Yay! Leftovers!

No idea is too wacky when you look at your fridge in a whole new light

Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).

I get excited about recycling food: not the produce peels and scraps that go out to the curb for our city’s compost pile, but all the odds and ends from bygone meals that never make it to the maw of our kitchen bin. It’s food too good to call leftovers, though that’s what they are. And from the looks of The Bittman Project feedback, our online community shares the enthusiasm for minimizing food waste and has lots of good ideas. (In fact, tomorrow’s discussion thread is all about figuring out how to waste less food; we hope you’ll join!).

There’s just one hurdle: Everyone has different stuff in their fridge and freezer. So we hope to inspire a new approach to leftovers, starting today.

I propose we divide leftovers into seven categories, depending on what you do to them; the first two give leftovers a bad rap. But stick with me. 

Eat cold

With a little effort, let’s consider ways to freshen straight-from-the-fridge dining. Almost everything benefits from taking the chill off by sitting at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, especially starchy foods like rice, beans, and pasta. Grilled and roasted dishes almost always work, finely chopped, to serve on crackers or in sandwiches. And in a pinch, just squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top before devouring. (I’m coming for you, pizza.) 


I’ll say it again and again: Don’t overcook leftovers. Use the potential for crunch and glarp to your advantage. “I'm so into leftover pasta I can't stand it,” Mark tells me. “I bake it and roast it until it browns. So many work. Just had whole wheat pasta with really good ragu. Top was crisp; bottom was mushy. Like instant lasagna sorta.” How, you ask? “You turn the oven on, put the thing in, and take it out before it burns,” he says.

For microwave reheating, Daniel isn’t ashamed to share his deep dark radar-harnessing microwave tips. “Maybe this is frowned upon, but whatever,” he says. “Tikka masala — or any similar tomato-based curry — is not only better the next day, but IMHO is at its best when you blast it in the microwave, which kind of browns and crisps the sauce a bit in a way that I love.” He also reminds us to reheat rice long enough to lose its chalky toughness. I might add that glass containers with lids that naturally vent by wobbling, and a few drops of water help guarantee steam and, therefore, fluff.

Use byproducts

Cooking byproducts are a ringer. Daniel and I both save mirepoix — or whatever vegetables — after braising. Keeping flavors relatively neutral ensures versatility. He goes first: “After I take the meat out, I pour the entire contents of the pot, fat and all, into the blender; it emulsifies and gets silky smooth.” Whatever he doesn’t use to sauce the braise goes in the freezer. In its next life, it might be stirred into tomato-based pasta sauces. (“Honestly, it's an incredible sauce on its own for egg noodles,” he says.) Or maybe he blends with some soaked red chiles, or mixed with chipotle in adobo, for enchilada sauce. “It makes even the quickest dishes seem luxurious and slow-cooked.” (I’m going to try some of Daniel’s hacks. All I do is drain it and refry it until dry-ish to use as a sofrito.)

Prep in advance 

Prepping in advance and cooking in bulk are related under the theme of efficiency. Plus, if dinner is ready-to-go, you’re less likely to go for takeout. The first refers to trimming, rinsing, and storing raw vegetables. (Or Daniel’s smart strategy to stash well-wrapped individual portions of protein in deep freeze.) As long as you’re standing at the sink with a knife in your hand, an extra 10 minutes will get you a long way into the future.

Cook in bulk

The same goes for bulk-cooking: roasting, grilling, or simmering simply flavored meats and poultry, seafood, tofu, beans, grains, and vegetables are more likely to be used than if they sit in the freezer developing a cloak of ice. Big batches of beloved soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces count here. You’re in the kitchen with appliances blazing, so why not?


As far as I’m concerned, repurposing is the wide-open field of leftover dreams. Some ideas to get us started brainstorming: frittatas (call this the eggy pancake category), bread into croutons or crumbs for sure (or porridge or stuffing), hash, pasta sauce. Less obvious and a personal fave is soggy salad relish, which also works as a quick gremolata or pistou; just drain and chop.


The video above puts assembly in motion through our sausage-and-sauerkraut soup. Quicker than you could open and heat something in a can. You take a few things languishing in the fridge and freezer, maybe add a pantry staple, and then finish with something fresh for texture or garnish. Clashing flavors make this a high-stakes game. Just keep it simple at first. Pasta and salad can also come together this way—as do hot or cold plate. Tacos, burritos, and sandwiches are quintessential put-together operations. 

OK then. Thanks for reading — and thinking. Now let’s give this leftovers thing a whirl.

Super-Cheap Dinner #2

We’re going to make subscribing to The Bittman Project worth it, in part by offering super-cheap, super-delicious recipes you’ll want to cook. The idea is that we’ll post one ultra-budget-friendly recipe each week, for subscribers only. While this can’t ever be more than back-of-the-napkin math (“affordable” is subjective), we figure that cooking your way through these recipes over the course of the year will more than offset the cost of an annual subscription (which amounts to about $1.35 per week).

Speaking of budgets, tomorrow’s discussion thread is all about how to waste less food. If you have any solutions, tips, or questions, please join us; all you have to do is open tomorrow’s email and type a comment. Hope to see you there. Just a reminder, starting in March, these super-cheap dinner recipes as well as the Friday discussion threads will be for members only; to get them every week, you can subscribe here. If you join this this month, you’ll save $20.


Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

These large cabbage pancakes make a spectacular entrée. I like to serve them with a simple chile mayo, but other classic toppings include bonito flakes, shredded nori, and pickled ginger; if you have any or all of those kicking around your kitchen, go for it.


  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying

  • 5 scallions (green parts only), cut into 3-inch pieces and sliced lengthwise

  • 5 to 6 cups shredded green cabbage

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1 canned chipotle and a little of its adobo sauce

  • Salt and pepper


1. Mix the flour, eggs, and 1 tablespoon oil with 1 1/2 cups water until a smooth batter is formed. Add the scallions and cabbage and stir to combine.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and pour in about 1/8 inch oil. When it’s hot, ladle in a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the bottom is browned, about 5 minutes. Then flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil if necessary. As the pancakes finish, remove them and, if necessary, drain on paper towels.

3. To make the chile mayonnaise, mince the chipotle and stir it (and its adobo sauce) into the mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cut the pancakes into wedges and serve with the chile mayo.

Recipe from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian