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Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:28 am

Get creative with leftovers


I’ll never again be able to make some of the best things I’ve created in my kitchen. Not because they were complicated and/or expensive, although I’ve made a few of those, too. It’s because those creations – they couldn’t accurately be called recipes – were concocted from bits of leftovers or things that would spoil if they weren’t immediately used.

For those who primarily “cook” by microwave nuking, or cook only from exact recipes, making something edible – let alone delicious – from the mystery basket of miscellany in their fridge or freezer may seem impossible. But using master recipes adaptable to myriad variations can make creativity in the kitchen not just possible, but also adventurous and fun. And with experience they just might even provide confidence for further culinary exploration. Here is one such master recipe. Not only is it adaptable to endless variations, fried rice is a snap to make, it is perfect for midweek meals in minutes.

Fried rice is associated with Asia; it’s almost always on Asian restaurant menus in America. That’s true locally, where fried rice is a staple in Chinese and also Japanese and Southeast Asian (Thai and Vietnamese) restaurants. There’s even a surprisingly tasty fried rice at Hawaiian BBQ made with grilled Spam, although I prefer HB’s Portuguese sausage version. (Incidentally Spam became – and remains – a popular staple in Hawaii because the large influx of U.S. military personnel in Hawaii beginning with World War II.)

But rice is eaten worldwide, so fried rice adapts easily to a host of different cuisines and variations. But perhaps the primary reason fried rice is an ideal canvas for creativity with leftovers is that it has to be made with leftover rice, or at least rice that’s been previously cooked and cooled for several hours. In fact, excellent fried rice can be made from take-home containers of rice from Asian restaurants. HB’s plate lunches contain the traditional two huge scoops of rice as well as a third scoop of macaroni salad; my husband and I always bring home enough leftover rice for a fried rice entrée.     

Master fried rice recipe

  • Cold cooked rice
  • Beaten eggs
  • Vegetable oil such as peanut, extra-virgin  olive or other oil, such as canola

Additions, see suggestions below
Proportion: Use 1 egg and 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil for every 1 1/2 cups of cold rice. Use any number of ingredients, but they should total approximately 3/4 to 1 cup of loosely packed additional ingredients for every 1 1/2 cups rice for a good-size single serving. Adding more or less is perfectly acceptable, but be careful: A little of this and a little of that can really add up!

Method: Cut additions into bite-sized pieces. Stir-fry items in a little oil to desired doneness if not already cooked. Do this separately, for things take different cooking times. Be sure not to overcook vegetables you want crisp/tender. They’ll cook longer when combined with the rice.

Some raw items such as scallions or fresh herbs don’t have to be precooked, add them at the end. For an attractive presentation, mix half of such things into the almost finished rice, then sprinkle the rest over the finished dish. This includes other ingredients that would add to the visual appeal, such as pepper strips. Others may or may not be cooked, depending on whether they’re already cooked leftovers, or that might be cooked or not, such as bean sprouts.

For ingredients that need precooking, remove each from the pan when done and keep warm. All should be at least at room temperature before adding to the rice. If they’re cold from the fridge, heat them gently in a microwave or skillet just enough to warm.

When all additions are prepped, wipe the wok or skillet, then add the oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the rice stirring to heat thoroughly; do not brown.

Quickly make a well in the center and add the eggs, stirring constantly. When they have a soft-scrambled consistency, start incorporating the rice, stirring in a circular pattern. When the eggs and rice are combined, add the other ingredients. Gently combine, making sure the additions are warmed through. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

Just a few possibilities:
Chinese, Japanese or Korean: Stir in 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon oyster sauce (or an additional teaspoon soy sauce) for each 1 1/2-cups rice when adding appropriate additions.

Southeast Asian (Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, etc.): Add minced garlic to taste to the hot oil, then immediately add the rice. Stir in 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar per serving when adding the additions. Toss chopped mint, cilantro and (preferably Asian) basil just before serving; sprinkle additional on top. Pass Sriracha or other hot sauce at the table.

Spring vegetarian: Use green garlic, scallions and/or spring onions as well as other early vegetables such as asparagus and baby greens. Morels make an especially luxurious rendition. Toss with tiny cubes of fresh mozzarella and a bit of lemon juice just before serving. Sprinkle with minced dill feathers, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Winter vegetarian: Use cubed or sliced roasted root vegetables – winter squash, beets, onions, carrots, turnips, etc. as well as whole roasted garlic cloves. Rosemary and thyme for herbs, and perhaps a smoked Gouda or cheddar cheese.

Cajun: Use andouille or a garlicky Polish or other smoked sausage, or maybe shrimp or crawfish. Add minced garlic as for Southeast Asian, above. Stir in 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning when adding additions.

Mexican: Use chorizo (Mexican fresh sausage, a vegetarian version, Soyrizo is widely available) or ground beef, chicken, etc. cooked with taco seasoning. Top with chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco or shredded Mexican cheese.

Possible additions:

  • Snow peas
  • Peas
  • Shredded carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Green, red, yellow or orange bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Scallions
  • Bean sprouts
  • Thinly sliced hot peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichokes, fresh, canned or marinated
  • Fresh herbs (use strong herbs, such as rosemary, sparingly; others more liberally; all to taste)


  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Scallops
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Sausages – Chinese, Italian, salami, Polish, andouille (Cajun), bratwurst, chorizo, etc.
  • Ham, prosciutto, bacon, etc.
  • Barbequed pork or chicken
  • Firm tofu, cut into cubes, rectangles, or triangles, as is or fried.
  • Cheese
  • Grated cheese – Parmesan, Romano or fresh cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella, tossed with the fried rice and/or sprinkled over the top.

If all these possibilities seem overwhelming, just take a look in your fridge. See what’s there and then imagine what you can do with it. And have fun!

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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