LEFTOVER PICNIC SALADS: THE PERFECT BASE FOR SOUPS & CHILIS

Summer picnics and parties leave the fridge full of leftovers, and after a couple days, you're done eating that caprese pasta salad. Give these side dishes a second life as soup or chili. While mayonnaise heavy pasta and potato salads won't work, Mexican, Greek, and Italian inspired quinoa, pasta, and rice salads are perfect.

tips & tools

  • Freeze salad: While freezing would not be a an option for eating cold salad leftovers, it's fine for later use in soup. If you're not going to be making soup any time soon, get that salad into the freezer. It's better to do that right away instead of leaving it linger in the fridge for a week. I like to freeze leftovers in jumbo muffin tins. Just fill tins, freeze overnight, remove pucks, and store in a freezer bag until ready to use.
Frozen quinoa salad

Frozen quinoa salad

 
  • What kind of salad works? No lettuce based or mayonnaise based salads. Otherwise, a lot of common picnic salads are perfect. A caprese pasta salad or Mediterranean orzo salad works in a minestrone or in kale & tomato soup. Small amounts of cheese are fine, but larger mozzarella globs may need picked out and can be added to individual serving bowls. Quinoa and Mexican rice salads are perfect for green chili, red chili, or even lentil soup. For my soup, I had leftover quinoa salad with black beans, white beans, tomato, corn, carrot, avocado, and cucumber. The dressing was acidic, vinegar and oil based. I paired it with green chili. Even though avocado and cucumber aren't typically served warm, they simply melted into the rich broth as the quinoa thickened the stew, and the corn added a pop of sweetness. Just think about what's in the salad and what soup flavors it would work with.
Quinoa salad: Perfect for  green chili

Quinoa salad: Perfect for green chili

 
  • How much? If you have a kitchen scale, swapping salad for soup ingredients is really easy. Just weigh how much salad you have and swap for an equal weight of soup ingredients. For example, I had about 2 pounds of quinoa salad. My green chili recipe calls for 2 pounds of vegetables and 1 pound of cooked beans- 3 pounds of veggies and beans overall. So, I used up the entire 2 pounds of quinoa salad and supplemented with another 1/2 pound of veggies and 1/2 pound of beans to get 3 pounds. Soup is really forgiving, and a kitchen scale makes substitutions even easier.
Weighing frozen pucks of quinoa salad

Weighing frozen pucks of quinoa salad

 
  • Do I need to adjust the seasoning in the soup recipe? Be mindful of what is in your salad. If your pasta salad is heavy on the garlic, or your Mexican rice salad is heavy on the chili, then yes, adjust the seasonings to taste. But you may not need to make any adjustments at all. My quinoa salad was lightly seasoned and herbed. I was a little more careful when adding salt because the salad was already adding some salt to the brew, but otherwise, I didn't adjust any other seasonings, garlic, or onions. I added everything as per my recipe for green chili. When in doubt, taste as you go and add seasonings as needed. Garlic, chilies, onions, and salt are the most offensive if they are rampant.
  • When to add my salad to the soup? Rice and quinoa salads can added with the liquid ingredients (stock and tomatoes) and left to simmer per the recipe (usually 30-60 minutes). For pastas, however, add them during the last 10 to 15 minutes of simmering. You don't want the pasta to get mushy. If your pasta salad is frozen, melt the frozen pasta in the stew, bring back to a simmer, and then continue simmering for about 10 minutes. You just want to make sure that all the ingredients are hot before serving.
  • Freeze soup: And if you find yourself with more soup than what you'll eat in a few days, go ahead and freeze it. Check out my method for freezing soup. Frozen soup is easy to microwave and is perfect for quick lunches and dinners.
Leftover Quinoa Salad in  Green Chili

Leftover Quinoa Salad in Green Chili