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Make the most of leftovers with 5 easy, low-waste recipes for Earth Day

Coconut rice, wilted greens quesadillas, cheesy chicken quiche, crispy rice cakes and aquafaba chocolate mousse give new life to leftover ingredients.
/ Source: TODAY

Not quite sure what to do with that leftover takeout rice? Looking for an original way to use up some extra rotisserie chicken? In honor of Earth Month, the TODAY Table chefs are doing their part to reduce kitchen waste by using up their favorite leftovers.

On TODAY, Priyanka Naik joins the anchors in 1A to make hearty cauliflower "steaks" with a bright gremolata and kushumbri. Then, she's calling upon a traditional South Indian dish that's not only nourishing and easy to take on the go (hello, room temperature deliciousness!) but also a great way to use up leftover rice. Then, she showcases an easy hack to use up leftover greens that are on their way out: a melty, wilted green quesadilla with creamy corn and carrot esquites.

At 11 a.m. ET, Naik joins Kevin Curry and Elena Besser in the TODAY All Day kitchen to whip up three tasty dishes that turn leftover ingredients into brand-new meals. Curry makes the most of extra rotisserie chicken in a spinach and feta quiche. Then Besser crisps up leftover rice to serve with smoked salmon, eggs and avocado. And Naik uses every bit of canned beans by incorporating chickpea water into a decadent chocolate mousse.

It's easy to be sustainable and budget-savvy when there's so many great ways to cook up your veggies!

I’m going to be honest, there aren’t too many South Indian dishes that involve cauliflower. But I love cauliflower and we make a really yummy sautéed cauliflower dish at home that it so simple, yet full of dynamic flavor: florets sautéed with onions, turmeric, our family’s red chili masala, black mustard seeds and fresh coriander.

My spice-rubbed cauliflower steaks combine a few elements from a dish I grew up eating, but of course with a Priyanka-style twist that's also low waste (no leaves left behind here!). It combines hearty cauliflower cooked to perfection topped with a crunchy gremolata and koshumbri. Normally served as a side complementary to meals, this tomato coconut koshumbri adds the perfect level of freshness and sweetness to our spicy cauliflower steaks.

If I could name a quintessential South Indian dish, it would 100% be yogurt rice. There is not a Hindu temple in the South or South Indian household that does not have yogurt rice on the menu. It’s a complete balance of carbohydrates, proteins, spices and, most importantly, it's nourishing and satisfying.

When I was younger, my family and I went on quite a few road trips and I always remember my Maa packing a tiffin and one of the dishes was yogurt rice. And I bet we weren’t the only Indian family to do that. This dish is easy to make, easy to pack and travels perfectly.

My coconut yogurt rice is vegan (obviously), but it goes one step further because it incorporates leftover rice! I don't waste food in my house and I strive to extend that to your home, too. This dish tastes better with leftover rice because the starches in the rice become more resistant, which means that flavors will stick to the grains better than when they're freshly cooked.

This quesadilla is the answer to your over-ripened produce woes. Filled with a mixture of sautéed greens that are on their way out (you know, the ones that have been in the fridge for just a little too long), this recipe is versatile and can use up spinach, kale, arugula or a mixture. The long leafy greens on top of carrots (aka carrot tops) work beautifully here because they have a bit of a lemony flavor, which will combine nicely with other greens, garlic and serrano chilis.

Meanwhile, the actual carrots will be used in the roasted corn and carrot esquites. I roast diced carrots and small cobs of corn in the oven with some olive oil and savory, warm spices until charred. Then the veggies are tossed together in a dressing mixture that mimics the mouthwatering taste of Mexican street corn.

As much as I love very spicy food, I love very decadent desserts. It's almost like the Yin to my Yang. I don't feel complete at the end of the day without something decadent and sweet. The one thing I have missed as a vegan chef are chocolate-based desserts, since most are made with eggs and dairy. Until I discovered the power of aquafaba. Who knew that a legume can be the basis of one of my favorite desserts?! Well, it is. Aquafaba is chickpea water from a can and when whipped up, mimics a whipped egg white or heavy cream. Which makes it perfect for chocolate mousse. This Amaretto Mousse touches my heart in two ways, my sustainability heart and my sweet-sided heart.

Kevin Curry's chicken, spinach and feta quiche

Quiche is such a great dish for using up the last bits and pieces of food in the fridge. Here, leftover rotisserie chicken, some leafy greens, sun-dried tomatoes and feta add big, fresh flavor to a simple egg mixture. Using a store-bought pastry crust really cuts down on time, too, but with a few simple tricks, you can make a quiche worthy of a bakery display.

Elena Besser's crispy rice cakes

Crispy Rice Cakes

Crispy Rice Cakes

Elena Besser

Whenever I order takeout, I always find that I have tons of rice leftover. I get excited because it means lunch the next day is going to be amazing. Crispy rice is one of my favorite ways to breathe new life into leftovers. All it takes is a little patience and technique to make it amazing. I like to top my rice cakes with perfectly soft-boiled eggs, ripe avocado and salty smoked salmon.