6 Versatile Dinner Recipes Helping You Clean Out the Fridge

We all have the best of intentions when buying fresh produce, meats, and cheeses at the supermarket, but it can be hard to use all those ingredients before they spoil. It’s never a good feeling throwing out the products that have gone bad in your fridge — luckily, there are recipes out there to help you avoid that guilt in the future.

Clean out the fridge by incorporating your perishable ingredients into these 6 highly adaptable recipes. You’ll wind up with a delicious meal, to boot!

1. Japanese Pancake

Okonomiyaki, Japanese Cabbage Pancake

Japanese pancakes | iStock.com

Closet Cooking blogger Kevin Lynch notes that the Japanese term “okonomi” translates to “ask you like” or “what you want,” meaning the dish is adaptable to the cook’s tastes and on-hand ingredients. You’ll start off with several key ingredients to make a savory flour, egg, and cabbage batter. You can add anything you’d like to this warm Japanese pancake: onions, carrots, cucumbers, apples, cheeses, meats, and more! This okonomiyaki recipe takes about 40 minutes to make and yields 2 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¾ cup dashi or water
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ of a cabbage, about 2 to 3 cups packed, shredded
  • 1 carrot,grated
  • 1 small zucchini, grated
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 3 slices bacon
  • Okonomiyaki sauce or Worcestershire sauce, to taste
  • Mayonnaise to taste
  • Green onions to taste, sliced

Directions: Mix the flour, dashi, egg, cabbage, carrot, zucchini, and green onion in a large bowl.

Heat some oil in pan. Pour in mixture and top with the bacon slices. Cook on medium heat until golden brown on both sides, about 5 to 15 minutes per side. Top with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and green onion slices.

2. Lentil Stew

Lentil Stew, soup

Lentil stew | iStock.com

Sara Kate Gillingham of The Kitchn shares this recipe for a “fridge-clearing” lentil soup. This highly adaptable recipe can be made to suit any tastes or diets. Add any veggies, meats, or herbs you’d like to create an easy, one-of-a-kind stew to serve the family. Vegetarian dieters can feel free to omit the meat option and use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock. This lentil stew recipe serves 10 to 12 people.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion (of any color), chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ pound chopped bacon, pancetta or ham, optional
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½-inch to 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups dried green lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 to 6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups chopped vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, etc.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice

Toppings:

  • Yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche
  • Chopped herbs
  • Chopped onion

DirectionsIn a large soup pot (6-quart or larger), heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion 1 to 2 minutes until softened, then add the garlic, cumin and turmeric. Stir to coat. Add the bacon. Add a teaspoon or so of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Cook until bacon browns a bit, another minute or so. Add the ginger, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and lentils. Pour over enough stock to cover. Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low heat, cover the pot, and simmer.

If using tomatoes or hard vegetables, like carrots, add them after 15 minutes. If adding medium-hard vegetables like cauliflower or summer squash, add after 20 minutes. If adding leafy greens, add them when lentils are almost cooked through.

Cook a total of 30 to 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to stir the pot. Soup is done when lentils and vegetables are tender, but not falling apart. If soup needs more liquid at any time, stir in a cup or two. When everything is cooked through, add the vinegar and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed. Pull out the bay leaves and discard.

For a smoother soup, blend some or all of it in a blender or with an immersion blender. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir. After blending, it may need more liquid. It also will probably need more liquid after cooling and reheated as leftovers. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, chopped onion and/or herbs.

3. Easy Frittata

frittata, casserole, eggs

Frittata | iStock.com

Egg-based frittatas are famously adaptable, and this simple recipe from the Joy of Cooking is no different. Add flavor and texture to the dish with your choice of cheeses, meats, and vegetables from the fridge. Add potatoes, onions, and peppers for a tortilla española-style dish, or try a florentine-type dish using mixed greens and Parmesan. This easy frittata recipe yields 6 generous servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 5 slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch wide strips (or sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, etc.)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (or a few minced shallots, or green onions, etc.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 12 eggs
  • ¾ cup whole milk, buttermilk, or half-and-half
  • Cheese, in some form, in whatever quantity you prefer

DirectionsPreheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add bacon. Sauté until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat and add onion to skillet. Sauté until translucent.

Add garlic, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, whole milk, and cheese. Combine the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture and pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until nicely browned and slightly puffy on top, about 5 minutes. Garnish with garlic scrapes.

