Sara Dickerman’s New Book Unlocks the Secrets to Repurposing Leftovers

A Q&A with one of Seattle's favorite food writers

By Lena Beck


March 15, 2019

Veteran of Seattle restaurants, nationally published food writer and a contributor and former food editor for Seattle magazine, Sara Dickerman put out her first cookbook in 2015—Bon Apetit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse was an instant hit for showing readers how to eat well without sacrificing taste. Her new book, Secrets of Great Second Meals, is heavily influenced by her time in professional kitchens, but is designed for the home cook—a series of recipes and tips to guide you away from boring leftovers forever. We asked Dickerman a few questions about the book:

“Leftovers” doesn’t always usually carry a positive connotation—why write a cookbook about them?
We spend so much time and money finding great ingredients to cook with and then lose track of them once they’ve been cooked; why not just treat cooked food like another inspiring ingredient? It’s better for the environment, and it’s a great jumping off point for the next delicious meal.

For you, what’s the difference in approach between a good first meal and a good second meal?
I try to cook simply the first time around: not without good seasoning, but I keep things kind of plain—a great pot of beans, a lovely braised pork shoulder, a whole mess of grilled vegetables. Then the second time, I embellish more with bolder seasonings, textures and techniques.

How can a non-chef begin cultivating the creativity and planning skills necessary for some of these recipes?
My book has a chapter on really reliable simple dishes that have become staples in my everyday life. Then, in the later chapters, which are focused on second meal techniques, the recipes are meant to be adaptable: you might start by making a recipe for say, tomato ginger curry with extra roast chicken, just like the recipe dictates, but once you learn how to make the base, you could then start playing, using it for leftover veggies or tofu: whatever you have. I provide suggestions for those variations but also encourage readers to play!

Do you see this as being more relevant to single people, who have more leftovers generally, or families? 
I’d say a resounding “and” rather than “or!” Recipes almost always make too much food for solo dwellers, and so the book can help them find new fun ways to reframe their extras. For families, learning to improvise with what’s on hand can keep everyone eating well even when there’s no time for another grocery run.    

How quickly do I have to use my leftovers after their first meal? Is there anything I shouldn’t try to reuse?
I usually eat fish or seafood within a day of cooking, other meat and veggies are good for a little longer, more like 3-4 days. There’s a page in my book with more specific details, but it’s important to cultivate your own powers of observation: you want to eat leftover food when it still looks, smells, and tastes good! As for something not to reuse? Don’t reuse something that hasn’t been stored properly—if it was out at room temperature all day at a picnic or something like that. Try to get your extra food in the fridge soon after serving it.

Can I still make my dinner taste fresh even if it’s based from leftovers?
Provided they are good leftovers, it’s easy to make good food taste good again. What it often needs is a little zing: something really bright flavor-wise, like chilies, citrus, fresh herbs, or creamy bright dairy products like crème fraiche or feta. And new textural elements can help too: some crisp shaved radish slices, a scattering of sesame seeds, or some crispy croutons (made from leftover bread!)

What is one ingredient you recommend everyone keep in their kitchen?
One ingredient is hard. I’ve got to say, I hope this book helps people appreciate beans more though. They are inexpensive and they provide the start to so many great new meals too. I love cooking dried beans from scratch—they are the best, but I also always have a few of my favorite canned varieties—like Bioitalia borlottis—around too, just in case of a need for a last minute meal.

Favorite second meal you’ve made recently?
I have been under the weather, and all I want to eat are soups right now. My creamy lemon chicken soup—a variation on Greek Avgolemono—is such a great way to restyle leftover rotisserie chicken.

What’s the next project you plan to work on? 
I’m working on a book with Renee Erickson, and so excited about it.

Photography by Peachy Juban-Notter

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