Stretch Your Organic Food Budget with Leftovers So Good They Taste Like First Time
12 Tips for Turning Your Leftover Vegetables into Delicious New Meals and Side Dishes
We pay a premium for organic vegetables and fruits, and if you're like me, all too often some of them end up as mystery food in the back of the fridge.
Refuse guilt! Stretch your organic food dollars to the max with leftovers so good they taste like first time. The secret? Quick and easy brand new dishes you craft from leftovers.
Even at organic prices, if you use every bit of your vegetables, they're way cheaper, pound for pound than most boxed, canned or pre-packaged foods you might buy at one of those big discount stores.
On this page: 12 ways I've found over the years, with pics and examples, for using every ounce of the food we buy, including the recipe for this Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup. Made almost entirely from leftovers, it tastes fresh-made because it is. Leftovers? Sure. But leftovers reborn.
How well do you save money by using all the food you buy? Choose which of the following best applies to you.
Do you stretch your food dollars or waste them?
Tip #1: Make Clean-Out-The-Fridge Soup
Sunday is my day to clean out the fridge. I go through and look for all those little containers of bits and pieces of leftovers. You know what I mean. That half onion tucked in the crisper drawer, the extra sliced carrots, celery and broccoli florets you cut up just in case your guests ate all the crudités before the lasagne finished baking.
At our house, the leftovers usually include a cup or two of cooked dried beans--pintos, black beans, garbanzos. We love 'em all!
Then there are the tomatoes. I like to make sauces from scratch--It's easier than you might think--so I buy a lot of tomatoes during the summer and fall. On Sunday, there's usually an extra tomato or two hanging around that's just about to turn. Dice and throw 'em into your soup pot for added flavor and color.
All these ingredients are excellent stone soup fodder, and that's what I do with them. Make soup. No two soups are alike, depending on what's available, but with a little attention to detail, they're all delicious.
Tip #2: Store Leftovers in Glass Containers
We store all our leftovers in glass or stainless steel containers. Glass works best because we can see what's in them and are more likely to use them before they go bad.
Both glass and stainless steel preserve the flavors better than plastic, which can absorb grease and odors. Plus, we don't want BPA and pthalates leaching from the plastic into our food,
These Pyrex bowls work very well in both the freezer and the refrigerator. Their lids fit tightly enough to keep food odors from intermingling. If you use them in the freezer, always leave about half an inch for expansion, as you would in any freezer container.
The lids on the other leading brand crack after just a few months use, but my Pyrex lids have lasted years, so I prefer them.
Black bean and Yam Soup Recipe
This soup is made almost entirely of leftovers in my fridge, with the exception of the garlic. The yam was an extra I bought for another recipe, so in a way, it was leftover too.
The garam masala gives this black bean and sweet potato soup a delicate flavor that melds perfectly with the earthy beans and the sweetness of the yams. Add a dollop of tangy yogurt, and the combination is satisfying yet gourmet comfort food.
You are welcome to print this recipe. Should you wish to publish it elsewhere, please give me full credit. For permission to use the photograph, contact me, but most likely you have a better camera than I and can take a better one of your own creation!
- 1 quart vegetable broth (or in my case a quart of frozen veggie bits and juices from my freezer)
- 1 medium-large onion--chopped
- 4 cloves garlic--minced
- 1 t salt
- Grind black pepper to taste
- 1 large ruby garnet yam--cubed to bite size (about 1 quart cubed)
- 2 cups whole black beans (I used home cooked; if using canned--open enough cans to get 2 cups drained beans)
- ~1 cup black bean juice--Can substitute vegetable broth or water
- 1/2 t Garam Masala
- 1/2 C plain yogurt
- Bring broth to simmer, or if using a vegetable stock bowl from the freezer like I did, gently boil for half an hour or so till veggie bits are mostly mush.
- While simmering/boiling, add onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer while cubing unpeeled yams.
- Add yams and a little of the bean juice or water to cover completely. Cook till nearly tender.
- Add beans and stir in garam masala.
- Simmer 10 minutes more.
- Serve with a dollop of fresh yogurt and a side of cornbread, crusty sourdough or whole wheat bread, and a green salad.
Tip #3: Plan leftovers to save energy--yours and the planet's
Bake potatoes fast
For a delicious baked potato with a twist, slice them in half, dry the cut edges with a clean dish towel, score the tops on the diagonal both ways, spread with butter or brush with olive oil and dust with paprika.
Bake at 450 in the toaster oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on how crispy you like the outside edges.
Serve plain with yogurt for a low-calorie side, or top with whatever leftover cooked veggies you have in the fridge and some colorful shaved radishes or green onion for garnish.
When You Use Your Oven, Plan for Future Meals
By planning ahead and baking a few extra potatoes or yams, you reduce the risk of letting food go in the fridge or pantry because you're too tired to cook. It takes only minutes to make that stir-fry when some of the vegetables are pre-cooked.
A recipe I'm using later this week calls for a cup of cubed, cooked yam. Since I'm baking these pretty red potatoes to go with my black bean ragout anyway, I'll save cooking gas and time later by baking the yam along with them today.
I'm also baking a couple of extra potatoes so I can chop them into a quick cheesy fritatta this weekend. On-purpose leftovers!
Bonus money saving tip: Save oven time and gas by cutting the potatoes in half, so they cook faster.
