3 Tricks for Leftover Ingredients

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] O[/dropcap]ne thing I find really annoying are recipes that call for using small amounts of perishable ingredients. You know the type I mean. Recipes that leave you with half a bunch of parsley, a few tablespoons of goats cheese or half an avocado…

Apart from being annoying, these leftover bits tend to end up getting wasted as they hide in the fridge.

When I was a young food scientist, learning how to develop new breakfast cereals, I learned an important lesson. Always try to round the ingredients on your formula (I always found it funny that in food factories there were ‘formulas’ not ‘recipes’) to the nearest lot or pack size.

This made it much easier and quicker for the factory workers to just use say, 3 bags of flour, rather than fiddling around with measuring 86.335kg flour. It also meant there wouldn’t be random partially used bags floating around the factory.

This practical lesson stayed with me.

It followed me around the world as I dabbled in the dark arts of becoming a wine maker. And of course continued on into my food blogging hobby that has since become my funnest and most rewarding career to date.

Anyway, you may not have noticed, but for my recipes on Stonesoup and my online cooking classes I try to keep leftover ingredients to a minimum. It’s just a natural part of my simple cooking philosophy.

But when you’re following someone else’s recipes (It’s OK. I’ll try not to take it personally ;) and you need help reducing leftover ingredients and waste in your kitchen, here are my 3 favourite tricks for leftover ingredients…

1. Avoid leftover ingredients.
My first port of call is to avoid leftover ingredients all together. Often the easiest way is to just skip the ingredient, like the green onions in my soup recipe below.

If skipping it isn’t an option, I look to use up all of the ingredient at once. So I’d use the whole bunch of herbs instead of the 1/2 bunch called for in the recipe. You get the idea.

2. Store the leftovers correctly.
We go into the best way to store fresh produce in my classes at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School. But the general rule of thumb is cooler temperatures are best for most fresh ingredients.

So keep them in the fridge for starters. After temperature, moisture loss is the next biggest destroyer of fresh ingredients, so make sure they’re protected. I tend to store my produce in plastic bags in the crisper section.

The real trick is to keep them somewhere you’re likely see them again to remember to use them. See here for tips on avoiding ‘refrigerator blindness’.

3. Try some ‘mise en place’.
If you haven’t heard of ‘mise en place’ you can get up to speed on it over here. But the short story is… if you know you aren’t going to be able to use an ingredient, there’s always a way to treat it so it will last.

For example, a half bunch of basil can be turned into a tasty Sicilian nut pesto. Or if you don’t have much time, just pop the leaves in a jar and cover with olive oil for a quick basil oil that will last for weeks rather than days.

chickpea egg drop soup-3

Egg ‘Flower’ Soup

One of the first things we made in my home science class at school was the Chinese restaurant classic egg drop soup – crab and sweet corn. I remember at the time being super impressed with how adding the thin steam of beaten egg at the end gave the soup such an exotic texture. I then pretty much forgot about trying to make it myself until a few months ago, which is a long time between soups. I can’t remember what inspired me to make a soup with egg in it, but I’m so glad I did!

If you’re wondering, the ‘flower’ in the title just refers to the beautiful and unique appearance the egg gives our soup.

I just realised that this recipe leaves you with leftover green onions. Just when I’ve been telling you that I usually try and avoid them… Whoops. If you used the whole bunch they would completely overpower everything. To avoid leftovers, either just omit them or replace with a bunch of chives chopped.

Enough for 2
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can chickpeas(400g / 14oz), drained
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
3-4 eggs, whisked
4 green onions, optional

1. Bring chickpeas and stock to the boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer for a few minutes. Season with soy sauce.

2. Turn the heat as low as possible. Slowly pour eggs into the soup in a fine stream, while stirring the soup constantly so you get lovely fine ribbons of egg.

3. Remove from the heat and serve.

leftover-free – omit the green onions or replace with a bunch of chives chopped.

vegan / egg-free – replace eggs with an extra can of chickpeas. To thicken the soup puree with a stick blender so that some of the chickpeas are smooth and others still whole.

chickpea-free – replace chickpeas with a drained can of sweet corn. Or remove the kernels from 2 cobs of corn and simmer until cooked before adding the egg.

carnivore – for a chicken soup replace chickpeas with finely sliced 2 chicken breasts. Simmer until just cooked before adding the egg.

fancy – toss in a few handfuls of cooked crab meat.

Video version of the recipe.

5 Ingredients 10 Minutes Update!

5 ingredients 10 minutes cover image

It’s been a while since I mentioned my print book which was published back in March this year. The good news is the Kindle version is now available!

I downloaded it onto my iPad and phone recently and gave myself a ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’ challenge to cook dinner from the book most nights last week.

Let me tell you, as a new Mum, it was such a lovely to be able to browse the recipes on my phone while breast feeding. But it was even better to have dinner ready so soon after putting little ‘F’ to bed. I’m not sure what I was doing before that, but I definitely need to go back to using my own quick, healthy recipes!

