Kitchen Intuition: Getting Creative with Leftovers, and Accommodating Different Eating Styles

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Two posts ago, I gave you all some ideas on how to prepare vegan suppers that are fast, simple, and intuitive. Vegan cooking strikes a lot of newcomers as time-consuming, and one of the questions I most frequently receive via email is, “I feel like I spend all of my time in the kitchen since going vegan. How can I get dinner on the table faster?”

Two of the other questions that I receive most frequently are, “you never show us leftovers on the blog. Do you cook enough only for one or two, or do you eat leftovers?” and “my boyfriend isn’t raw/vegan. How can I cook for both of us without compromising the way I’m trying to eat?” Hopefully, today’s post will give you a little snapshot into how I’d respond to both of these questions.

Let’s start with question #1: leftovers. In truth, I do tend to cook only for one or two; you’ve probably noticed that the majority of my recipes (as listed on the blog and in my recipe database) only serve 1-2 people. I’m also a volume eater to the core, which means I infrequently have a lot of food leftover, unless it’s something like a dip, spread, cracker, or sauce, which I mean to have last a week or two.

Every now and then, however, I find myself with either a full or a half portion of a dinner recipe leftover, which means finding creative ways to use it. Take Sunday: I had about 1.5 cups of my “cheater’s ratatouille” (aka the white bean and vegetable sauce from my white bean and summer vegetable pasta) from Friday night leftover. There are a couple of things I’d typically do with a sauce like this if I were just eating on my own:

  • I’d scoop it over a big spinach salad and devour it as is
  • I’d put it into a collard or whole grain wrap and enjoy it for lunch
  • I’d serve it over spiralized zucchini
  • I’d serve it with some of my juice pulp crackers as dippers, along with a big salad

But on this evening, I was eating with M, and I knew that a cup and a half wouldn’t fill us both up if I tried to recycle the sauce on a new batch of pasta.

This is when it pays off to get a little creative with our leftovers: if you have a half portion or any portion that isn’t sufficient to serve as a meal, just peek around your kitchen to figure out what’ll complement your leftovers. I had a stew of vegetables, white beans, tomato sauce, and oregano; I also had two yams, a pantry full of dried legumes, a ton of fresh veggies, and a well stocked spice rack. One of my favorite summer (cold) salads is a yam and lentil salad that I mix and cool in the fridge: it’s a great way to have meal that’s both cooling and dense. (I’ll share that recipe soon.) One of my other favorite dishes is a sweet potato and black bean chili, which uses both cumin and tomato for flavoring. Putting these ideas together, I figured it would be pretty tasty to mix my veggie/tomato sauce with some cooked yam and lentils, add some cumin, and eat the resulting mixture either cold or warm.

I cooked a cup of regular brown lentils in my rice cooker, baked two sweet potatoes, and let it all cool. I skinned and cubed the potatoes, added the lentils, and then added my leftover sauce:

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Since I had a few bell peppers in the fridge, I also added one of those, chopped.

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Voila! A tasty melange of both leftover and non-leftover food, which allowed me to stretch a past dinner into a complete and new one:

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When it came time to serve this dish, I put into practice some of my favorite tricks of the trade when it comes to cooking for a raw foodie and a non-raw foodie. As you’ve probably surmised, M is an open minded eater who likes his food warm nevertheless. So I usually share cooked meals with him and eat raw when I’m on my own, or I find creative ways to serve some of the same foods and modify my portion to be higher-raw. And easy way to do this is to serve one portion over cooked grains, and the other over spiralized zucchini, which is what I did on Sunday night:

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A quick, easy, and non-stressful way to enjoy a high-raw meal while also sharing dinner with a loved one who’s a more traditional eater. And we both enjoyed the kale salad with miso sesame dressing.

This is all in keeping, by the way, with a post I wrote previously on cooking for two: his hers, and theirs. Check it out for additional tips! I think it’s actually pretty easy to eat higher and lower raw, as long as the meal in question is all plant-based. All it takes is a little creativity and kitchen intuition. Most important is your frame of mind: don’t get overly orthodox about mixing this or that. On first inspection, it makes little sense to combine an Italian pasta sauce with yams and lentils and cumin. But when you consider that many Mexican dishes have both tomato and cumin as a base of flavor, it makes total sense. Think creatively, and think about the many successful flavor pairings you’ve had in the past, and it becomes very easy to turn one meal into another.

What’s your favorite thing to do with leftovers? Any fun tips on serving raw and cooked food in the same home?

With that, a long day of number crunching commences. Time to hit the library – here’s to the start of a long weekend!


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Categories: Uncategorized
Ingredients: Lentils

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  1. Hi, Gena!! I’m recently trying to incorporate more raw & plant-based foods in my diet and thanks for the inspiring me with creative recipes! In addition, thank you for your wonderful posts about not just foods, but also about digestion, recovery from eds, and other spiritual aspects of life.
    I actually read your blog frequently and even tried some of your recipes; I just thought I should leave a comment!! 🙂

  2. I love, love, love that so many of your recipes are for 1-2 people, as I cook only for me and I get bored with leftovers. I do like your idea of spruiking up leftovers with a few other well-chosen accompaniments though!

  3. I always love your meal ideas! I think it’s fun to introduce raw and cooked elements in the same dish/meal – presentation and taste are key.

  4. This looks great. I eat a lot of dinner leftovers for lunch and usually mix this with salads, enjoy cooked lentil stews served cold over raw zucchini noodles, and even had salad leftovers in collard wraps.

  5. I think the advice you give here also applies when trying to create your own recipes, something I’m trying to do a bit more of. I really appreciate it, and I’ll definitely start thinking of some unorthodox flavor pairings to put some new recipes together!

  6. What’s your favorite thing to do with leftovers? =

    make sure I MAKE enough to produce leftovers. I love having them for lunches the next day, or for dinners. Anything that I make, I always make extra of. Say it’s a rice/lentil/bean dish. I make at least 2x what I know we’ll eat at that meal and then take the other half and some will go into lunches and the rest will be the 2nd night’s dinner and I may take it and add a sauce to it, or take it and put it in a skillet and add salad dressing, maple, random condiments, to give it another/new flavor, and then pour that over or next to a raw salad or raw veggies.

    So both my use of leftovers is totally wing-it, as is my cooked vs raw.

    Whatever I feel like keeping raw, I do. Whatever I cook, I do. People REALLY Seem to overthink that one I have found 🙂

    Happy 4th!!

  7. I love leftovers, and I’m so openminded (to a fault, my family and friends around here who recognize foods by names and titles would say) so I love to transmogrify leftovers just like you described. Mixing all into a salad is easiest, but sometimes it becomes the base for a whole new sauce or stew. Oh, and now that I have a dehydrator, one of my favorite things to do with leftover ‘slaw type creations is dehydrate them for raw chow mein!

    My problem with sharing meals is that not only is my husband an omni, it turns out that pretty much _everything_ I like, he doesn’t like, both in terms of textures and herb/spice blends. So usually I just make two separate things. He does eat a lot more salad nowadays, though, and now that I’m eating root veggies, I can come up with some things that we can both enjoy (although just plain roasted veggies: once I start spicing and mixing, I have to separate them out and fry his instead). That definitely inclines me to eat as simply as possible!

  8. Very much a fan of leftovers here because I couldn’t fathom cooking something new every single day! I also love throwing the leftovers overtop mixed greens so it is like a salad! 🙂

    • The other great thing about vegan food is that leftovers actually taste great too. Don’t have to worry about dried out meat and such!

  9. I LOVE eating the food I make for the next day, like having the exact same meal, but then I grown really tired of it. I usually make huge portions too and end up freezing things because I have no idea what to do with all the leftovers. Never thought of just adding it to another dish, genius! Love that your example is for ratatouille cause that is one of my all time favorite dishes. I just made such an amazing version baked up last week so there were no leftovers (haha) but I will def use this trick for next time.

    Thanks Gena!

  10. I don’t like leftover cooked veggie dishes such as stir fries so I control the portion and only cook what I will eat. However, for one-pot-wonder dishes that include things like beans or sweet potatoes, I will definitely make a double batch or more. I have no problem eating the same thing several days in a row, so I don’t even bother to re-create leftovers into something new. Lazy perhaps, or efficient as a I like to say 🙂

  11. You are such a creative cook! That sauce looks absolutely delectable. My M was a really traditional eater when we first got together, and I used to cook foods for him all the time, even though I am all raw. I have so say though, that now he enjoys almost a predominantly raw diet! Through months of watching me love my food, and letting him taste things I eat, he has decided he likes my raw food better! It makes him feel and look better, think clearer and have more energy. My tip is to eat how you would eat in front of your significant other, love what you are eating, share it with them, and eventually, you will just be making two portions of your raw meal!

  12. I lahhhhve using leftovers for EVERYTHING. I literally spend so much time eating and recreating leftovers that I barely have time to create new recipes! One day, I will have to worry about cooking for mah mans but for now thank goodness I don’t 🙂

  13. Wow, great post Gena- definitely handy when you live with omnivores as well. It’s all about comprise and being able to be flexible at times.
    I also throughly don’t enjoy leftovers- unless it’s a dip or sauce- so this post gave me some insight!

  14. I rarely have leftovers too – I feel like I’ve mastered the “Cooking for One” methodology, and make enough for one serving and clean my plate! The only thing I ever have leftovers of is brown rice – but that’s intentional because I make up a batch at the beginning of the week so I can just reheat on busy worknights!

  15. I generally make at least 3 servings of any meal, and send the leftovers with my fiance for lunch. If there’s a ton of leftovers or we know we won’t eat them right away they go in the freezer for quick meals later. Basically, I <3 leftovers 🙂

  16. It’s so interesting to read posts like these as it gives me a bird’s eye view of life in the real world. I guess I’ve been eating differently for so long that it’s just never occurred to me to frame accommodating different tastes, eating styles, and/or appetites as a dilemma. It’s just the way I live. I’ve never “problematized” it.
    Because I’ve always eaten differently, cooking for one is something I nailed decades ago. Unless I’m baking (once in a blue moon), or making a cooked soup, I rarely have leftovers. And like you, I’m a fan of large-ish portions and simple combos (meaning, I’d rather have a giant serving of one thing than tiny portions of a bunch of things).
    That said, I do live with a teenager, and while he’s happy enough to eat vegan he’s not a raw foodist. And while I have a hefty appetite, he definitely out-eats me. Typically, I make a gigantic salad and divide it in half. I dress mine simply with lemon and stevia. Then I mix his portion with olive oil or Udo’s oil and a generous portion of some kind of cooked grain (super easy in my rice cooker), or pasta, or canned beans (I always have Eden beans in the house), or even a few slices of whole grain bread. I also keep things in the house just for him: I like guac and celery, he likes guac and chips. I like hummus on romaine leaves, he likes it on bread. Etc.
    Finally, I have the bad urban habit of eating out. A lot. Not so good for the bank account but great for accommodating different tastes!

  17. such a good post! I am doing my first raw meal with a non-raw eater tomorrow and i was planning on eating stuffed romaine wraps myself, and replace the Romaine with grain-based wraps for the boy! 😀

  18. I love to throw leftover anything over a bed of greens and just call it a salad, or I make soup out of it. This simple trick has never steered me wrong before.

  19. I never mind eating leftovers for lunch the next day, and I usually end up putting them on a bed of spring mix — makes for a quick and easy salad of sorts. I like the idea of using spiralized zucchini, too — I’ll have to try it out!