There are days when I whip up a meal from whatever happens to be lying around in my fridge and pantry and needs to get used. Also on such occasions, time is on short supply. I don’t have a dish in mind. I look at what’s on offer and try to make something that is as close as possible to what I feel like eating. I don’t follow a recipe nor do I keep track of what I am doing, but since the steps are necessarily simple due to time constraints, such meals wouldn’t be difficult to reconstruct.
Using up leftovers and dressing them up in a new way is important to me. Because I believe that wasting food is very bad. Alright, sometimes I do have to throw away something that’s gone bad because it slipped under my radar, but to routinely dump food that could have fed some of the starving people in this world is something that should be avoided at all costs. Also I am a big believer in acknowledging the effort and lives that went into the food that we eat. The effort of the farmers and the lives of the plants and animals that end up on our plate. We need to respect that, by not wasting.
I have a few points that I keep in mind to ensure that I don’t end up wasting food or end up feeling that all I am doing is eating leftovers.
- I don’t cook large amounts of food. If I do, and that does happen sometimes, I try to freeze some for later use. Airtight food-safe good-quality plastic containers are very useful for this purpose. Saucy or soupy dishes freeze well. Potatoes not.
- I try to use up leftovers the very next day. That is usually the day they still taste as good as the first day, sometimes even better!
- If day 3 has rolled by and I still have something hanging out in the fridge, I either serve it as an appetizer course, or make something else out of it. Leftover curries and lentils can be mashed up and made into roti or paratha like here. Leftover soup can be used to cook rice or some other grain. Things that were not such a hit the first time, can be dressed up with spices and herbs and you will be surprised at the difference that they make. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of re-seasoning. And you cannot go wrong with a bit of frying action. Omelettes, croquettes, patties, the possibilities are endless.
- Vegetables that have already spent the best days of their lives in the crisper can be used for making soups, stews or even stir fries (there is nothing that a spicy sauce will not cure).
Here are some examples of meals that I had in the recent past that are worthy of mention, as they were very tasty and satisfying!
- Stir-fried pak-choi, summer squash with peanuts and fresh herbs, served with brown rice. Also pictured above.
The herb was basically some curry leaf that I had, any other herb would have done just fine. Holding everything together and taking it to a new level was a dipping sauce that my son had concocted a few days ago. I wasn’t watching so I couldn’t tell you the exact quantities, but I do know that he put in sambal oelek (basically red chilli paste in vinegar), soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli-sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. The end result was really good (and hot!) but way more than what we needed. I had put away the rest in a bottle in the fridge.The stir-fry was to die for, I have to say.
2. A colourful plate of pan-fried potatoes and sweet potatoes, store-bought basil flavoured tofu, fresh vegetables and a green salad
The root vegetables were leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner. I tend to keep vacuum packed tofu in my pantry for making stir-fries or stews. Sometimes in addition to the plain ones, I try out different combinations like with nuts or herbs. It was a fun meal!
3. Upma or savoury semolina with vegetables. This is a modification of a dish from the southern part of the country. Semolina, vegetables and some spices and your dish is ready in a jiffy. A great vehicle for odds and ends of vegetables in the fridge and also the semolina that had been lying around in my pantry for months!
Fry peanuts, mustard seeds and herbs. Saute veggies with whatever spices you like. Add semolina and fry. Add twice the amount of water, bring to a boil, stir a few times and done. The yellow specks are leftover scrambled eggs from my son’s breakfast. Kid made his own eggs but then could not finish them because he had added too much salt. But the salty bits fitted really well into the dish that I cooked up a few hours later. Very satisfying.
4. Vegetable-chicken pulao, omelette with fresh coriander and onions, yogurt
The rice was cooked in stock that I made from the carcass of a roast chicken. I sauteed the vegetables and bits of chicken with spices and added it to the rice. The omelette was a great vehicle for the not-so fresh coriander in my crisper. Tasty meal!
So here are some of the ad-hoc meals that I cooked up in my kitchen and liked. What do you do with leftovers and not so fresh vegetables? Are there some successful tricks that you use? Are there some favourite meals that you’d like to mention? Drop a line and start the conversation!