5 Creative ways to repurpose leftover food

Repurpose leftover food

What do you do with your leftover food?  What about your leftover meat from the weekend barbeque or your pot of food that nobody in your family is eating?  In this article, we look at how to repurpose leftover food.  Leftover food that would have ended up in the bin can be repurposed into other foods.   Apart from eating it as it is, you can create other meals out of your leftovers.

I sometimes find myself with a pot of food or some leftovers that no one other than myself is eating.  Other than freezing the food for use at a later date, I look for ways to make the food into something else that the family might enjoy eating.

Why you should repurpose leftover food

By repurposing food, you redirect that food from going to waste, to your plate.  Throwing away food contributes to global warming. By cutting your food waste, you are doing something good for the planet.  Read more on the impact of throwing away food in this article by the BBC.

Throwing away food is bad for your pocket too.  It is like taking money out of your wallet/purse and throwing it away.  You bought that food with your “hard-earned cash”.  If the food is cooked, think of the energy used to cook it and the labour that went into preparing it.  Check out my previous article on eating sustainably.

At the time of writing this article, Inflation is at the highest that it has been for decades.  The cost of food has risen significantly.  With food being so expensive, wasting it shouldn’t be an option.  We must seek ways to prevent food waste.  I have shared more tips on how to reduce food waste at home in this article

Looking at repurposing food, below are some tips that I have used to make use of my leftovers.  To repurpose cooked food into other meals, it is important that the leftovers are handled with food safety in mind.  If cooked food is not chilled quickly, it may become unsafe as food poisoning bacteria may grow in it.  Top tip: Store your food in the fridge as soon as you can, once it is cooked.

1. Leftover cabbage goes into a Romanian traditional dish

I recently had a pot steamed of red cabbage that I was struggling to finish.  Cabbage is not a favourite meal in my family; I was left with the pot of cabbage to myself.  To be honest, I got tired of eating it.  Red cabbage has an earthy flavour when cooked, and is not one of those foods that you can eat day in and day out.  By day three, I was already thinking of how to deal with the pot of cabbage.  I don’t throw away food unless I can’t help it.  The only time I throw away food is when I have food safety concerns.  It is also on the rare occasion when I discover food has spoilt.

I was contemplating making a cabbage pie with my potful of red cabbage.  I planned to grab some shortcrust pie sheets from the supermarket the following weekend.   In the course of the week, I got inspired to make something different.  I remembered a recipe I had read about, from the Transylvanian region of Romania.  The recipe is called “Varza a la Cluj”.  The Romanian dish is made by making layers of pickled cabbage, rice and mincemeat.  The layers are then topped with sour cream.  The food is then baked in the oven.

Repurpose leftover food - Repurposed cabbage, Varza a la Cluj
Repurposed leftover food – Layers of cooked mincemeat, rice, and cabbage, topped with sour cream.

I customised my recipe to suit my ingredients and also my dietary choices.  Instead of pickled white cabbage, I used my leftover red steamed red cabbage.  I acidified it lightly with apple cider vinegar.  Instead of using pork mince like in the Romanian recipe, I used turkey mince.

This is quite an easy recipe.  The mince meat is cooked by lightly frying onions, adding the mincemeat, chopped tomatoes, cumin, black pepper and salt for seasoning.  The rice is simply boiled.  The cabbage can be steamed, and seasoned with some salt, black pepper and a drizzling of oil.  Start off with a layer of cabbage, then a layer of rice.  This is followed by a layer of cooked mincemeat, then a layer of cabbage.  Sour cream is the last layer and some black pepper is then sprinkled on top.

With this dish, I repurposed the red cabbage.  My family tucked into the meal with no prompt at all.  It is both a unique and delicious meal.   This is just an example; you can do something similar using white cabbage.

2. Leftover BBQ meat repurposed

Many a time when my family has a barbeque, we have some left-over meat.  Most of our barbeque meat happens to be chicken.  Microwaved barbeque chicken is not the tastiest as a matter of fact.  So, what do you do with the leftover meat?  I normally scrape off the burnt parts which tend to be the skin.  I then chop up the meat and either cook it with root vegetables, use it for topping a homemade pizza, use it as a sandwich and wrap fillers or cook it with rice.

To make the rice dish, fry some chopped onions, add garlic and chopped tomatoes once the onions are soft.  You can add a palmful of garden peas and diced carrots, and season with chicken stock, garam masala and salt.  Add water (water should be double the quantity of rice).   Bring to a boil.  Add washed basmati rice and stir.  Lid the pot, bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Let the meal cook and the water evaporate.  Do a final stir and turn off the heat.    You have just repurposed the meat and made a new dish, Pilau rice!

3.  Repurpose leftover food – plain boiled rice

Once in a while, I have some leftover simply boiled rice.  One of my favourite recipes is to make egg-fried rice with it.   I always have frozen peas or a mix of peas and carrots in my freezer.  For this recipe, I would fry some onions, doesn’t matter which type of onions.  I would then add pre-boiled peas and carrots and the left-over rice. Add seasoning. In a bowl, beat two eggs.  Once the rice and pea mixture has heated through, add the beaten egg. Stir the egg into the mixture to get small pieces of cooked egg distributed throughout the dish.  You can add other vegetables such as diced courgette, chopped green beans, and herbs.  There is no limit to what can be added.  Be creative and don’t let recipes stand in your way.

4. Repurposing leftover polenta

Polenta is one of the family staples.  Sometimes I am left with polenta.  I don’t mind reheating polenta in the microwave and eating it with some greens or a meat stew.  When I have too much of it, I repurpose it by slicing it into very thin slices.  I would oil a glass oven dish and then put a layer of the polenta slices.  Meanwhile, I make a paste of spinach or stinging nettle, chopped spring onions, drained cottage cheese, olive oil and black pepper and salt for seasoning.  Put a layer of the paste on top of the polenta slices, and add another layer of polenta slices on top.  Grate some cheese on top of the polenta or if want it richer, pour some cream on top and bake till golden on top.   

5. Repurposing leftover mashed potatoes

What do you do, when you have some mashed potatoes left over? Turn the mash into a shepherd’s pie or a moussaka type of dish!  No need to stick to recipes necessarily.  Be creative when it comes to filling.   Cook a mix of meat, diced or mince with vegetables for the filling.  If you want to try something different, use canned beans instead of peas for the filling or even try mung beans.  If you love greens like I do, and want to be adventurous, use them for the filling.   Never let recipes restrict y our creativity, I never do.  For the moussaka which uses slices of potatoes, make it shepherd pie style with your leftover mashed potatoes.

The list is endless in terms of different ways you can repurpose your leftover food.  Check out our article on how to repurpose your kitchen scraps into new foods in this article – Repurposing kitchen scraps into new food.