Reinventing Leftovers


I am a big fan of leftovers. When I was still working, I often packed leftovers for lunch. I can easily eat something I really like several days in a row without getting bored. And let’s face it, having at least one “leftover night” for dinner makes life much easier. I love to cook, but it’s so nice to take a break and just reheat previous meals; plus, everyone gets to have something they enjoyed from the past couple of days.


Not my chicken…but you get the idea.

Now that I stay home with the kids, I still eat leftovers for lunch. That plus the fact that I have two growing kids means we don’t have as much food leftover after meals. However, sometimes I overestimate how hungry my family will be (or how much they will like the meal I make), and I’m left with a bunch of something hanging out in my fridge. This happened recently when we barbequed chicken and pork chops one Sunday evening with my in-laws. The pork chops didn’t last long, but we had cooked so much chicken that I knew we weren’t going to eat it all before it went bad. So I decided to turn that leftover chicken into something new.

This is not a terribly new idea, but I think it’s a valuable one to keep in mind when you have leftover food in the fridge that you’d prefer not to waste, and that no one is particularly interested in eating. Finding a way to recycle those leftovers into a new meal (hopefully one that the family likes better) keeps everyone happy and allows you to maintain your food budget as well as your palate. I like leftovers as they were originally made, but sometimes it is far more interesting to create something new that is both tasty and satisfying.

Note: this works best when your original meal uses fairly neutral or versatile flavors like sea salt, pepper, garlic, onions, etc. I’m not sure I could make anything “new” from lamb curry…but why would I want to?

Here’s what I made: “Leftover Chicken” Tacos in Jicama Shells

DSC05867I like jicama shells because they are light and add a crunchy texture to the meal. I first learned about making taco shells with jicama from Simone Shifnadel at Zenbelly, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I usually make them with carnitas, but this leftover chicken filling was delicious, too. Jicama is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, so it pairs nicely with just about any filling you’d find in a taco: chicken, pork, beef, seafood, etc.

Other ideas for leftover chicken:

  • Make a breakfast hash with sweet potatoes, bell peppers and onions, or any other vegetable and top with a sunny-side-up egg.
  • Make a frittata. Heat the chicken and any other ingredients you like in a cast iron skillet with some lard, ghee, or coconut oil, then mix in 8-10 beaten eggs. Let cook for a few minutes on the stovetop and then transfer to an oven preheated to broil until the eggs are set. Slice it up and serve for breakfast or dinner.
  • Make soup! Heat up some bone broth and add onions, celery, carrots. When the vegetables are halfway cooked through, add the chicken, some sea salt and pepper, and any other spices you would like. Cook until the chicken is softened (maybe 15-20 minutes).
  • Make a casserole: enchiladas, lasagna, or some other kind of throw-it-all-together-and-bake meal.
  • Save the bones! If you are not planning to make bone broth in the next day or two, put the leftover bones in a freezer bag and freeze them for later use. When you’re ready to make broth, just remove them from the freezer, add them to your crockpot, and you will have some mighty tasty broth.

And now for the recipe…


“Leftover Chicken” Tacos in Jicama Shells

  • 4-6 leftover chicken pieces (preferably from roasted or grilled/barbequed chicken legs and thighs), deboned and shredded or chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp. pastured lard or other cooking fat
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 ear grilled/barbequed corn (optional–I had some, so I threw it in)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2-1 tsp. ground chili powder
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup bone broth or water to deglaze the pan
  • jicama taco shells (see instructions below)

Optional toppings:

  • avocado, sliced or chopped
  • salsa (find one without sugar or other additives/preservatives or make your own); I used salsa verde
  • shredded cheese
  • cilantro, chopped
  • anything else you like to put on tacos

To cook the chicken:

  1. Heat a large stainless or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the lard and saute the onions until they are soft. Add in the garlic for one minute, then add in the chicken and corn.
  2. Add some bone broth or water if the onions and chicken are sticking to the pan. Scrape any food bits off the bottom and mix into the chicken.
  3. Add the spices (cumin, chili powder, sea salt, and pepper) and cook until the chicken is heated through, the liquid is mostly cooked off, and the flavors combine (3-5 minutes).

To make the jicama shells:

  1. Use a mandoline to thinly slice a peeled jicama. You may need to adjust the thickness a few times until you find the right setting; your jicama shells need to be thick enough to hold the taco ingredients, but thin enough to bend easily and not break.
  2. If you don’t have a mandoline, you can try to slice the jicama with a knife from Knifedge, but I’ve never been able to slice it thinly enough to bend without breaking. In that case, slice it as thinly as you can and use it as a “chip” to scoop up the chicken mixture. Think of it as jicama nachos!

To assemble the tacos:

  1. Place a few jicama shells on a plate. I probably ate five for dinner the night I made these–they’re pretty small.
  2. Scoop a small amount of the hot chicken mixture into the center of each shell.
  3. Add any toppings you want.
  4. Fold up the sides and take a bite! Enjoy!


This post is linked to Real Food Wednesday, Party Wave WednesdayTasty Traditions, Fight Back Fridays, The Paleo Rodeo.

BBQ meat image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /


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