Local experts share how to transform surplus servings and excess ingredients, so you can savor new flavors while reducing waste at the same time. By Ashley Ryan LUXE LEFTOVERS Food waste is at an all-time high: A 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service found that 31 percent of the available food supply in 2010 went uneaten. Scraping uneaten portions off plates and into the garbage after a meal has become an all-too-familiar routine, and it can be harmful in more ways than one. To combat the growing surplus, the USDA implemented the country’s inaugural food waste reduction goal last fall, calling for a 50-percent decrease by 2030. This type of change could have tremendous effects economically—when restaurants and farmers have to dispose of less excess food, they can keep more profits. From an environmental standpoint, landfills are rapidly reaching capacity, so eliminating a large portion of food waste could decrease the amount of methane emissions that are created by these excess materials. Socially, starvation within local communities could be lessened if leftovers were preserved and donated to the region’s food banks and soup kitchens instead of thrown in the trash. Consider joining the effort by planning out meals in advance so you don’t buy ingredients that you won’t be able to use. And if you do end up with extra—whether from your own kitchen or a restaurant—there are myriad ways leftovers can be turned into innovative dishes. To get started, we spoke with Laguna Beach restaurateurs to learn how they incorporate typically disposed ingredients into new meals, so you can not only benefit the environment but your palate, too.
GLEANING GRAINS Grains are one of the easiest food groups to creatively reuse, because they don’t spoil as easily as protein and produce. Antonio Mecheri, who serves as restaurateur-managing director at local French cafe and bakery C’est La Vie, recognizes the importance of reducing food waste: He says it’s always better to drop leftovers off for someone else if you can’t use them yourself. For your own next-day preparations, Mecheri recommends crumbling bread and combining it with ground beef, lamb and spices to create textured meatballs—these can easily be added to noodles for a reinvented Italian dish. Though pasta can be difficult to transform, Mecheri says it’s possible just by altering the sauce. For those made with a red sauce the night before, he recommends adding Parmesan cheese and combining the marinara with alfredo; this infused mixture will utilize the old pasta and the old sauce, but still provide a new flavor the next day. There are more options when it comes to leftover rice. Basmati or jasmine rice that was oiled the night before can be simmered with a saffron sauce (Mecheri prefers an infused blend of harissa, saffron and oils like extra virgin olive, canola, grapeseed or avocado), and the addition of proteins like salmon steak, halibut or mahi mahi can finish the dish. Grilled lamb or pork chops can be used if the rice is simmered in a tahini sauce, which Mecheri makes by combining the Middle Eastern sesame paste with spices, herbs, lemon juice and garlic. Additionally, he notes the grains can be turned into a paella or risotto by adding
seafood or chicken—you can even craft your own ratatouille by combining rice with leftover scallops and sauce, and vegetables like caramelized onions, tomatoes and zucchini. For even longer use, stale bread can be made into croutons or crackers that may be saved for a few weeks. When bread is too dry to make sandwiches, craft it into thin slices and brush it with olive oil. You can then sprinkle oregano, red pepper flakes, sea salt or other seasonings on top before placing the slices on a cookie sheet and toasting them in the oven to make your own crackers. The process is similar when making croutons—just cube the bread and add melted butter, garlic and herbs before baking. No matter what leftovers you have, there is some way to combine them with other ingredients. And by transforming them into a whole new meal with a whole new flavor, you’ll not only tickle your taste buds but help out the planet at the same time. LBM