Intentional leftovers can be a remedy for cooking fatigue

Katie Workman

THE WASHINGTON POST – Do you cook because you love to cook? Like to cook? Because you need to cook? Maybe a combo of all of the above on different days?

Whatever your answer, these days, cooking is pretty much a necessity. And whatever camp you fall into at any given moment, it’s safe to say that few of us are excited by the thought of making three meals a day from scratch.

So let’s give ourselves a springboard for the next meal and get our minds firmly around the pleasurable concept of the Intentional Leftover.

Here you will find three recipes with a one-two punch. Each meal is prepared with the goal of saving part of the dinner to be reinvented later in the week.

Honey-glazed tofu with rice and sautéed spring vegetables turns into a stir-fry. Leftover roasted chicken and vegetables transform into a chicken salad grain bowl. And a mixed grill dinner becomes family-favourite quesadillas.

Honey-Garlic Tofu With Sauteed Broccoli and Sugar Snap Peas
Sheet Pan Greek Roasted Chicken With Garlic Broccoli and Potatoes. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

This is the opposite of leftover boredom. In fact, if you don’t point out that meal A was used to make meal B, your family might not even notice.

There’s more: six recipes with a hidden bonus. Each of these meals will serve four people, and each of these double-duty recipes clocks in at less than USD30 total, so USD15 per dinner, less than USD4 per person (I’m showing off my math skills; humour me). This includes the extra ingredients you will need to turn the reserved parts of the first dinner, such as tortillas and shredded cheese, into the second meal.

A word to the wise, especially if you have teenagers in the house: Pull off the intentional leftovers from the first meal and stash them in the fridge before you get to the business of serving dinner No 1. Otherwise, those building-block ingredients may find themselves as lunch in the hands of an unwitting child.

And, while these recipes should give you some ammunition for planning meals, they are also designed to get the old wheels a-churning.

Once you embrace the concept of the Intentional Leftover, you’ll use it all the time. Meat sauce will be saved for lasagna, roasted salmon will be reborn as salmon salad, grilled vegetables will fill a frittata.

And do you know who you’ll have to thank for all of this? Your own clever self.


Four servings

This recipe calls for a blend of hot and sweet sausages, but use what you like. Though the sausages could be cooked with the vegetables in the foil, they’ll get browned with appealing grill marks if cooked directly on the grill.

You can switch up the vegetables for whatever is on hand. You can eat all of this at once or reserve a portion for a second meal of Sausage and Vegetable Quesadillas, see SECOND MEAL, below.

Storage Notes: Leftover sausages and vegetables can be refrigerated for up to four days.


One medium zucchini, sliced half-inch thick

Four ears corn, shucked and sliced crosswise into one-inch pieces

One bell pepper (any colour), stemmed, seeded and sliced into eight wedges

One large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into eight wedges

Quarter cup olive oil

One teaspoon dried thyme

One teaspoon minced or finely grated garlic

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

One pound sausage, hot

One pound sausage, sweet


Preheat the grill to medium-high. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with aluminium foil.

In a large bowl, toss the zucchini, corn, bell pepper and onion (the wedges will fall apart and that’s fine) with the olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper until combined.

Divide the mixture between the two pieces of foil. Spread out the vegetables so that they are evenly distributed, leaving a three-inch margin of foil around each sheet. Cover each baking sheet with another piece of foil, and roll and crimp the foil all around the edges to seal. Transfer the packets to the grill.

Cook the vegetables for about 10 minutes, then add the sausages to the grill. Cook the sausages along with the vegetables for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, opening the grill and turning the sausages every one to two minutes, so that they brown evenly.

When the vegetables are tender and the sausages cooked through, remove them from the grill and carefully open an edge of each packet to let steam escape. Let the sausages sit for about one minute, then slice them into chunks.

Transfer about a quarter of the sausages and a third of the vegetables to a lidded container and refrigerate for Sausage and Vegetable Quesadillas (see SECOND MEAL).

Transfer the remaining sausages and vegetables to a platter and serve.

SECOND MEAL: To make Sausage and Vegetable Quesadillas, slice the corn kernels from the pieces you reserved. Chop up the sausages and the vegetables, add the corn, and mix them together (you should have about two cups total). Heat one teaspoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and place one medium flour tortilla in the skillet. Sprinkle quarter cup shredded cheese, such as cheddar or Mexican blend (you’ll need eight ounces total), quarter cup mixed vegetable and sausage mixture, and another quarter cup cheese. Place one flour tortilla on top and cook until the bottom has browned, two to three minutes. Flip the quesadilla and cook until the cheese has melted, another two to three minutes. Repeat to make a total of four quesadillas. Serve with sour cream or salsa, if desired.

Nutrition (per serving of mixed grill)| Calories: 601; Total Fat: 44g; Saturated Fat: 14g; Cholesterol: 110mg; Sodium: 1455mg; Carbohydrates: 22g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugars: 9g; Protein: 29g.

Nutrition (per quesadilla) | Calories: 605; Total Fat: 38g; Saturated Fat: 11g; Cholesterol: 53mg; Sodium: 1063mg; Total Carbohydrates: 42g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 23g.


Four servings

In this simple preparation, tofu is seared and sauced for an irresistible flavour and texture. Cubed tofu leftovers are also good in wraps. You will serve half the rice with the tofu and reserve the rest for the stir-fry. You can eat all of this at once or reserve a portion for a second meal of the Vegetable Fried Rice, see SECOND MEAL, below.

MAKE AHEAD: The tofu will need to be pressed for 30 minutes before cooking.


