Nice Over Rice: Turning Last Night’s Leftover Rice Into Tonight’s Five-Star Meal


You know the scenario: you ordered takeout and (with or without the help of others) managed to demolish it all. All, that is, except for one last carton of rice. You know you shouldn’t waste food, but you just don’t see yourself eating a bowl of plain rice in the near future—especially after it gets hard and crumbly after a night in the refrigerator. You resign to the fact that you’ll just have to throw it out.

Not so fast. Within that crappy carton of boring rice, there exists endless possibility for culinary greatness. With just a little bit of creativity and a few minutes of prep, you can be sitting down to a totally new, totally fabulous meal in no time. (And let’s be honest, I did the creative part for you here, so you really just have to do the prep).

So gather up some basic kitchen tools and ingredients, and read on for 5 quick and easy ways to completely transform last night’s lowly leftover rice into tonight’s today’s impressive gourmet fare.

Fried Rice
Perhaps the oldest use for leftover rice, this quick and easy Chinese dish comes together in minutes, especially if you have all your ingredients prepped first.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a large pan or wok, and add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 chopped medium onion. Cook until soft and very fragrant, then add 2 chopped carrots and 1/2 cup frozen green peas. Crack 2 eggs into the pan and cook until scrambled. Add 2 cups leftover cooked white or brown rice to the pan. Pour 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) soy sauce over the pan mixture and stir to combine.

Cook, stirring frequently, until heated through and combined. Top with chopped green onions or cilantro and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Rice Cakes
Rice cakes are an elegant starch side dish—particularly great with sauced meats or fish, since they are a handy (and delicious) way to transport excess sauce from the plate to your mouth. They’re also an excellent base for poached eggs.

Stir together 3 cups leftover rice, 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, a handful of fresh chopped herbs of your choice, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Form into patties (wetting your hands helps keep everything from sticking), and dip the rice patty into 1 beaten egg. Next, dredge in Panko bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining rice mixture.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd, fry the rice patties for about 3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels and salt lightly. Serve warm.

Serves 4-6.

If you have leftover risotto or sushi rice, make these addictive, crispy rice balls.

Combine 2 cups cooked risotto or sushi rice with ½ cup grated Parmesan and one egg. Stir to combine well.

Scoop up 2-3 tablespoons of rice mixture and form a ball around a small cube of fresh mozzarella, fontina or Monterey jack cheese, so the cheese is tightly secured in the center of the ball. Repeat with remaining rice mixture.

Dip the rice balls in 2 beaten eggs, then roll in Italian-style bread crumbs, to coat.

Fill a medium pot with enough 4 inches-worth of vegetable oil and heat to 375 degrees F (or use a deep fryer, if you have one). Working in batches, fry the rice balls for 2-3 minutes, until golden-brown and cooked throughout. Repeat the frying process until all arancini are cooked.

Serve warm, with marinara or pesto sauce.

Serves 3-4.

Rice Salad

Rice salad is a perfect picnic or barbecue side dish, but also works well as a base for grilled fish, chicken or kebabs.

Combine 2 cups cold leftover rice with 2 cups finely-chopped kale, 2 shredded carrots, 1/4 cup raisins (or other dried berry, like cranberries or cherries) and ½ cup toasted pecans. Toss with 2 tablespoons each balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Homemade Veggie Burgers
These homemade burger patties beat out the frozen, store-bought variety any day. Please note that they don’t work nearly as well on the grill as they do in a frying pan.

Mash 2 cups cooked, drained chickpeas (about 1 15-ounce can’s worth) and stir together with 1 cup leftover rice (white or brown), 1 minced clove garlic, 2 tablespoons minced onion, 1 handful fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, 1 lightly beaten egg and 1 pinch each salt and pepper. Mix to combine.

Form the mixture into 4 ½” thick patties. Heat 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the patties (working in batches if necessary) and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Serve the patties warm on buns, in pita pockets, or wrapped in green leaf lettuce, with desired fixings.

Serves 4.

Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Most recently, she developed “Young and Hungry”, an ABC Family sitcom based on her life and writing. It premiers this summer (2014).


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