left nothing to waste, something I think we should all try to do more often.