If a market researcher was to come up to me in the street and ask me why I cook dinner from scratch every night, I would tell her “No thank you” and keep walking. This is my standard response to anyone who approaches me in the street, from panhandlers to proselytizers. But if I were to stop for the hypothetical market researcher, I could give her half a dozen reason reasons. Cooking dinner is more economical and healthier than relying on prepackaged foods or dining out; it’s a creative outlet; I like working with my hands; it centers me after a work day and long commute; and homemade food just plain tastes better. But there is one more reason I wouldn’t disclose: I love eating leftovers for lunch.
I’m hesitant to declare my leftover love because it’s not culturally acceptable in the way that say, an obsession with bacon is. Leftovers are seen as second class, something to be eaten if there isn’t a better option, or to be avoided entirely by cooking food in small batches. But I delight in the fact that we are a family of two in a “serves four” recipe world. Reheating my little glass container of last night’s dinner in the work microwave reminds me of how much I enjoy cooking, and eating a warm, home-cooked meal for lunch satisfies me in a way that a sandwich or frozen meal never could.
I will admit that some leftovers are better than others. Linguine with Asparagus and Pine Nuts is a favorite, although that’s just because it’s awesome recipe in general. In my opinion, the texture of roasted sweet potatoes improves when you reheat them, so Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach and Savory Roasted Sweet Potatoes are eagerly anticipated lunches. But hands down, the best leftovers are soups. With a bit of time in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld together, good soups become great, and already amazing soups become a transcendent lunch experience. The Hot-Sweet-Sour Soup with Tofu and Pineapple from Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate is one such amazing soup. When served immediately, the soup has a brightness from the pineapple and basil; after a couple days in the refrigerator, the brightness is still there, but layered on top of it is an delicious intensity from the chili paste that wasn’t initially noticeable, and the tofu benefits from having some extra time to soak up the flavor of the broth.
The original recipe calls from two cups of chopped fresh pineapple, but I substituted canned pineapple in juice (don’t drain the pineapple, since the juice becomes the base of the soup broth). I wasn’t able to find the Thai basil the recipe called for, so I used regular basil with good results.
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons red chili paste
1 large carrot or 1/2 cup baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 celery stalk, diagonally sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 yellow, orange, or red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
20-ounce can pineapple chunks in juice
6 white mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn in half if large, divided
12-ounce package extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for one minute. Add oil and tilt to evenly coat the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook until starting to soften, about three minutes. Add the chili paste and cook for an additional minute. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are evenly coated with the chili paste and beginning to soften, about three minutes. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until vegetables are tender, about five minutes.
Add the pepper, tomatoes, pineapple chunks and their juice, mushrooms, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook for another five minutes.
Add 4 cups of water, half of the basil leaves, and tofu. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for five minutes. Add the sugar and soy sauce.
Serve garnished with the remaining basil leaves.