Turning food leftovers into new flavors from around the world

Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons worth around one trillion dollars – ends up rotting in bins or spoiling, according to the United Nations, which has set a goal of a 50 per cent reduction in food waste globally by 2030.

This is certainly food for thought during the month of Ramadan, when in some countries the amount of food waste actually doubles, despite this being the month in which Muslims are called upon to act modestly and consider those less fortunate than themselves. For families, one of the challenges during the holy month is to judge the right amount of food to cook for Iftar: the tendency to want to fill the dinner table with enough dishes to satisfy everyone’s cravings has to be balanced with a desire to minimize the amount of food that ends up never eaten. Reusing leftovers is one solution, but it can also be a great way to introduce new flavors to the family from dishes around the world. Read on for a few top tips on tasty ways to reduce food waste.

Before you consider throwing stale bread items away, consider how they make a great base for baked puddings, such as England’s Bread and Butter Pudding, France’s Pain Perdu and the Czech Republic’s  Zemlovka, to name just three. Even stale croissants can be used in Egypt’s famous Umm Ali baked dessert, resulting in a delicious take on a Middle Eastern favorite.

 

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If you have leftover Arabic or flat bread, one savory solution is to fry or bake it and then crumble it like croutons over lentil soup or use it as the finishing and essential touch to Lebanon’s famous salad of Fattoush.

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Potatoes are often a huge contributor to food waste. In the UK, for example, this is the number one food item thrown away, with 5.8 million whole potatoes headed for landfill every year. In the past, Brits would have been more resourceful, calling on the traditional recipe known as Bubble and Squeak to use up leftover potatoes and leafy green veg, deliciously fried together. Another useful way to repurpose boiled or mashed potatoes is to use them as a base for homemade fish cakes, in which you can also incorporate leftover fish.

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If it’s leftover chicken that you have to hand, save the scraps for a homemade chicken soup, but first consider using the chicken carcass as a base for your own chicken stock – simply boil in water with spices for a flavorful base to any soup or stew. Portugal and Brazil’s Canja soup is worth considering here as something easy and new to try – and it can also be a way to pop some leftover rice in too. In fact, rice is another pantry staple that causes huge waste. In the US, for example, about a third of all rice purchased is thrown away. However, leftover rice can make a superb comeback to the table when used as the base for a fried rice dish, such as Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng. Alternatively, take a look at Italian Arancini, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with cheese, said to have been introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs in the 10th century. Cooked rice can also make a quick stuffing for items like peppers, allowing you to try your hand at your own take on Turkey’s famous Biber Dolması. Remember to take great care with how you store rice, refrigerating it within two hours of cooking it and reusing it the following day preferably.

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When it comes to pasta, it can be hard to judge exactly how much to make. Any surplus pasta can easily be converted, however, by whipping up a Tetrazzini, an American Italian dish that features pasta, plus any leftovers of meat or chicken, baked in the oven in a creamy sauce. Another Italian inspired dish that can help use up leftover eggplant or zucchini is to cut into slices, bake slightly, and then use as your own mini pizza bases, smothered in tomato sauce, cheese and toppings to finish under the grill.

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Engaging children in cooking is one way to help them appreciate the importance of being resourceful in the kitchen. Ramadan is also a great time to introduce children to Episode 4 of AYA&YUSUF. Titled Waste Not, this episode sees Aya and Yusuf learn the valuable lesson of being mindful when it comes to resources. Enjoy watching and Ramadan Mubarak!

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