Two pounds firm or extra-firm tofu

Three tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided, or more as needed

Two tablespoons soy sauce

One tablespoon honey

Two teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Half teaspoon minced garlic, divided

One scallion, white and light green parts, finely chopped (optional)

Six cups cooked rice

One tablespoon unsalted butter

Four cups small broccoli florets

Two cups sugar snap peas, trimmed, de-stringed and halved

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Quarter cup water


First, press the tofu: Place the tofu on a flat plate and place another flat plate on top. Weigh the top plate with something heavy, such as a large can of beans, and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, until some of the water has been pressed out of the tofu (use two sets of plates, if necessary). Pour off the water.

Halve each tofu block crosswise, through the equator, into two flat slabs; you should have four slabs. Stack them together, then cut the stack into quarters, so you have 16 pieces total.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Working in batches, sear the tofu in a single layer, without stirring, until lightly browned and firm, four to five minutes per side. Flip and cook until browned, another four to five minutes. Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate and to drain of excess oil. Repeat with the remaining tofu, adding more oil, a little at a time, as necessary.

While the tofu is cooking, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey, lemon juice, half teaspoon minced garlic and the scallion (if using) and stir to blend well.

When all the tofu is cooked, transfer four pieces to a lidded container and refrigerate for the Vegetable Stir-Fry (see SECOND MEAL, below). Leave the rest of the tofu in the pan, and then add the sauce to the pan, pouring it between the slices, and heat until simmering.

Reserve half the cooked rice for the leftovers meal. Place the rest in a shallow serving dish or bowl and transfer the tofu on top of the rice. Pour the sauce in the pan on top.

In another large skillet with a lid over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the broccoli and sugar snap peas, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to turn a brighter green, about two minutes. Add the remaining one teaspoon garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute. Add the water and cover the pan for about two minutes. Remove the lid, stir and let any remaining water evaporate; the vegetables should be crisp-tender. Take two cups of the vegetables and reserve for the leftovers meal. Add the remaining vegetables to the tofu and rice and serve.

SECOND MEAL: To make the Vegetable Fried Rice, chop the leftover vegetables into half-inch pieces and the reserved tofu into half-inch cubes and set aside. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat and add one tablespoon oil, half cup chopped carrot and the reserved three cups of rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add one tablespoon minced fresh ginger and one teaspoon minced garlic and stir until fragrant, about one minute. Drizzle over quarter cup of reduced-sodium soy sauce and two teaspoons of toasted sesame oil and stir to combine. Add the chopped cooked vegetables and tofu and stir until blended and warm, about three minutes. Make some space in the pan and add two beaten eggs. Cook, stirring, until scrambled, about two minutes, then stir the egg into the rest of the ingredients. Serve hot with chopped scallions, if desired.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.


Four servings

Using two rimmed baking sheets – one for chicken and another for the vegetables – delivers a mix of textures to this dish.

Look for regular-size chicken breasts, not the jumbo ones. You can eat all of this at once or reserve a portion to make Greek Chicken Salad and Broccoli Grain Bowls (see SECOND MEAL, below).

Be sure to reserve some marinade before you add the raw chicken.

If the broccoli stems seem woody and hard, peel them first before cutting into chunks and cooking.

MAKE AHEAD: The chicken will need to marinate for 12 to 24 hours before cooking. Leftover chicken and vegetables can be refrigerated for up to four days.


Half cup olive oil, divided

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

Two tablespoons vinegar​

Two teaspoons dried oregano

One and a half teaspoons minced garlic, divided

One teaspoon kosher or coarse salt, plus more as needed

Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Six skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts

One large head broccoli, cut into large florets

One pound small red potatoes, halved or quartered, if larger

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving (optional)

Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)


In a large container, whisk together six tablespoons of the olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, vinegar, oregano, one teaspoon of the garlic, the salt and pepper until combined. Transfer quarter cup marinade to a lidded jar and refrigerate; it will become a dressing for the Greek Chicken Salad and Broccoli Grain Bowls (see SECOND MEAL, below).

Add the chicken to the remaining marinade, turn to coat, then cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminium foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess marinade drip back in the bowl, and place on one baking sheet, skin side up. Place the chicken in the oven. Discard the used marinade.

While the chicken roasts, place the broccoli and potatoes each on one half of the other baking sheet, and drizzle with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil.

Sprinkle the broccoli with the remaining half teaspoon of garlic. Give each vegetable a toss to coat with the oil and spread back out on its half of the baking sheet. Season with salt.

Roast the chicken for 20 minutes, then place the vegetables in the oven. Continue to roast the chicken and the vegetables for about 25 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender and slightly browned in spots, and the chicken is browned, crispy and cooked through.

Transfer two of the chicken breasts (or about a third of the chicken) and half of the broccoli to a lidded container and refrigerate for the leftover dish. Sprinkle the potatoes with some parsley, if desired.

Serve the rest of the chicken, broccoli and the potatoes hot, with lemon wedges on the side, if desired.

SECOND MEAL: To make Greek Chicken Salad and Broccoli Grain Bowls, chop the reserved cooked chicken (discarding the skin and bones) and broccoli into half-inch pieces and place them in a large bowl. Add half cup chopped onion and one small diced zucchini. Add two tablespoons of the reserved dressing and toss to combine. Divide four cups of room-temperature grains, such as quinoa, farro or brown rice, into four bowls. Divide the chicken salad over the grains, drizzle the remaining dressing over. Sprinkle with some feta and maybe a few halved, pitted Greek olives.

Nutrition | Per serving: 549 calories, 44g protein, 26g carbohydrates, 30g fat, 5g saturated fat, 118mg cholesterol, 551mg sodium, 5g dietary fibre, 3g sugar

Nutrition | Per serving of Greek Chicken Salad Grain Bowls: 430 calories, 30g protein, 48g carbohydrates, 13g fat, 2g saturated fat, 59mg cholesterol, 242mg sodium, 8g dietary fibre, 4g sugar