Transforming Leftovers

I hate seeing food go to waste – especially when I'm the one who took the time and effort to prepare that food. When planning menus for parties, I'm always thinking about what I'll do with the leftovers – which items are good (or better) after a day or two in the fridge, and which can be easily transformed into new dishes. 

The perfect example: Black Bean and Corn Salsa. I made a huge batch of it last weekend for a Fourth of July cookout, and while we consumed plenty of it on the Fourth, the recipe yields a hearty portion and we continued to eat it for – count 'em - three days in a row. How did I not get sick of this dish? Two reasons: 1) It's refreshing and absolutely delicious (with crisp, basic ingredients you don't get sick of) and 2) I mixed it up!

My Salsa has fresh grilled corn (cut from the cob), black beans (rinsed and drained), red and green peppers, jalapeno pepper for heat, diced onions, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and a splash of olive oil. All chopped up and mixed together. There's an even easier version (that's quite similar) here

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The no-brainer leftover go-to when dealing with these ingredients is one of my favorite easy dishes: quesadillas. I simply heat some oil in a pan, place one flour tortilla in, spread some shredded mexican or cheddar cheese across the top, then spoon in a hearty serving of the leftover salsa, top with more cheese, another tortilla, flip, cook, and voila – dinner in 5 minutes. 

If you cooked a few too many burgers on the grill the night before (like I did last weekend), you can crumble the cooked burger meat into the quesadilla as well. Sidenote: I always over-estimate the number of burgers to serve at a cookout (one of my eternal hostess flaws – I make too much!), so this is a great way to not let that meat go to waste as well. I also use it in quick pasta sauces. But I digress…

Salsas like this are also great for instantly transforming your average breakfast into a more brunch-worthy dish. I do a mexican scramble with this leftover salsa as well. Just put the salsa in your skillet first (with butter) so it heats up while you beat the eggs, then add eggs and scramble. I serve this with a spoonful of the cold salsa on the side and a dollop of sour cream. 

And finally – Fiesta Salad. This is basically what I call all salads that I throw together at the last minute using whatever I have handy, and let me tell you – Fiesta Salad always manages to turn out quite yummy. With this salsa, I just chop up some fresh romaine, drain any juices off the salsa, toss it in, top with cheese (crumbled goat is my favorite here), and throw in a few tortilla chips (broken up) for crunch. You can dress it simply with a little olive oil and balsamic tossed in, or mix together some sour cream, lime juice, and olive oil for a creamier dressing. 

You really can stretch certain dishes with only a few pantry/fridge staples – tortillas, cheese, eggs, lettuce – and the best part is: your family won't even realize they're eating leftovers. 

Okay, time to spill 'em: what are your favorite tricks for making use of leftovers? Please comment below. 

Include original recipe and instructions for the leftover transformation below and I'll publish some of my favorites in a future post – after testing them out in my own kitchen of course!