Images of warmed over, unappetizing lumps of food kind of plopped on a plate or microwaved in a sad looking take out container. Rarely does the term have any kind of positive image. Still, if you are trying to be a more frugal cook, using up leftovers needs to be part of your "kitchen skills."
Maybe you can revitalize your attitude toward leftovers if you start to think of these ingredients in the refrigerator as "idea starters," "creativity makers" for coming meals.
My mother was a creative cook, and she always found ways to u leftovers so they were appetizing and never dull. Probably one of the biggest disappointments with her leftover cooking was the problem of duplication. I remember often having a main dish that was so wonderful, we all asked her to make it again and, if there were guests, there would be requests for the recipe. Her answer would have to be, sorry, but I just stirred some leftovers together and then tasted for seasoning. Since there would never again be quite this same combination of ingredients to work with, that very appealing "casserole" or stew or soup couldn't be exactly re-created.
I was reminded of this today as I stirred up a main dish salad. After a potluck this weekend, a friend shared a wonderful pasta salad, enough for several servings. Yesterday I had some of this with turkey breast and squash, but today I wanted to lighten it up, and have enough to share with several guests. There was also just a tiny smidge--about 2 to 3 tablespoons--of the coleslaw I had made last weekend (posted here http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-best-cole-slaw-ever.html.) Though the weather has turned cold again, it still was a day for a main dish salad with warm homemade rolls on the side, so it was time to make a Leftover Salad.
Salads like this are great for this time of the year, when I try very much to avoid the hard imported tomatoes that are the only fresh ones available. Some of the other summer salad ingredients are also harder to find. I haven't gone completely to local foods, but I do like to stay at least somewhat with the seasons as I choose salad ingredients. There were radishes and green onions on special this week, both very springlike tastes for me, and Aldi's was featuring cucumbers and mixed color bell peppers at very reasonable prices. (Yes, I know they aren't local, but the price was such that I could splurge a little here.) There is still cabbage in the crisper and some nice fresh spinach for color, so a salad could be pulled together quickly. The pasta salad and coleslaw each brought some dressing into the bowl, so I just tasted and added a little more (ranch dressing for this combination) as needed to dress the salad well.
The final salad proved to be just right for a hearty lunch. Some fresh strawberries (also on sale this week) and orange wedges made a great finale, and everyone had at least four servings of vegetables and fruit all in one colorful package.
Following is what I used in this salad, along with some suggestions for other additions that might be made. Note that the amounts given are very approximate and should definitely be varied, depending on what you have on hand. When using something like a pasta or chicken salad, the key is to add this in small portions to the greens and then tossing the mixture well so that the thicker salads don't remain as big unmixed lumps in the overall dish.
Today's Leftover Salad
6 to 7 romaine lettuce leaves, coarsely chopped
about 1 to 2 c fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 to 4 large radishes, sliced
about 1/3 large cucumber, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
1 to 2 t finely chopped onion, to taste
1 to 2 T sliced black olives
2 c coarsely shredded cabbage
about 1 to 1 1/2 c pasta salad
about 1/2 c cole slaw, including dressing
ranch dressing (or dip) to taste
Toss all ingredients together and taste for seasoning, adding dressing as needed to moisten appropriately.
Other possible add-ins:
diced or shredded cheese, any variety
crumbled bacon or artificial bacon bits
diced turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef
chopped hard-boiled egg
other lettuces or greens
broccoli, peas, corn, or other leftover cooked vegetables
shredded red cabbage
broccoli or cauliflower
nuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
The nice thing about including some "pre-made" salad leftovers is that you will be able to take advantage of the dressing already on that part of your ingredients. What is already included in your mix may well guide you in the rest of your dressing. For today's salad, the pasta had a mayonnaise dressing that had many of the same herbs as ranch dressing, so that was my choice for finishing the salad. Had the pasta salad been made with a basil flavored vinaigrette, I might have mixed up a little more oil and vinegar dressing or pulled a bottle of similar dressing from the refrigerator. The cole slaw's sweet and tangy vinegar dressing went well with the ranch dressing but would have also blended well with many others as well.
...or Fruits and a sweeter salad:
You can also take your salad in an entirely different direction by adding in fresh (diced apple, pear, banana, pineapple, strawberries, etc.) or dried (cranberries, raisins, diced dried apricot) fruits. My preference is to keep these sweeter elements out of salads that are more savory or vegetable-oriented, but feel free to expand your horizons with these leftovers as well. Who knows when you might come up with your own special, never to be quite duplicated recipe too!