What can you do with leftover cooked vegetables?

The choices really are endless with your leftover veggies!

As a cook, it's easy to have a love-hate relationship with veggies. They're good for your family, colorful and even easy to prepare, but they don't elicit the "oohs" and "aahs" of a nicely browned chunk of meat. And chances are it's the vegetable side dish that ends up in the fridge to be reheated for an encore performance tomorrow -- whether your kids like it or not.

When it comes to vegetable leftovers, it isn't all bad news. If the vegetables weren't overcooked the first time around, they'll retain flavor, color and some of their nutritional value, too. With a little creative inspiration, leftover vegetables can even get a new lease on life as part of another menu item.


Face it. Sometimes a little camouflage helps. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach and green beans can be chopped up and blended into meatloaf or added to pasta sauce, where they will be somewhat hidden and less likely to cause loud complaints. If one of your kids detects a glimmer of green, tell him it's an herb like parsley or chives. The strong flavor of the meat or sauce should help mask the taste of the vegetable. This strategy could even net you another whole serving from your recipe. Actually, sneaky concealment works at least half the time.

Misdirection doesn't have to be the only solution for leftover vegetables, though. The biggest preparation challenge is in not overcooking leftover vegetables that didn't need much prep time in the first place. This can be accomplished by choosing recipes that can benefit from some veggie goodness and either do not require much cooking time themselves, like egg dishes, or tolerate the addition of some last minute vegetables, like soups and stews.


Delicious Ideas for Leftover Vegetables

Here are a few quick suggestions for encore vegetables that can be pretty tasty and also stretch your food dollar:

  • Put them in an omelette - If omelettes aren't part of your cooking repertoire, they should be. Eggs are economical, and with a little practice they can be easy to work with. Many of the best peasant foods from around the globe use eggs as a basic ingredient (and primary protein), so don't sell them short. Omelettes, frittatas, quiche and huevos rancheros all transform the simple egg into a feast, and can include vegetables for extra color, flavor and texture: Linguini Frittata,Spinach Quiche, Huevos Rancheros
  • Wrap them in a tortilla - You've seen those big restaurant burritos that contain everything you could ask for and more. They blend lots of foods like rice, beans, meat and produce, wrapped in a flour tortilla. Add that leftover corn, those sliced carrots or that green bean casserole to some black beans, a little rice and some cheese. Throw in some leftover chicken, and serve it in a tortilla overcoat. It's a quick meal that makes the most of what you have on hand. This one is a problem solver you should add to your list of go-to recipes. For some inspiration, take a look at our Bean and Vegetable Burritos.
  • Stuff them in a pita - If tortillas aren't a favorite at your house, you can use much the same strategy to add multiple ingredients to a pita for a fast sandwich. Have leftover salad greens? Add some olives, a little cheese, and lunchmeat or leftover steak (roast pork or chicken), and you're done: Chicken Kabobs in Pita Bread
  • Throw them on a salad - No one ever said you couldn't add cooked vegetables to raw vegetables. As a matter of fact, chilled carrots can be much easier to eat when they're slightly steamed and cooled. If you have leftovers like green beans, corn, asparagus, peas or carrots, throw them in a salad.
  • Toss them into pasta - A little broccoli, asparagus, spinach or stewed tomato can make a pasta dish more colorful and flavorful. Just toss your vegetable leftovers in with the sauce or cheese you plan on using. Don't be surprised if you discover you like your pasta with a few veggies and make this a habit: Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad
  • Serve them on rice - Like pasta, rice is a mild flavored carbohydrate that can benefit from the addition of a few extra ingredients. Stir-fry chicken, shrimp or another meat, and then add your leftovers at the end of the cooking cycle. Serve the mixture on a bed of rice: Curried Chicken Vegetables with Rice, Seafood Vegetable Stir-Fry
  • Add them to soup or stew - Soups and stews make the most of ingredients by cooking them for a long time. If you have leftover vegetables, though, you can incorporate them into a prepackaged or homemade soup or stew by just adding them at the last minute. Those peas will heat up in no time and become part of a new dish. Soups and stews made up entirely of vegetables make for a light first course, and where the veggies are concerned, it's the more the merrier: Three Mushroom Ratatouille, Fragrant Autumn Vegetable Soup


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • BBC Good Food. "Leftovers Recipes." (9/26/11). http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/recipes/favourites/leftovers/
  • Cooking Manager. "Ten Kid-Friendly Foods Using Leftovers." (9/26/11). http://www.cookingmanager.com/ten-kidfriendly-foods-leftovers/
  • Economic Research Service USDA. "Estimating and Addressing America's Food Losses." 1997. (9/26/11). http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/FoodReview/Jan1997/Jan97a.pdf
  • Hints From Heloise. "Put leftover cooked veggies to a variety of delicious uses." 10/31/07. (9/26/11). http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695223245/Put-leftover-cooked-veggies-to-a-variety-of-delicious-uses.html
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  • Resnik, Linda. "How Much Food Do You Waste?" Good Cooking. 2002. (9/26/11). http://www.goodcooking.com/ckbookrv/winter_02/foodfaqs/foodwaste.htm
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  • T.J. Mum. "Cooking With Leftovers - Vegetables." (9/26/11). http://tjmum.hubpages.com/hub/Cooking-with-leftovers---vegetables