Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I love leftovers

I've never understood people who don't like leftovers. Whatever their reasons may be--that the food they prepare will never taste as good as it did when it was made fresh, that they get sick of eating the same thing (no matter how delicious it is) two or three times in a row, that they simply don't have the refrigerator space--I don't get it. I love leftovers. Leftovers, actually, sort of define my cooking style. I don't often follow recipes, preferring to rifle through my fridge (and freezer), taking stock of what needs to be used up and how it would best be transformed into something else. Leftovers don't bore me; they inspire me.

I even like leftover food that I didn't make in the first place. Working at a food magazine and also in catering, I'm often sent home with extra food that might otherwise get thrown out. Such was the case last weekend when I worked a fancy, exclusive party on Fire Island. A ton of perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned filet mignon remained unserved at the end of the night, and I packed away two particularly succulent-looking steaks to bring on the bus ride home. They made their way onto my dinner plate a few nights later when Gideon (of Snackin' with Steinberg fame) came over to eat. While he made his excellent rendition of guacamole, I sliced the steaks thinly and laid them over a salad of soft romaine and slivers of red onion, heaped them with fresh cilantro and chopped salty peanuts, then dressed the whole with a mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and vegetable oil. And so out of distant French origins, a delicious Thai beef salad was born. You still don't want your leftovers? Pass 'em over to me.

Thai Beef Salad with Lime Dressing
Serves 2

1. Wash and dry two generous servings of romaine or red leaf lettuce, about half a large head. Tear them into large pieces and divide between two plates.
2. Thinly slice 1/2 of a large red onion and divide it between the two plates, distributing it evenly over the lettuce.
3. Thinly slice one medium to large portion of rare, seasoned steak--the cut is not that important as this is a dish to make with leftover meat--and fan the slices out over the salads.
4. Take a good handful of fresh cilantro--stems and all--and tear it up, sprinkling it over the salads.
5. Coarsely chop a large handful of roasted salted peanuts and sprinkle them over the two salads.
6. Make the dressing: in a small bowl, combine the juice of two limes with about 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. fish sauce, 1 1/2 tsp. sugar, a pinch of salt and about 3 tbsp. vegetable oil. Whisk mixture and taste; you might need to adjust the ingredients if the dressing is too sour, too sweet or otherwise unbalanced.
7. Dress the salads, drizzling the dressing evenly to ensure that all the ingredients are well coated.

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