A recipe calls for a smidgen of an ingredient, leaving you with a lot of excess. What do you do with what's left? You read these tips.  

By Matthew A. Moore
February 24, 2020
Advertisement
Credit: Stephen Zeigler/Getty Images

Every single home cook has encountered the following scenario: A recipe calls for a small amount of a certain ingredient. So you go to the grocery, where they only sell larger quantities of the item. You go home, you chop up the thing, you use what little bit the recipe calls for...and now you have a whole lot of an ingredient you're not sure what to do with. Inevitably, the excess ends up in the trash can.

Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

It happens. But before you go and toss the excess in the trash just because you're unsure how to use it, consult the helpful tips below. We sourced them directly from the Cooking Light Diet Community, where members of the Cooking Light Diet meal-planning service help each other solve problems like this all the time. 

Here are 8 ways you can use up leftover ingredients before throwing them away. Your planet—and your wallet—will thank you.

Go With Dry Herbs

You know the drill: A recipe calls for a teeny amount of cilantro, basil, thyme, or some other herb. You'll buy one of those little packages of fresh herbs, cut up a little bit, and then end up tossing the rest after it browns and wilts in your crisper drawer. So what about buying dried herbs instead? No, they don't taste as fresh, but you can put the surplus back in the pantry for the next time you make that recipe. Alternatively, you could start a mini herb garden and grow your own, clipping off whatever you need when you need it.

Use the Scraps to Grow More

Credit: krblokhin/Getty Images

Instead of throwing away vegetable scraps, consider using them to grow more vegetables. Cooking Light Diet member Patricia Reidy Lawrence said she places her excess green onions in water, like flowers in a vase, and they'll keep growing, giving her more for later. There are actually several different types of vegetables you can regrow from scraps, so keep that in mind the next time you're using one of these in a recipe.

Hakuna Frittata It

Give us your tomato scraps, your leftover onions, your tiny bits of gourmet cheeses—all the things that would make for a tasty scramble. Seriously, your extra bits of herbs and veggies can make a regular breakfast (or brinner) a superb one, courtesy of leftover shallots, herbs, and whatever else is languishing at the bottom of your produce drawer.

Freezing: It's Your Friend

The freezer is there for a reason, friends. Use it! Whether it's tomato paste (more on that in a minute), tortillas, onions, ginger root, meats, or even cheeses, you can tuck those excess ingredients into your freezer and keep them there until you need them. Pro tip: Keep a running list of excess freezer items on your fridge so you'll know exactly what's been in there and for how long. That way you can A) Limit your food waste, and B) Use up the leftovers and save yourself money on the next grocery run.

Purchase Differently

Credit: lucentius/Getty Images

Think outside your normal ingredient box: If a recipe calls for canned tomato paste, consider buying the tubed variety instead. According to multiple Cooking Light Diet members, it tastes the same as the canned stuff but keeps infinitely longer since you can just screw the cap back on and stick the rest in the freezer. Instead of buying a whole squash or vegetable when you only need X amount, consider buying precut. The yield will likely be less than purchasing several whole veggies/fruits, and if there are any scraps left you can throw them into that frittata you're slowly building.

Stone Soup It Up

If you're not familiar with the folk tale, Stone Soup tells of a stranger who wanders into an unfriendly town and, little by little, brings the townspeople together over the promise of "stone soup:" a hodgepodge of ingredients the stranger gets the townsfolk to contribute. The end result is a delicious soup made all the better by the ingredients each curious person adds to the pot. In essence, you can do the same with your leftover ingredients. Whether you choose to just dump your excess scraps into a soup recipe you're already making (after all, a little extra herb or veggie won't hurt) or start with a stock base and concoct a build-your-own soup recipe, you're saving money by not throwing away ingredients you normally would. Just don't forget the stone.

Use It Up

As alluded to in the previous tip, if a recipe calls for 3/4 cup of onion and you find yourself with an extra couple tablespoons, just throw it in the pot! Using a little bit more of a certain ingredient (disregard where spices are involved) shouldn't throw the yield completely off kilter, nor will it drastically change the flavor of the recipe. So the next time you're stuck with scraps, just throw them in and be done with it.

Ice Cube it (Make Today a Good Day)

Credit: annick vanderschelden photograph/Getty Images

Did you know that ice cube trays can be used to make more than just ice? Crazy, right? It's the little things, folks... But seriously, any and all excess liquids—broths, stocks, brines—can be portioned out into ice cube trays and stuck in the freezer. Cooking Light Diet member Nikki Morgan says all her leftover non-solids go into ice cube trays, and we're with her in believing it's a great way to minimize your food waste and keep ingredients for when you'll need them again.