Creative Food Recycling: From the bottom of the salsa jar to the table

When I was little, my mom used to make some weird casseroles out of leftovers. (I know my mom is going to read this and say, “I did that one time!” or “I never did that!” But I stand by my statement. I will say that she also made perfectly normal meals.) As a result of this traumatic childhood memory, I cannot advise throwing any old thing into a baking dish, pouring cream of mushroom soup over it, and baking it in a 350 degree oven.

However, learning to use up refrigerator odds and ends is an art you need to master if you want to be a carefree bohemian like me. Don’t make weird casseroles! Okay, sometimes you’ll have to make weird casseroles. Other times you’ll have to make chili out of hummus and old salsa.

This picture is blurry but you get the idea.

Here are some real ideas for using up all the food you buy or scavenge:

Old Tea—Brew up some iced tea using all those strange tea bags that have been languishing in the cupboard since the early 2000s. If it tastes bad, add a bunch of lemon juice and sugar. If that tastes bad, sorry. You are stuck drinking this, or perhaps freezing it into popsicle molds and forgetting about it.

End of hummus & the last bit of salsa—These, as I already mentioned, go into a big pot of chili that also includes beans, tomatoes, spices, and anything else that could conceivably be disguised in dim lighting. But don’t add corn! It is disgusting when people add corn to things.

Sour milk—Bake with it. Add a ½ teaspoon of baking soda if you do this. Use it in place of buttermilk in recipes. Yes, I know this offends our twenty-first century sensibilities. You’re going to have to do it. If you really hate it that much, you shouldn’t have let your milk go sour. You can freeze extra milk, you know! You can also re-pasteurize milk before it goes bad.

Leftover cooked oatmeal—First of all, try not to make more oatmeal than you plan to eat. But if you do, you can throw it into a batch of pancakes or muffins. It will probably work out.

I cook like this all this time, and guess what? People actually think I’m a pretty decent cook! What on paper sounds like a disgusting potpourri of leftovers can actually end up being a tasty dinner. I should start documenting my creative leftover strategies. New column!

Do you have creative uses for pantry castoffs? What are they? Let’s all make hotdog soup out of an old jar of mustard and a frozen veggie dog! Yeah!


  1. Awwww, I like adding corn to things!

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