For some, me included, one of the best parts of going out to eat are the leftovers. As a restaurant critic, there are a certain set of questions my colleagues and I always get asked, many of which have to do with how we consume all this food. The answer is: we don’t. At least not most of the time.
The job often requires over-ordering and undereating. A few bites will do to understand the gist of the dish, everything after is for hunger and pure pleasure. (That’s also why I always hit the bread basket.) Because I eat out so often, I don’t feel the need to indulge in every last bite; there are a lot of last bites in the long game that is eating for a living.
My game plan, once I’ve done the job in noting flavors, textures, etc., is to recognize when I need to stop eating so there’s enough left for tomorrow. For those who don’t dine on a company card, dividing the cost of dinner into two meals, a $25 plate of noodles isn’t as offensive to the wallet. I’ve fed my family this way for the better part of a decade. We keep minimal groceries at the house—my husband and girls need oatmeal, with peanut butter and raisins for breakfast, plus orange juice; and we always store eggs, yogurt, greens, bell peppers and “cumumbers” (the latter two are my 3-year-old’s favorite snacks) and seasonal fruit—but we don’t shop for full-fledged meals very often, just enough to keep us going and repurpose leftovers. We’re trying to not be a statistic: 40 percent of food goes to waste in this country (USDA), with some 63 million tons of food heading for the dumpster (ReFED).
When you think of leftovers as bonus gifts, it’s much more fun to play and repurpose meals, and not let them linger until they meet the fate of the trash can. Here are a few ideas on how to take dinner from the restaurant table to your table.
Leftovers: injera and various Ethiopian stews and meats
A lot of Ethiopian restaurants also sell spices or are located in a little hub where a market isn’t far away. Pick up berbere, the pungent, hot-savory spice blend to re-freshen leftovers. I like to tear up the injera and let it crisp in a pan with a lot of oil and/or butter (or ghee) and berbere. Once it’s crispy, add in the chopped meat, split peas, lentils and stews. Injera takes so well to the oil and heat, and because of the change of texture, it’s a whole new dish. If you’re low on proteins, throw in an egg.
Like the chances of George Clooney looking good in a suit, I almost always finish a bowlful of noodles. But I try not to. Even if I can save just a fourth of the dish, I can plump it up at home. First, I’ll cut greens right over the pan. Using kitchen shears, instead of pulling out a knife and cutting board, because wow that seems like a lot of work, helps me add kale or chard to nearly every dish. (If I’m also feeding my kids, I’ll whiz the greens in a mini-food processor so the green specs cling to whatever they’re eating. It’s easier to get them to slurp in greens that way than as a cold salad.) Once the greens are softened and a little blackened and crispy in super-hot oil, I’ll add the noodles. Once warm and a little crispy, I push them to the side of the pan and either fry an egg in a pool of oil or quickly scramble for a soft pile of eggs to blanket everything. Topping with a few scoops of Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp is an automatic addition.
Leftovers: barbecue meat
Married to a North Carolinian, no pulled pork outside of the state is good enough. At our house, it’s always better the next day. I’ll mix the leftover pulled pork with anything saucy in the house, sometimes more barbecue sauce, other times hot sauce, Chinese-style black vinegar, Peruvian aji panca pepper paste, you get the idea. Compile the wildly inauthentic quesadilla: spread cream cheese on the inside, add the meat, snipped greens (see above), pickled onions (great to have in the fridge to brighten things up), loads of freshly grated cheddar or other melty cheese, and then spread mayo (we use Kewpie) on the outside and start frying. If there are leftover beans, corn or collards from the restaurant, chop and mash them together and add them inside the tortillas, too. Don’t have tortillas? Barbecue meat also works inside of a hefty, dinner-time omelet.