Tip #4: Label everything - Keep removable labels and a pen handy to mark your leftovers
Before you refrigerate or freeze that leftover container, affix a dated, removable label, so you and the fam always know what, and how old, it is. Use an extra fine Sharpie pen for nice dark lettering.
I rarely need the full length of a label. Cut or tear each label in half as you use it and get twice as much mileage out of them.
I like the extra fine Sharpie because it doesn't smear in the fridge or freezer if it gets damp, and it makes an easy to read impression in a small space
Tip #5: Keep track of your leftovers
Make a Note of What's in Your Fridge and When You Put It There
We keep a removable, peel and stick dry-erase board on our refrigerator similar to the one shown here to track perishables in and out and to note grocery list items.
We also keep track of small items that might get lost in our freezer, such as a jar of homemade pectin and citrus stock (Great for soups!).
Tip #6: Freeze the Last Cup or Two of Soup
Use It Later as a Ragout Over Baked Potatoes or Your Favorite Crusty Bun
We've eaten all but two cups of the soup, and I'm not letting that last bit go to waste either.
By now, we've reheated the soup, which you may recall was a delicious new dish made almost entirely from leftovers, a couple of times.
It's pretty mushy looking, but hey--it is now a nice vegetarian ragout with mellow flavors throughout, perfect for serving over baked potatoes with a sprinkle of shredded cheese, a few snips of fresh curly parsley, and a dollop of tangy, homemade yogurt. (I forgot the yogurt when I took the picture. I was hungry and wanted to eat while it was hot!)
If we're tired of the soup by the time it reaches this stage, I just freeze it and pull it out a few weeks later for a quick weekend lunch or supper. Delicious!
Paired with a fresh-greens salad, this dish makes a quick, hearty home cooked lunch rich in delicate flavors. Healthy to boot!
No one would ever know this meal is mostly leftovers.
Tip #7: Serve Dressing on the Side So You Can Bag Any Leftover Tossed Salad for Tomorrow's Lunch
Save Calories Too, When You Let Herbs and Juicy Tomatoes Dress Your Salad
The salad I served with the baked potatoes and ragout was leftovers too!
After dinner the night before, I loosely bagged the remaining tossed salad, with just a little room for moisture to escape. Today, I spilled that last serving onto the plate, dressed it up with juicy heirloom tomatoes and squash blossoms from the Farmer's Market, and enjoyed it anew, fresh as can be.
Bonus tip: Another way to get the most from your organic vegetable dollar is to let the flavors and juices of the vegetables work in your dishes.
These heirloom tomatoes, for example, are so juicy, they make a lovely "dressing" for the salad.
If you're trying to cut back on fat calories, tuck a couple of chopped basil leaves or a bit more parsley into the salad, along with the flavor-rich, juicy tomatoes. You may be surprised just how good it is. All the flavors shine, unmasked with oils or vinegars.
Squash blossoms and young leaves, available at Farmers Markets in late summer and early fall, add an extra tasty dimension to your salad, and make a lovely garnish, don't you think?
Tip #8: Fill a Pita or Wrap with Almost Any Leftover Casserole or Salad
For an easy lunch on the go, tuck half a cup of almost any casserole, salad or other main dish in a pita or wrap. Add fresh greens or sprouts and a little balsamic vinegar.
For a punch of flavor, toss in a sprinkling of freshly chopped dill, parsley, or any of your favorite herbs.
Tip #9: Save Your Vegetable Cooking Water
To your soup pot or freezer bowl, add (cooled if going into the freezer bowl) vegetable cooking water from steamed and boiled potatoes, broccoli, green beans, squash--any cooked vegetables.
That cooking water is packed with vitamins, minerals and flavor that leached from your vegetables. It will only enhance the flavor and nutrient value of your stock and anything you cook with it.
Tip #10: Freeze the Last Cup of Soup or Casserole for a Rainy Day
Freeze the last cup or two of soup, stew, or casserole and save for a rainy day. Makes for an easy microwave lunch or quick supper for one.
Tip #11: Whenever You Open Your Fridge, Check for Vegetables About to Turn
When you did into your crisper and notice a limp bunch of green onions or a pair of zucchini starting to dimple, pull them out and take five minutes to rinse and chop them.
Add them to your freezer veggie bowl or to your stove-top stew pot and reap the remaining goodness before they go bad.
Five minutes saves you dollars and gets those nutrients into your tummies, if not today, down the road.
Tip #12: Make a Date to Take Stock Once a Week
Schedule ten minutes once or twice a week to take stock of the leftovers in your fridge and think of creative ways to use them. Write them on your dry-erase board. You will find you have meals half completed on many a busy weeknight.
Bonus Tip: Keep a Beautiful Stock Pot on Your Stove
With a beautiful stock pot on your stove top, you'll be inspired to make new soups from the veggies in your fridge.
Ready for Soup Every Day
For a big family, and at holidays and Super Bowl parties, this 8-quart enameled steel stock pot would be just the thing. The steel makes it lighter weight than Le Creuset's cast iron stock pots. The weighted bottom makes it perfect for slow-cooking stews and simmering stocks.
Thank You for Considering These Ideas
I'd love to know whether you already employ any of these tips to save money and make the most of your organic food dollars. Have some I haven't thought of? Share those too.
© 2012 Kathryn Grace