The leftover makeover

Working from home I’m often by myself for lunch confronted with a variety of left overs. Sometimes you just don’t feel like recycling what you had for dinner the previous night which means you definitely don’t feel like making something new, unless you are a super organised housewife and prepare your evening meal in the afternoon with a little taster for yourself. I guarantee though you’ll be dealing with left overs for lunch the next day. The best thing to do is to fry a few chopped onions, chuck in your leftovers all in one pot and hope for the best, sprinkling a little garam masala or soya sauce which ever direction you are taking this dish.

To make a truly original makeover of your leftovers can take practice and creativity. I’ve come to realise that men who have been single for a while and lived on their own make the best ‘throw it together’ meals. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I like to have ingredients, start from scratch, plan ahead, have all my mis-en-place ready with my course and bearing already charted. But men, like my dear husband, cook on the fly with some amazing results. Sure, he has his trusted recipes but nothing can phase him when presented with a bunch of seemingly mismatched leftovers. He’s just the type of person who would excel at the Top Chef or MasterChef challenges. Here’s a taster of his (and my) best creations.

Kottu Roti

This might not be an original idea but it always works. The previous night you ordered some rotis or naans, some butter chicken, some panner butter masala, you get the idea. You ordered way too much so took it home in a doggy bag  (to either no doggy or a doggy who is not allowed butter chicken) or maybe you ate in. So there it sits in your fridge, the excess oil solidifying round the chicken and  paneer. You are too tired (or hungover if you drink)  to make anything for lunch so here’s what you do.

  • Shred the rotis/naans into short strands.
  • Chop up the chicken or paneer or whatever else you ordered.
  • Heat a pan, thrown in some sliced onions, some curry leaves (optional) then the leftovers which has to have a gravy, then the rotis and toss together.

It is truly fabulous and tastes very different from dipping the rotis in to the gravy.MUST HAVE GRAVY. This dish has many avatars – in Tamil Nadu they call it ‘Chinese Parota’, in SriLanka it’s called ‘Kottu Roti’ or chopped up roti which is popular street food as much for its taste as the noisy ‘chopping’ action and in my house it’s called ‘Ceylon Chinese Parota’. You can also throw in an omelette for good measure.

Then there’s the humble Maggi noodle and its accompanying ‘taste maker’. We have whole heartedly converted to ‘atta’ or wheat noodles and spagetti for health and taste reasons, we actually prefer the wheat version.

  • It all starts with frying some chopped onions,
  • Then you add carrots and whatever leftover vegetable dish you have in the fridge – anything will do from a cabbage ‘thoran’ (cabbage with mustard seeds, red chillies, curry leaf and coconut) to aloo gobi muttar (potatoes, cauliflower and peas).
  • Then add minced meat or sausages or ham or any meat you can lay your hands on but minced beef or lamb really works well here. Fry till it turns brown and add the Maggi ‘taste maker’ along with some chilli powder and garam masala, as much or as little as you like. Then add about 2 chopped tomatoes and about a tablespoon of ketchup, hot and sweet if you have it otherwise just regular. Add a bit of water, let it all simmer for about 20  minutes. Then boil the noodles and add to the pan. Have yourself a fantastic on the fly meal. The important things here are the taste maker and the ketchup.

Frittata: If you can’t make an omelette then you need to seek serious psychiatric help. And if you have to depend on your wife/husband or mother/father/maid to make you an omelette then you don’t deserve to co-exist in or contribute to our gene pool.

Eggs are a great way to bind all those leftovers together, to provide a good stage to showcase what you just couldn’t bear to eat on its own. Frittata is a Spanish omelette dish which can combine soft boiled potatoes,leftover vegetables, peas, corn, meat, cold cuts and is baked in the oven so that it rises to a puffy yellow pillow. Unlike an omelette you don’t have to flip this, the top of the egg sets under the heat of the oven. You don’t even need a lot of veges – it’s all based on the leftovers principle. Even a couple of mushrooms, half an onion or capsicum, things that couldn’t make meals on their own. I always make frittata in our trusty (rusty) cast iron pan that my dear husband brought back all the way from Russia. And if it’s just me then its little brother does the trick, which I brought back from Russia.


Set your oven to 150 C.

Whisk minimum 4 eggs. Add 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 pepper and  a pinch of chilli powder or paprika if you wish.

Gently heat a heavy pan or skillet  with some oil that can also go in to the oven, on a medium to low heat on your gas top.Your pan should not be too hot or the eggs will set too quickly.

Pour in the eggs.Push the eggs away from the sides with a spatula.

Sprinkle over your left over ham, boiled potatoes, capsicums, sliced mushrooms, ANYTHING.

Sprinkle over grated cheese.Cheddar or Gouda’s runny melting quality is great for this or just regular Amul cheese will do the trick. Incidentally, Amul has started making Gouda.

Now transfer to the oven and bake till the top of the omelette is a light golden brown.

Cut the Frittata in to slices like you would a pizza. The slow heat of the oven will make the eggs puff up which is why a heavy pan is better as it retains the heat.

Mexican Quesadilla (pronounced K- sa- de-ya)

All you need to do is to make some tortillas. And if you live in a big city, you can buy these in the store. Tortillas are basically flour chapattis but with baking soda added to the dough. And a Quesadilla is a folded tortilla with a filling and cheese inside.

For 6 tortillas you need:

To 2 cups of flour (or wheat flour/atta) add 1/16 tsp of baking powder (a pinch).

Rub in 1/4 cup of olive oil or shortening (butter/vege oil) to get a slightly course consistency.

Dissolve 3/4 tsp of salt in warm (tepid) water and add to the flour.

Bring together in to the shape of a ball, cover with a tea towel and let it rest for about 10 mins. Then shape in to 6 balls and roll out.

The filling:

For today’s Quesadillas we had some leftover chicken curry that we were sick of. So I shredded the chicken from the bone, added some green capsicum, some shredded cabbage, and a teeny bit of soya sauce. The chicken in its new avatar was ready for it’s tortilla.

Adding capsicum to shredded chicken curry

Add shredded cabbage

Roll out the tortillas dusting with either oil or flour (depending on how healthy you are feeling). The tortillas in the pictures are made from atta (wheat) as we were feeling really healthy. Very lightly oil a tava or flat pan and slap on the tortilla, letting it brown for a few seconds. Then add the leftovers mix to one half of the tortilla. At this point you can add some grated cheese or white sauce even. Fold over the other half and press down to secure the casing. Remove from the tava and cut in half with a sharp knife.

Add the leftovers to one side of the tortilla

Fold over and cut in half

So there’s our 4 leftover magic makeovers. I agree, there are tons of ways to recycle food but the key is that they should be really simple and not time consuming. I’d love to hear about your tricks with leftovers.


About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden.
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