Leftover cooked rice is like gold. Few ingredients elicit the same ‘Eureka!’ exclamation when discovered nestled among the Andean landscape of color-coded Tupperware and hastily Saran-wrapped bowls of suspect meal remainders in our refrigerator. Pick a continent, pick a cuisine, pick a protein. Leftover rice is the tabula rasa of a quick meal. Finding it in the refrigerator is like adding 30 minutes of free time to your life.
Here are some quick and easy ways to use leftover rice and clean out your fridge:
Chinese Take-Out Fried Rice
Good fried rice is very difficult to pull off with fresh rice. Leftover rice dries out partially, making it much easier to fry, and keeps the dish from getting mushy. So whenever I find leftover cold rice; fried rice immediately springs to mind. An additional benefit to fried rice is you can put almost anything in it. Leftover proteins like chicken or pork can be diced up into small chunks and added. Random, rogue vegetables like a lone carrot, a few sprigs of cilantro, a green onion, a hunk of broccoli, or an opened bag of frozen veggies can be used up instead of wasted. Here is a basic fried rice recipe that serves a family of four. Substitute out what you don’t have, for whatever you find in your fridge.
4 cups cold, cooked rice
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup leftover protein, chicken, pork, duck, beef, fish
1 cup mixed vegetables, diced (peas and carrots are a favorite)
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
Couple tablespoons of oil
3-6 tablespoons of soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
Heat your wok or large skillet. Add a couple tablespoons of neutral oil. Add the beaten eggs. Stir a few times. Add the protein. Stir a few times. Add the vegetables. Stir a few times. Add the onions. Stir a few times. Add the rice. Break up the clumps of rice with a cooking utensil. Keep breaking up the rice and stirring till the food is hot. Drizzle the soy sauce around the edge of the wok; don’t put it in the middle of the pan. This makes it easier to distribute. Drizzle the sesame oil around the edge of the wok. Stir a few times and serve. If the rice is really dried out, incorporate a few tablespoons of water along with the soy sauce.
Arancini-Italy’s Mozzarella Stick
Nobody said leftover rice has to be healthy. Arancini are Italian treats of rice and cheese coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Move over frozen mozzarella sticks. There’s a new weekend treat for the kiddies.
These work best with leftover risotto because it is sticky and creamy. If you are using plain rice, incorporate a few tablespoons of warm butter and grated parmesan, romano, or fontina cheese. Enough so that the rice can be easily shaped.
2 cups leftover rice
1/2 pound mozzarella, cubed
Oil for frying
Add any fresh herbs you like to the leftover risotto or leftover rice. Roll the rice into bite sized balls. Take a cube of mozzarella and stuff it into the center of the ball and then reform the ball. After shaping all the balls and inserting their mozzarella center, dip them in the beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs. Fill a pan 1/4 inch deep with oil. Fry the balls till golden and serve with marinara sauce.
Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers are popular all around the Mediterranean and Caspian Sea. Take it there by adding your favorite spice blend.
You can use the same meat filling for stuffing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, or eggplant. Or you can skip the vegetable altogether and roll the filling into meatballs. Finish them in a simple fresh tomato sauce.
Vegetables with seeds and pulp removed
For the meat filling:
1.5 pounds ground beef or lamb
1.5 cups leftover rice
1 onion, finely minced or grated
1 clove garlic, minced finely or grated
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
For the Fresh Tomato Sauce:
1.5 pounds tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl mix the ground meat, rice, egg, parsley, and the finely minced onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cram meat filling into the hollowed out vegetables and tomatoes.
In a saucepan heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the diced onion and cook for one to two minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another few minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add a cup of water and let cook for five minutes. Add more water if the sauce becomes too thick.
Pour sauce over stuffed vegetables and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and baste stuffed veggies with extra sauce. Return to oven and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes.
For just meatballs and sauce, form the meat filling into balls. Fry in a pan with a few tablespoons of oil. Then transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce and let cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
Leftover Tex-Mex Wet Burritos
Take your leftover rice to the border in a burrito. Substitute beans for the beef to make veghead friendly.
1 package flour tortillas
1 pound ground beef
1.5 cups cooked rice
Half pound of shredded cheddar cheese
2 onion, minced
2 garlic clove, minced
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
2-8oz cans of tomato sauce
1-6oz can tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
A pinch of oregano
A few splashes of your favorite hot sauce
A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Heat a small sauce pan with a few splashes of oil. Add half the minced onion and stir. Add half the minced garlic. Stir and let cook for one to two minutes. Add half the ground cumin, half the chili powder, and a little salt and pepper. Add the two cans of tomato sauce, the Worcestershire Sauce, and a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce. Lower heat to simmer.
In large skillet heat a splash of oil. Add the rest of the minced garlic and onion. Cook for one minute. Add the ground beef. Add the fresh tomatoes. Add the oregano and the rest of the cumin and chili powder. Heat until meat is cooked, stirring frequently. Drain off some excess fat, if any, and add half of the simmering tomato sauce to the meat pan. Remove from heat.
Add the tomato paste to the rest of the tomato sauce. Thin with water or stock if necessary.
On a flat surface lay out the tortilla shells. Divide the meat mixture among the shells. Fold the sides in and roll the tortillas into burritos. Place rolled burritos into a baking dish. Cover with the rest of the sauce and shredded cheese. Put in broiler for 3-4 minutes or until cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.