4. “Everything But The Kitchen Sink” Spaghetti

Spaghetti in Colander

Spaghetti | iStock.com

If you find yourself craving a pasta dish in which to incorporate those leftover ingredients, try this “everything but the kitchen sink” spaghetti recipe from Herbivoracious. The recipe combines eggplant, asparagus, onion, spices, cheese, and more to culminate in a spectacularly flavorful meal. Feel free to mix in as many other ingredients as you see fit! The recipe yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound high-quality spaghetti noodles
  • ½ cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), or walnuts, hazelnuts or pine nuts
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick slabs
  • 1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced on a diagonal, about ¼-inch thick
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons roasted garlic and onion jam
  • 1 chipotle chili pepper, mashed
  • ½ cup white wine or dry vermouth
  • 1 cup of jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and sliced
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Zest of 1 lemon, plus juice of ½ lemon
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ pound smoked mozzarella, rind removed, cubed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt

DirectionsBring a large pot of water to a rolling boil with 2 tablespoons of salt.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over a medium-low flame. Add the pepitas and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Reserve.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and raise heat to medium-high. Add the eggplant in a single layer. Cook for 5 minutes on one side; flip and season with salt. Cook until thoroughly tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove and reserve, dicing when cool enough to handle.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, along with the asparagus and 1 teaspoon of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally until crisp-tender and bright green. Don’t overcook as it will get heated more later.

For the sauce: Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, along with the onion, garlic and rosemary. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and onion jam, chipotle pepper, wine and lemon juice. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally.

For the pasta: Drop noodles in boiling water and cook about 5 minutes. When the pasta is nearly done, but definitely still al dente, reserve one cup of the cooking water and drain the rest. Return the pasta to the pot.

Add the asparagus, eggplant and roasted red peppers back to the sauté pan and stir. Scrape the contents of the sauté pan, getting all the flavorful bits, on top of the pasta and turn the heat back to medium-low. Toss, and then add some or all of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen the consistency. Because the pasta water has starch, salt, and sweetness, it will thin the sauce without greatly diluting the flavors. Taste and adjust for salt.

Finally, add the basil leaves, tearing as you go, the lemon zest, the smoked mozzarella, several aggressive grinds of fresh black pepper, and the pepitas. Give it all one final toss, and serve it forth in heated bowls.

5. Classic Meatloaf

Meatloaf, bell peppers

Meatloaf | iStock.com

The great thing about the American staple meatloaf is that it can be customized and enhanced with just about any savory ingredients you have on hand. Blogger Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes incorporates ground sausage, celery, onion, carrot, and more in her own distinctive take on the dish. Try adding wilted kale or spinach for a nutritional boost in each bite. This Classic Meatloaf recipe takes an hour and 10 minutes to make and yields 4 to 6 servings, plus leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • ½ cup of finely chopped green onion, including the green onion greens
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 teaspoon salt (1½ teaspoons if using Italian sausage)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ⅔ cup ketchup, divided ⅓ and ⅓
  • 1½ pounds of ground beef
  • ¾ pound of spicy ground pork sausage or Italian sausage
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, beaten slightly
  • ⅓ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, with a rack in the middle of the oven.

Melt the butter in a large, thick-bottomed skillet, on medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the finely chopped onions, celery, carrot, green onions, and garlic to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Cover the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, until the carrots are tender, stirring every so often. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and ⅓ cup of ketchup. Cook for another minute and remove from heat to cool.

Once the vegetables have cooled to the touch, place them in a large bowl with the ground beef, Italian sausage, eggs, breadcrumbs, and parsley. Use your hands to mix them together until everything is evenly distributed.

Place the meatloaf mixture into a loaf pan (either 4-by-8 or 5-by-9) and press to make compact in the pan. Or you can form a free-standing loaf onto a rimmed baking pan. Cover the meatloaf mixture with the rest of the ketchup.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the meatloaf reads 155 degrees Fahrenheit Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Then use a metal spatula to gently lift the meatloaf out of the loaf pan to a serving plate.

6. Hearty Chili

Chili

Chili | iStock.com

Spoon Fork Bacon shares this recipe for a delicious, savory chili. Add whatever ingredients you have on hand to create a hearty meal that friends and family won’t be able to resist. Blogger Jenny Park also points out that you can modify existing ingredients to suit what you have on hand: switch out short-ribs for extra ground beef, throw in any aging vegetables you need to use up, and toss in that last bit of cheese before it goes bad. This hearty chili recipe serves 10 to 14 people.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1½ pounds boneless short-ribs trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ pounds pork sausage (spicy or mild), removed from their casings
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • 2 banana peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, seeded and diced
  • 2 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • 2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • 2½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1½ tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1½ (6-ounce) cans tomato paste (about ⅔ to ¾ cup)
  • 12 ounces apricot ale (or flavor of your choice)
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels and milk removed from cob
  • 1 disc Mexican chocolate, broken into chunks
  • 1 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, with juices
  • 1 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, with juices
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained

Garnish:

  • 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar

Directions: Place a large pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. Season short ribs with salt and pepper and brown cubes, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drain into a colander, nesting in a mixing bowl.

Add ground beef and sausage to pot and brown, about 3 minutes. Make sure to leave bite sized chunks of the ground mixture. Pour mixture over short ribs and allow excess liquid to drain. Set aside.

Add remaining oil to pan and add onion and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add peppers season with salt and pepper and continue to sauté, 5 to 6 minutes.

Pour drained meats back into the pot, add spices and sauté for 5 minutes. Add tomato puree and tomato paste and stir. Reduce heat to medium, add ale and stock and simmer for 1 hour. Add corn, Mexican chocolate and beans into the pot. Stir and adjust seasonings. Allow chili to simmer for another 30 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve.

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