What to do with leftover food

by Lauraine Jacobs / 21 August, 2017

Roast dinner leftovers soup. Photo/Liz Clarkson

Instead of throwing out food that doesn’t get eaten, try some of the many ways of using it in another meal. Photography by Liz Clarkson and styling by Kate Arbuthnot. All dishes from Quail Farm Collectables in Point Wells.

Conscientious companies are working hard to prevent food waste by taking a more stringent approach to the food they buy and cook. Prolonged campaigns by such organisations as Love Food Hate Waste, Food Rescue, Kaibosh, Fair Food, Kiwi Harvest and Conscious Consumers are influencing not only restaurants and large supermarket chains but also home cooks.

We’re still wasting enough food to feed many of the hungry, homeless and needy, but with the help of these groups, much of what would previously have been dumped is being redistributed.

The home cook should always be paying attention to avoiding or reducing food waste. As we trundle through the supermarket, it’s easy to load items into the trolley that will not be consumed. Stores are cunningly laid out to tempt us into buying, so the first rule is to plan meals and make a list of what is needed before leaving home – with a shopping bag, of course, to reduce the impact of plastic on the planet – and then stick to the list.

Buy just enough for the planned meals. A recent Ministry for Primary Industries paper suggests 30-50% of all food produced never reaches a human stomach and up to 60% of the food tossed into landfills is fresh and edible. We can all do our bit to help reduce this huge amount of waste.

If you buy food to cook but are then asked to eat out, you can put it in the freezer to ensure it’s not spoiled. And if food is left over after a meal, there are countless ways to use it another time. A meal can turn out to be the basis of a whole week of eating. A large roast chicken can serve as a roast dinner the first night, chicken and potato rissoles the second, a chicken and vegetable pie the third. Plus a wholesome stock made with the chicken bones can be the foundation for an excellent soup. Soups, casseroles, frittatas, pies, pasta sauces, and curries will all cheerfully absorb leftover food.

A couple of years ago, television food crusader Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall included heaps of ideas for making the most of what’s left in the refrigerator in Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the Resourceful Cook, from his River Cottage series.

The book has inspired me to rethink about how I use food, and I have made many a quick week-night meal by simply adding canned or fresh vegetables to stretch out tasty leftovers into a great dinner. It’s almost a rule now that at least once a week, I cook a little more than I need with my mind firmly fixed on the next night’s meal using the leftovers.

Roast dinner leftovers soup

400g can of butter beans

2 roast potatoes

2 pieces roast pumpkin

1 roast carrot

1 roast red onion

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

pinch of curry powder

1 cup roast lamb leftovers, cut into dice

400g can of chopped tomatoes

400ml water

1 cup broccoli leaves, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley and thyme

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drain the beans and discard the salty water.

Chop the vegetables into neat little chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the vegetables, tossing them with the curry powder. When they are soft, add the lamb with the chopped tomato and juice, drained butter beans and water and bring to a very gentle simmer. Add the broccoli leaves and continue to simmer until the leaves soften.

When everything is piping hot, add the herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with crusty bread or leftover bread made into toast fingers.

Serves 4
Wine match: cabernet blend

Leftover risotto cakes. Photo/Liz Clarkson

Leftover risotto cakes

2 cups leftover risotto

1 cup leftover vegetables (beans, peas, mushrooms or fennel)

3 tbsp mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, chives, mint)

3 eggs

3 small bocconcini or 100g blue cheese

salt and pepper

1 cup panko crumbs

4 tbsp grapeseed or rice bran oil

Put the cold rice into a bowl. Chop the leftover vegetables and herbs finely. You could also add in any extra scraps of fish or meat you have on hand, such as smoked salmon, leftover lamb or chicken.

Beat one of the eggs and stir it through the rice so it binds everything together.

Take about a sixth of the rice and form this into a ball in the palm of the hand, pressing it well together so it’s quite sticky.

If you want to stuff the cakes, cut the bocconcini or blue cheese into cubes with sides about 1-2cm.

Make a dent in the centre of each cake, push the cheese in, then work the rice back into a ball, making sure the cheese is well buried.

Beat the remaining two eggs with a little salt. Tip the panko crumbs onto a piece of kitchen paper. Dip the risotto cakes into the beaten egg, one at a time, then roll them in the crumbs so they are completely covered. Work quickly one at a time and wet your fingers if they get too sticky. Place all the cakes on a plate covered with baking paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight, so they firm up.

To cook the cakes, heat the oil in a shallow pan, and once it’s hot, lower the heat and cook the cakes evenly spaced. As you add each cake to the pan, press down lightly on the top so it flattens out a little. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side until they are golden, crisp and heated throughout. Serve at once with tomato sauce.

Makes 6 risotto cakes
Wine match: chardonnay

Dairy leftovers

Don’t throw out unwanted milk, yogurt, cream or cheese. Here are some ideas for using it:


  • Make scones or pancakes
  • Turn it into yogurt
  • Turn it into paneer cheese
  • Make natural yogurt
  • Turn it into labneh
  • Use it in a curry


  • Make your own butter
  • Turn it into buttermilk
  • Enrich a sauce


  • Grate over vegetables or pasta
  • Make a cheesy sauce
  • Make a cheese toasted sandwich
  • Bake some little savoury cheese biscuits

This article was first published in the July 15, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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