Julia Turshen Did the Impossible and Made Me Love My Leftovers

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Gentl & Hyers)

You may know Julia Turshen as the activist behind the Feed the Resistance cookbook, the co-author on a number of Gwyneth Paltrow’s books, or the cook you follow on Instagram for weeknight dinner inspiration (and pictures of snuggly dogs). But I know Julia as the woman who changed the way I think about leftovers.

In a world of recipes designed for four people, I’m almost always cooking for three (myself and two roommates) — consistently leaving me with an awkward amount left over. But I hate wasting food, so I’ll pack up that skimpy amount of rice, those three cubes of tofu, and the last bits of broccoli florets and promise to repurpose them. The furthest I ever get is the microwave.

In her new book, Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas For Reinventing Leftovers, Julia has managed to make me excited about leftovers — a sentence I never thought I’d say. The book is organized into seasonal, stress-free, affordable menus, each with accompanying suggestions on how to prep the meal ahead of time and repurpose any extra food. Her recipes, as we’ve come to expect from her, are approachable and inspired, and the smart leftover ideas even more so.

Leftover salad, in my kitchen, becomes a sad, soggy pile of greens. In Julia’s, it’s processed into pesto, baked into an herby Persian frittata, or sandwiched between thick slices of bread for a gooey grilled cheese. Leftover twice-baked potatoes are cooked down into a super-rich potato soup, or mashed into patties and pan-fried until crisp. She includes tips on how to spark new life into leftover takeout (including what to do with all those soy sauce packets), suggestions for repurposing odds and ends of snacks, and fresh new ideas for not-so-new produce (banana bread milkshake, anyone?).

I talked with Julia about her favorite recipes in the book, the moment she first fell in love with leftovers, and her advice for taking the stress out of entertaining.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

It’s Wednesday night, it’s late, and you need something to eat. What recipe do you cook from your book?

If I’m in a fun mood, it’s the Simplest + Best Nachos with a cold beer. But more likely it’s the Scrambled Eggs with Cilantro + Coconut Chutney with some warm pita bread — I love breakfast for dinner.

This is just as much a book about entertaining as it is about leftovers. What’s your biggest piece of advice for taking the stress out of entertaining?

To remember that cooking for someone is such an act of love and you don’t have to do everything for it to be meaningful, nor does it have to be complicated to be good. The whole point of entertaining is to be together and to be together comfortably. Food is just a vehicle to gathering. One of the best meals I had recently with friends was a platter of sliced and salted tomatoes, a few halved ripe avocados, a stack of toasted bread, and container of store-bought hummus.

It took all of five minutes and then we were all sitting around the table enjoying each other’s company. It really can be that fast and easy.

Your book helps solve the constant struggle of “But what do I serve with it?” Do you have any tips on how to choose dishes that complement one another? What are some super-easy sides you can pull together out of nothing to go with dinner?

I am a little obsessed with figuring out what goes with what. That’s how you tell a story in a meal. One tip is that the more involved one dish is, the simpler everything else can be. You don’t want things on your table to compete with each other. Complement, not compete!

Some super-easy sides include baby arugula dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt; or sliced tomatoes sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese and drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar; or roasted broccoli; or frozen french fries baked and tossed with Old Bay (yum!).

When did you first discover that leftovers had so much more potential than a trip to the microwave? Are there any dishes better left as is?

I’ve always loved leftovers. When I was growing up, my parents worked full time since the day I was born, so we didn’t have family dinner regularly except for Saturday nights — and the best part of those dinners was actually lunch on Sunday when my dad would make the most amazing sandwiches with whatever was left over. So that memory of one meaningful meal extending into another has always stayed with me.

No matter how creative you get, in my opinion, nothing beats cold pizza, lasagna, or fried chicken out of the fridge — no need to mess with those.

You have a “No Stress Thanksgiving” menu in your book. If you could invite three people you admire to your Thanksgiving meal, who would they be?

If you mean [admire] throughout time, I would say my maternal grandparents who I never met, and Edna Lewis. If you mean just from a distance, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Serena Williams have an open invitation to my home.

Above all, what do you hope people will take away from this book?

That cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating and it’s the easiest way to gather people and create memories.

Cook the Book! We’re Sharing 3 Recipes from Now & Again