I am a firm believer in the "waste not, want not" philosophy. I grew up with a grandmother who would use the same paper towel all week to butter toast on—when she was done with it, she would shake off the crumbs, fold it in half, and put it back on top of the toaster. I was always a little nervous when it came to retrieving something out of the fridge, desperate to avoid the inevitable "nothing's gonna grow in there" if I lingered a second to long with the door open. Grandma also opened Christmas presents with the greatest of care, so that she could fold the paper back up and use it again the following year.
Now that I am older, buying my own food and paying my own bills, I have a greater appreciation for my grandmother's strict no-waste philosophy. With seven children, a consistent rotation of foster children, and then grandchildren on top of it all, I don't think the house could have functioned any other way. Today, I think my grandmother would laugh to hear that suddenly her resourcefulness is called "being green" but she would be proud to see her grandchildren carrying on in her waste-not, want-not tradition.
Let's get cooking…
Quite often at the end of a week, I find myself with a random assortment of half-used vegetables and other leftovers. With my aversion for waste, I find these "bits and pieces" challenging, because there is often not enough of any one thing to feed two or three of us. As a result, I have come up with some go-to meals that allow me to stretch the leftovers to feed the family or make a few days worth of lunches.
Quesadillas, beans & rice. Quesadillas have become a staple in our house. I try to keep cheddar cheese and whole wheat tortillas in the fridge at all times. Pretty much anything can be tossed into a quesadilla and it will taste good. This week, I had a green pepper, a summer squash, and a leftover pork chop to use, so that was our quesadilla. I sauté the veggies with onion to soften them up a bit before grilling the quesadilla.
Beans and rice are equally versatile—for our quesadilla dinner, I sautéed the remaining squash and pepper with some carrots that needed using and then added them to the beans and rice. If you are not a fan of brown rice, try preparing it in chicken or veggie stock instead of plain water. Also, I purposely make more rice than I need, so that I can eat the veggie-bean-rice mixture for lunch during the week.
Couscous surprise. Leftovers + couscous+ herbs & spices= couscous surprise. I love couscous because it cooks in no time and works great with stir-fries, cold veggie salads, and other one-bowl meals. I like to experiment with flavors—depending on your choice of oils, vinegars, herbs, and spices, you can have Asian, Italian, or Indian inspired couscous surprise. Don't be afraid to be creative—I love adding dried fruit and/or nuts to keep things interesting. If you tire of couscous, try the same concept with quinoa.
If you are unsure about the types of flavor combinations that work, I highly recommend Sheila Lukin's All Around the World Cookbook. Throughout the book, she includes pages dedicated to the various "palettes" from around the world—each page will show the spices, herbs, oils, and other flavors associated with the given cuisine. See the book and scroll to page 8, which features the Spanish palette, to see what I'm talking about.
Egg bakes, stratas, quiches, and omelets. Omelets are a nice way to use up odds and ends at the end of the week because you can have not much of any one thing and still stretch the meal to feed several people. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge omelet fan, so I prefer experimenting with various baked-egg dishes. Recently, we made a pizza dough tart that everyone loved. We substituted veggies we had in our fridge for those called-for and it came out fine, so don't be afraid to stray from the recipe in order to utilize stuff you have.