For more details, including some free sample recipes go to:

With love,
Jules x


  • Great advice, I always try to round! But evidently there’s always a can of half empty tomato paste or curry paste sitting around somewhere!

  • Yes, I struggle with leftovers. A lot of the things, like cilantro, just don’t keep well. The idea of basil oil is wonderful – except I don’t know that I’d ever use it. Part of my problem is that I will plan menus for a week, using dishes that serve 4 or 6, so there are repeat meals. So the leftover ingredients sit in the fridge, and often spoil. I will have to think about ways to explore your mise en place suggestion. I’m always open to suggestions, too.

  • We make a regular habit of including leftovers with fresh-made, especially on busy nights, which sometimes makes for interesting menus but decreases wastage. The other thing we have is a chalkboard with the fresh produce in the house on it. That way even if you’d forget the half lemon in the fridge, there’s a reminder staring you in the face.

    I love the idea of oils and the like with fresh components. I also like playing with herbs where one perhaps wouldn’t expect them; I’ve yet to try one that isn’t tasty in a basic green salad… And when all else fails, I do a frittata, because almost anything can go in that.

  • I hate leftovers because they tend to get shoved into the back of the fridge and get lost. One of the things I like best about my SO (well- not really but you know) is he has to have a big breakfast with eggs, some carb and usually meat. But he gets really creative with all of that. He will add some of the most amazing bits of leftovers into the eggs. A tiny bit of summer squash and corn with a bit salmon one morning; chopped bacon, a random brussel sprout and some feta cheese into the next one. He eats fish almost every morning for breakfast and also uses leftover rice as well. So those green onions, tiny amounts of pepper and such gets dumped, sautéed and added into the mix. He gets a gold star from me.

  • Since I’m a lot older than most of you ( I’m 82), I have always used the whole sprig, bunch or whatever that the recipe called for as my way of not having leftovers. Before the days of green bags for keeping fruits and vegetables longer, you did waste a lot of food.

  • I appreciate all the flavors you incorporate into your meals, but what I am head over heels for w/your website, blog, cook books, etc. is the awesome variety of ways to prepare each dish to suit the diner of the day. The points in this particular article were so common sense as to how to alter recipe lists or what to do w/extra ingredients, but i sometimes just need “permission” :) Love your wisdom!

  • Leftover herbs are easy…chop up and put in an ice cube tray…cover with water and freeze. Then pop them into a zip loc bag and store in the freezer…fresh basil, rosemary, pesto, etc can perk up many a pot of soup in the winter time. I have the most issues with buying too many vegs for the week..I really only shop one day a week and usually plan my menus but I invariable end up with left over something or other in the fridge tht just isn’t that appealing…I usually end up with a stir fry.

  • Hi Jules

    Thanks for the tip on putting left over basil in a jar with oil.

    I always have left over mint, would you suggest putting that in oil or do you have a better way to store it or make it into something a bit special?

  • Quick fridge pickles. Puréed soup. If green onions have little roots they will regenerate if stored in a cup with a little water, covered with its bag in the fridge. Plus a few already mentioned.

  • No leftover Green onions hear in Amsterdam- they come in such small packs I think you’re lukely to get four in a bunch!

  • Hi, love your site
    I use a big “lock & lock” airtight plastic box in my fridge – you would not believe the difference it makes to keeping your produce fresh (pop a packet of courgettes in and leave one out to test what i mean :) ). that way, all my fresh stuff is in one place too

  • Hello,
    Freezing, drying herbs and other ingredients are a good way to keep them, and when life gives you leftovers, make salads and soups!

  • I keep a large bowl in the freezer for vegetable scraps (even onion skins and celery leaves) and when it’s full, I turn it into vegetable broth to use as a base for soup. Sometimes I plan to make several dishes with one particular ingredient during the week (especially if it’s on sale), like green peppers – I’ll add them to chili, pizza, salad, etc. and I even freeze them in chunks and rings for later use. I’ve also found it easier to grow a few of my favorite herbs, such as basil, so that I always have them on hand and there’s no waste. :)

  • As a military spouse, I am always looking for ways to use the ingredients I have on hand. We are bound to move so buying rare spices or vinegars is not something I want to spend my money on.

    I love thinking outside the box and your blog does that!

  • I made this soup with corn tonight. I didn’t have any chickpeas.

    It was very easy and tasty, and I was able to make it with ingredients on hand.

    Although I have followed your blog for a long time, this is actually the first recipe I made.

  • Yippee! I was looking at a small bunch of chives in the fridge this morning as I made my tea, wondering if they would make it to the pot or the trash. Tonight they will finish off this soup as I have “all” the ingredients and remember egg drop soup from my childhood. Thank you other readers for some great suggestions, particularly the freezer bowl of vegie leftovers for stock.

    So glad you and little F have some wonderful bonding time through breastfeeding; you will always remember it. :)

    Love this blog & I tell everyone about your wonderful ways in the kitch.

  • Thank you so much for your tips – life saver! Especially like putting basil in a jar of oil – I’ll have to share that tip with my Learncliki tutor :)

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