I once knew a couple who, after every meal, dumped all of their leftover food down the drain. They’d pile up the dishes by the sink and use whatever handy utensil nearby to cast off the food. It didn’t matter what it was, how much it cost, how much time it took to make. Then, without blinking an eye, one of them turned on the garbage disposal. Away their meals went down the drain.
It always made me uncomfortable, if not somewhat angry, that they wasted so much food – especially when I’d made it. I was raised in a family where we saved every scrap to enjoy at the next meal. My mother’s approach to cooking was to prepare more than we could all eat because to her, leftovers were a bankable asset. They saved her time as there would be one less dish or meal to prepare in the future. After all, she is the woman who loves to cook industrial quantities of food and keeps two freezers in her home. (See "My Mother's Kitchen Quirks" for details!)
The other day, I realized that the food-wasting couple probably just didn’t know the potential of leftovers. They were not good cooks so they didn’t see the value of saving something for the next meal. They didn’t know what to do with the stuff and may not have even known how to reheat it well.
When I am cooking, I often think of how I’ll use it for another meal. That is, I’m already planning how I can repurpose leftovers.
A case in point is these corn cakes that I made for lunch the other day. Daniel Tran, whom I wrote about recently, gifted me a box of organic produce that included 4 large ears of corn. My husband and I boiled off the corn to grill and cut off kernels for a salad. We still had a good cup of corn.
While I was making that salad, I thought of Vietnamese corn and coconut fritters that I used to make. The recipe is in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and calls for uncooked corn and deep frying. But what if I just combined the cooked kernels with other leftover bits in the fridge – a couple slices of steak and wedges of grilled zucchini – to create a mixture that I’d panfry as little corn cakes?
From making the corn and coconut fritters, I knew that the mixture had to bind (stick together) so I applied the same kind of techniques: Pulse the kernels in the mini food processor and then mix in some flour, cornstarch, and egg. I needed some bright green zip and chopped up dill and cilantro. Then I added salt and pepper to taste.
Finally, I used two tablespoons to shape the mixture into little patties and panfried them in a skillet. I usually ate the Viet corn fritters with Sriracha hot sauce but decided to pair these with Thai sweet chile sauce for a change.
The result is what you see at the top of the page. While these corn cakes are not like the fritters of my past, they were totally tasty. All it takes to cook on the fly is applying some foundational food know-how. And you get that know-how from lots of cooking and eating.
Panfried Corn Cakes and Chile Sauce
This is a very flexible recipe. For example, if you are on a gluten-free diet, try substituting rice flour for the all-purpose flour. It should be fine. Vegetarians can just used leftover vegetables with the corn.
Makes 8 corn cakes to serve 2 as a light meal, 4 as a snack
1 brimming to heaping cup cooked corn kernels
1/3 to 1/2 cup of chopped cooked meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped herbs or green onion
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
Thai sweet chile sauce or Sriracha chile sauce
1. Put about 3/4 of the corn in a small food processor and pulse to create a coarse texture. Transfer to a bowl or container and add the remaining corn kernels.
2. Add the chopped protein or vegetables and herbs. Stir in the flour and cornstarch to coat, then add stir in the egg. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Use two tablespoons to scoop, shape and scoot off mounds of the corn mixture. Flatten them out a bit into disks that are about 1/2 inch thick. Fry gently, until browned on the underside, about 2 minutes. Don’t check till you can push the corn cake around on the skillet.
4. Transfer to a serving plate and offer one of the chile sauces on the side.
- My Mother's Kitchen Quirks
- Mom's obsessions with ice cream scoops and industrial cooking
- Leftover Panfried Noodles recipe