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Right On With Leftovers

Alan Levine - Flickr

I’ve been thinking about leftovers. Not the stubborn remnants of the casserole that turned out a little questionable even on the first go-around. No, I’ve been thinking of welcome leftovers. The curry that improves with time, giving bold spices the chance to marry and settle down. The chicken salad that tastes better the next day.

When something in life so beautiful and resourceful comes around, it seems all would flock to adore. Cooking shows could be titled: “Everybody loves Leftovers.” Except not everybody does. Once the mainstay of lunch pails, leftovers have steadily declined in popularity as food became easier to prepare and required less of our budgets. These days, some people all out refuse to eat any kind of leftover.

We could go preachy about food sustainability and security but let’s just test the logic:

  • Step 1: Grow or buy fresh ingredients
  • Step 2: Chop, slice, puree
  • Step 3: Saute, bake or broil 
  • Step 4: Throw it out?! Just because dinner guests canceled or you got full on the bread?

How many things in life allow us to enjoy the fruits of our labors--twice? To go back in time, re-experiencing the flavors of a favorite dish, without any of the prep work? To me, leftovers are nature’s gift in plastic packaging. I love taking the last bite of a satisfying meal, knowing there will be leftovers for an effortless lunch tomorrow.

It seems leftovers could use a little rebranding. Let’s start with the name: left … over. Sounds dull, lifeless. And it carries too much baggage. We’ve all stumbled upon forgotten leftovers in the back of the refrigerator. Gamey fuzz doesn’t look good on anyone.

If prunes can rebrand themselves as dried plums, we can come up with a better name and motto for leftovers. Try these on for size:

Free lunch -- there is such a thing!


Tasty BOGO-- All the flavor, none of the work.

For the cultured set ...

Cuisine encores -- a savory repeat performance!


Dining Spread Revisited -- a literal feast

Movie lovers may enjoy …

Back to the Future snack -- DeLorean not included

And for the construction-minded,

Carpenter’s delight -- Forget measuring. Cook once, eat twice.

Okay, the re-branding can use some work. But you get the idea. For the reticent, it may take more than a pithy motto to build an appetite. So, we’ll blind you with a little science.

There’s a reason why some leftovers actually taste better the second time around. They may be chilling in the refrigerator, but those leftovers are still working--chemical reactions continue to take place that produce more or new flavor molecules. Reheating can then release amino acids that interact with proteins to enhance taste. That lasagna--set to cool overnight--cuts to reveal savory layers in precise squares and may even taste better after a quick turn in the microwave.

As for timing on leftovers, it varies by acidity and other factors, but using within four days seems to be a good rule of thumb. Just place cooled foods into clear containers and park them close to the front of the fridge where they can easily re-enter the stage for that encore.