Lockdown effect: Cooking with nextovers, not leftovers

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on April 24, 2020

Versatile artist: Virtually any dry chicken leftovers can be popped into the pasta   -  ISTOCK.COM

In just one quick month, stale bread and forkfuls of pasta have become welcome kitchen guests

    * Across the world, people are using leftover food for lockdown meals

      * From stale bread to pasta, idlis to boiled chicken, lockdown recipes to help you use leftovers

        Upside-down times need upside-down strategies. That is what I figure every time I step into my newest hangout: The kitchen.

        After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that I waged a relentless war against leftovers. I grumped if a quarter of a roast chicken hung around after dinner. Or a loaf of bread sat around on the countertop. I fretted if I had to devote precious fridge space to a bowl of boiled pasta.

        That, though, was then. It was a time when our heads were not filled with scary bar graphs and statistics, before our phones were filled with quips about how we were saving the world by sitting on our sofas and the passing of time was marked only by a merciless barrage of questions. What’s for lunch? What’s for snack? What’s for dinner?

        Naturally, then, like everything else that has been stood on its head, so has the business of leftovers. All of a sudden those unfavoured pieces of roast chicken and day-old idlis are greeted with affection and joy. In one quick month, they’ve graduated from eviction-worthy tenants to welcome guests.

        And it’s not just me. The new mantras of the gremolata and tonkatsu crowd are “Think ingredients, not leftovers” and “Not leftovers but nextovers”.

        I’m happy to think ingredients and nextovers. But not being a natural at transforming stale bread or ancient roasted vegetables into tomorrow’s lunch, I’ve put together my very own leftover converter.

        How does it work? Simple. Fix a gimlet gaze on your bowl of leftovers and decide which technique to run it through. Some answers are obvious — those three sullen sausages would do well with the Sandwich it or Pasta it treatment, while there’s not much you can do with the boiled carrot and leftover mashed potato besides Souping it. Once you’ve got the hang of this, you could stray down unconventional paths. Perhaps use leftover chana as a base for a salad. Or douse stale bread in dahi and then toast it for a funky snack.

        So, go now, peek in your fridge, find your leftover/nextover ingredient and decide if you want to:

        Tadka it

        If you don’t have a magic wand to transform the stodgy and the dry into something fun and palatable, just give it a tadka instead. Stale chapattis or rice. Old idlis or leathery dosas. Even chunks of bread. All these unpromising ingredients can be revived by tempering them with sizzling oil, spluttering seeds, curry patta and perhaps some diced onion, chilli and tomato.

        Tadka idlis are the easiest to start with. Chop them into bite-sized pieces. Then heat oil, toss in mustard and cumin seeds, urad dal and chana dal, peanuts and cashew nuts and some chilli powder. Once the seeds are popping and the masalas and nuts are well fried, add the idlis and cook for a bit. Squeeze some lime and scatter chopped coriander on them. And then tuck into a dish that is even more enjoyable than the fresh and fluffy originals.

        Omelette it, scramble it, frittata it, egg it

        Are you stuck with boiled chicken or a few spoons of keema? Or maybe a handful of wafers or tortilla chips that are losing their crunch? Fear not. Reach for the egg carton instead and turn out a cheese chicken omelette, or a frittata that uses up leftover roasted vegetables or even slices of old, cold pizza. You could also scramble an egg with a spicy keema — and transport yourself into the world of Irani restaurants and bun maska.

        My favourite egg makeover is, however, the pasta omelette. All it takes is frying leftover pasta in butter, blanketing it in egg that has been whisked with salt and pepper and then cloaking the whole in grated cheese. Let it cook on slow heat till it transforms into a chewy golden pie.

        Sandwich it

        The usual suspects. The unusual suspects. The you-are-kidding-me suspects. All kinds of leftovers can be stuffed between two slices of bread, along with a slice of cheese, a smear of sauce and a few leaves of lettuce. Or slices of cucumber and tomato. Or slivers of red bell pepper. Or a handful of walnuts and chunks of apple.

        Fried fish. Teriyaki chicken. Stir-fried vegetables laced with sriracha sauce. Bhel puri. Chicken curry. Hummus. Rajma. The remnants of a bar of Dairy Milk. You name it and it has, at some point, gone into a sandwich. I often layer my cheese toasts with the limp, brown bits of apple, pear or pineapple that have been hanging around the fridge like sullen teenagers. Or fiery aloo bhaji or leftover bits of onion, tomato and capsicum that was chopped for something else altogether.

        Salad it

        Leftover vegetables, meats and fruit can always find a home in an innovative salad. As can leftover bread and even sponge cake. The Italians make a popular salad called panzanella, which uses up stale bread, and a surprisingly fun stale bread soup as well.

        Pasta it

        Pasta is the most accommodating of dishes. I pop in virtually any dry chicken leftovers I have — sriracha chicken, chicken grilled with sambal, chicken baked with cranberries — and virtually any vegetables that look like they are giving up the ghost. And then use either a basic white sauce or red sauce to tie them all together.

        You can also Fried Rice it. Soup it. Or even Ferment it. And then brag that you no longer have leftovers, only nextovers.


        Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

        Published on April 24, 2020

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