To most people, leftovers are boring…cumbersome almost. Sure, they can be useful when you’re looking around in your fridge for something to eat, but no one really boasts about bringing leftovers to work, do they?
It’s time to change that.
We’re taking a look at some of the most common leftovers in kitchens across Australia and revamping them into awesome new lunches to take to work or uni or school. It’s not just sandwiches we’re packing… Leftovers are about to get interesting!
Packed vs. bought lunches
I won’t lie, bought lunches can be exciting. It’s almost too easy to pop over into the nearest cafe and buy yourself that toasted chicken sandwich, sushi or croissant. So, why bring your own lunch?
It goes without saying that lunches from home can be extremely economical – especially when you’re using up last night’s leftovers. You also know exactly what you’re putting your body, which can be handy if you’re watching your weight or salt intake, and depending on what you cook, you’re hopefully getting a few serves of vegetables – let’s not rely on those measly five leaves they shoved into that toastie! Environmentally, reducing the amount of leftovers going to waste means less household waste destined for landfill.
Packed lunches are the way to go!
Now, if only last night’s dinner didn’t seem so boring… After all, no one likes to eat that same one meal, over and over (and over) again.
This is where a little creativity can come in handy.
What to do with leftover:
It’s easy enough to find another use for plain leftover pasta… but what about the sauce?
Tacos. All you need is bolognese sauce, tortillas, chopped red onion, corn, shredded carrot and some coriander leaves. All you have to do is assemble and eat! To prevent soggy tortillas, pack the bolognese and tortillas separately. The onion, corn, carrot and coriander can be mixed and packed together for ease of transportation. You could even add a piece of lime to squeeze over the top, if you’re feeling fancy.
- Chilli con carne. Add some chilli, paprika and kidney beans (and capsicums, if you have it) to your bolognese sauce and voila – chilli con carne. It’s not cheating, it’s clever cooking.
- Stuffed vegetables… well sort of. Stuff leftover bolognese sauce into some capsicums or hollowed-out zucchinis before popping these into the oven until your vegetables are cooked through. Alternatively, if you have some leftover roast vegetables from the weekend, use them as a base and top with some bolognese sauce.
- Meatball baguette. This works especially well with a drier bolognese sauce. Split a baguette, top with some spinach leaves, spoon over bolognese sauce and a slice of cheese. Deconstructed meatballs in baguette, anybody?
Ring ring. Pesto just called to tell you that it doesn’t just want to be tied down to pasta any longer.
- Add it to sandwiches. That chicken and avocado or roast veg sandwich is practically begging for a little smear of herby pesto.
- Dress your salads. We’re not just talking about a bunch of leaves here, people! You could make a grain salad and top it with your choice of protein (leftover roast, perhaps? Maybe some grilled firm tofu? Some chickpeas?). Oh, and don’t forget a drizzle of pesto and a squeeze of lemon to dress it all.
- Pesto, the sauce. Pesto not only an excellent sauce for your meats, but can also be used on top of dishes like frittata, which is another easy meal to take to work/school!
- As a marinade. Marinate your protein with your pesto to let those scrumptious flavours seep in before cooking.
- A crunchy herb topping. If your dish is in need of a good crunch, mix some pesto with breadcrumbs and toast this off until golden and crunchy. Bring it along separately so it doesn’t go soggy and top your dish with the crumb right before eating.
Whilst cooked rice is an easy bed for anything you want to put on top of it, you could also make it into something exciting:
- Fried rice. Stir fry some onion, add chopped vegetables, rice, a splash of soy sauce and some white pepper.
- Sang choi bao. Pack some lettuce cups along with your fried rice. At lunch time, all you have to do is spoon the rice into your lettuce cups!
- Home-made sushi. Leftover short-grain rice can be used to make home-made sushi. Add a little rice wine vinegar to your rice and let it absorb into the grains. Then roll it into nori (seaweed) wraps with some teriyaki chicken/tofu, a little Kewpie mayonnaise, avocado and/or cucumber and Bob’s your uncle!
- Rice bowl. Top your rice with any veg of your choice, done any way you like. Easy peasy. It doesn’t have to be a Korean bibimbap either. Here are some other examples of rice bowls:
Roasted, steamed, boiled veg
Whether you’re cooking pumpkin, onion, zucchini, eggplant, beetroot, capsicums and/or potatoes – we do not discriminate. Let no veg go to waste! Use your veggies to make:
- Frittata. Super easy, super quick and doubles as a brunch recipe. All it takes is a little egg, some leftover veggies and a little cheese. Here’s one by Donna Hay and one from Taste.com.
- Grain salad with roast veg: Tossed through rice, quinoa, couscous, freekeh, amaranth or millet (Raenie here at The Nutrition Press recently compared these grains – have a look here). Then tear through some herbs and dress a simple vinaigrette (think lemon juice and olive oil, mustard and honey, pesto).
- A smashing sanga: Start with good quality bread, top with a spread and follow with roast veg and some black pepper. Personally, I love using hummus or tzatziki as a spread.
Roast chicken is the perfect leftover food because it’s just so versatile. You could stir it through practically any pasta or rice dish, curry or salad. But why stop there? Try these ideas:
- Banh mi. Slice up your roast chicken and toss it with some hoisin sauce. Slice a baguette open, spread a thin layer of mayo or butter, and top with sliced chicken. Add some quick-pickled carrots, cucumber and onions, then finish with generous amounts of fresh coriander.
- Pulled-chicken baguette. Shred your cooked chicken with two forks then mix it into the sauce of your choice. BBQ is popular but why not try teriyaki sauce for some Japanese influence! Top your baguette with plenty of salad and/or shredded vegetables and some fresh herbs. Easy but impressive!
Make sure to invest in some good portable containers to show these bad boys off in. So, the next time someone asks you what you brought for lunch, you can say with a smirk: Oh it’s nothing, just last night’s leftovers…