Making Use of Leftovers

Got leftover meat, fish, pasta, potatoes, rice, or vegetables in the fridge? Give your leftovers new life with these ideas for main and side dishes.

Got leftover meat, fish, pasta, potatoes, rice, or vegetables in the fridge? Give your leftovers new life with these ideas for main and side dishes.

Meat and Fish

Leftover meat, game, and poultry can be turned into crunchy croquettes, and fish into fish cakes. For extra color and flavor, top these with a fried egg or ketchup, or make a quick tomato sauce by simmering canned tomatoes with some chopped chives and parsley for a few minutes until it has thickened. For a more formal dish, accompany the croquettes with sauteed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes or grilled red tomatoes.

Slivers of leftover meat, game, or poultry can be quickly and crisply fried and tossed with salads of vegetable, rice, pasta, or mixed leaves to turn them into main-course dishes.

And you can make a delicious pate by finely chopping or processing leftover cooked meat with a spoonful of mayonnaise and a couple of dill pickles or gherkins, and seasoning it well with salt and black pepper. Use the pate to fill a sandwich, or serve it on top of a few mixed leaves as a starter.


Leftover pasta can be used to make a chunky rustic soup. Use small shapes whole and roughly chop spaghetti or fettuccine, or cut it up with a knife and fork into 2 in. (5 cm) lengths. Saute a small sliced onion and a clove of garlic, then add the pasta, a can of broad, borlotti, kidney, or lima beans, or chickpeas, or a can of tomatoes, and enough stock, water, or wine to cover. Cook very gently until the vegetables are tender, then serve with grated Parmesan, if you have any.


Leftover potatoes are particularly versatile, and their gentle, appetizing flavor makes them a very good accompaniment to a great variety of other foods. Potatoes can give substance to salads and add texture to soups, and they can be combined with other ingredients, reshaped and reheated to accompany many different meals.

Surplus mashed potatoes can be shaped into croquettes or potato cakes, coated in flour, and fried. Adding a well-beaten egg will help to hold the mixture together. If you have another leftover vegetable to hand, mash that into the potato first to make a colorful patty, or mix in canned salmon to make instant fish cakes.

Leftover new potatoes can make a delicious potato salad: toss them in a little olive oil while they are still warm enough to absorb the flavor, cool them, then put them in the refrigerator. To complete the salad, add extra flavor by dressing the potatoes with a herb mayonnaise.

Or turn cooked new potatoes into a fast and tasty accompaniment to hot or cold meat by frying them in olive oil or butter and sprinkling them with a little grated Parmesan, to melt and turn crunchy as they cook.

Leftover boiled potatoes can be turned into hash browns, to make a tasty breakfast with eggs and bacon.


Extra cooked rice is always useful: it will make a substantial stuffing for peppers or tomatoes, or can be combined with crunchy cooked vegetables and salad dressing to make a rice salad.

Leftover risotto rice can be combined with egg and cheese to make delicious Italian rice balls. Rice balls can also be served on their own with fresh tomato sauce as a starter or snack, or with a salad or vegetable for a simple lunch or supper. They are also pleasantly filling as an accompaniment to grilled sausages and ham, or to smoked, grilled, or fried fish.

Cooked rice can also be used for a fast stir-fry using whatever fresh vegetables you have to hand, such as baby corn cobs, carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchinis, mushrooms, peppers or green onions, finely sliced or grated.


Vegetables that have been cooked in a sauce, such as cauliflower cheese, can be turned into a pasta bake. Put the leftovers into a buttered ovenproof dish, stir in some cooked pasta shapes, top with dried breadcrumbs and grated cheese and bake.

Almost any leftover vegetable can be turned into a delicious cold salad with the addition of some chopped red or green onion, capers, olives, or croutons, and some mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing. To turn a leftover vegetable into a hearty main-course salad, try mixing it with some more substantial ingredients, such as drained canned beans, tuna fish, and canned artichoke hearts, or fry a few slices of bacon until they are very crisp, drain them well on kitchen paper, and crumble them into pieces; add them to the vegetables and mix in a little salad dressing.

Popular Videos

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest