The Absolute Best Thing to Do With Leftovers

I am a leftovers enthusiast. I will always take things home from restaurants, and I am not above taking your leftovers if you don’t want them. I will often make extras of things at home just so I have leftovers. And while I don’t mind simply reheating and eating things in their original state, nothing is more satisfying to me than making something new and newly delicious by using leftovers as an ingredient.

Leftovers can easily be added to salads, or stir-frys, or dropped into omelets and quiches, or even turned into casseroles. But my favorite thing to do with last night’s dinner is to make fritters.

Fritters are basically little fried pancakes. They can be made out of vegetables, meats, grains, pasta, or any combination thereof. They can be simple, just chopped, seasoned, mixed with egg and flour, and fried. Or you can get fancy adding cheeses and herbs or spices. You can go basic or international. But they are a great ratio to keep in your back pocket, because a fritter can go anywhere. Swap them out for hashed browns or toast at breakfast. Sub them for the base of a Benedict at brunch. Serve them with a salad at lunchtime, or as a snack during cocktails, or on the side of the protein of your choice at dinner.

Make them sweet with things like sweet potato or butternut squash, add a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg and sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream for a dessert fritter. Make them small for one-bite canapes. They freeze pretty well and can be re-crisped in the oven. You can even make them gluten-free by swapping out the flour with an equal amount of either oat flour or chickpea flour. Keep them vegetarian or even vegan or make them more like a croqueta with the addition of ham or bacon. Use up the last bits of a charcuterie platter and veggie tray in one fell swoop.

And which is better, it is practically not a recipe, but more of a ratio.

For every cup and a half of leftovers, you will need one large egg and about a quarter cup of flour. Add more flour if the mixture seems too wet. Season well with salt and pepper, and any other spices you might want to add. Cover the bottom of a nonstick skillet with about a quarter inch of a neutral oil like canola over medium high heat. Scoop about a quarter cup of fritter mixture into the hot oil and press down to make a patty about a half-inch thick. Leave alone for about 2 minutes until the bottom has crisped and turned golden brown, then carefully turn over with a thin spatula to cook the other side about another two minutes. Cook in batches until you have used all the batter. Hold on a rack over a sheet pan in a 200-degree oven until you want to serve.

Here are some frittering tips:

Chop everything to small dice so that the fritters stay together when frying, you are just adding enough egg and flour to barely coat the ingredients, and large chunks have a tendency to make the fritters fall apart.

This is specific to leftovers, so the presumption is that your vegetables are already cooked. If you have raw vegetables, steam them first, squeeze them as dry as possible, let them cool, and squeeze them to reduce the excess moisture as much as possible.

Chop any additions like fresh herbs as small as possible for better distribution, and grate things like fresh garlic, chile pepper or onion and squeeze excess moisture before adding.

Cheese is a great addition, depending on the type you use, you might want to reduce the amount of flour. If you have cheese in your fritters, especially softer cheeses, watch carefully while frying, as they can burn faster.

Some of my favorite combinations:

  • Rice pilaf, sweet corn, zucchini, chives
  • Broccoli, dill, feta, scallion
  • Butternut squash, grated apple, ginger
  • Ham, cheddar, onion, potato
  • Cauliflower, shallot, chile pepper, garam masala

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