Darina Allen: Have a zero waste household this Christmas with these leftover ideas

Just a few days to go until the big Christmas Dinner. Stop — allow yourself to slow down for a few minutes. Ask yourself, on a scale of one to 10 how vital is it to dash to the shops once again to buy those last few things?

Darina Allen: Have a zero waste household this Christmas with these leftover ideas

I am challenging myself to ‘do’ presents rather than buy presents. It can be so fun, economically and frankly much more meaningful. Think of ‘a gift of a time’ – a pressie of a couple of babysitting sessions, an afternoon sowing seeds and gardening after Christmas, a-mid January pressie of a lamb or chicken casserole, a couple of litres of chunky winter warming soups.

Well, despite all my good advice to you on how to achieve as hassle free Christmas, I’ve still got several items on my own ‘to do’ lists that I haven’t had the satisfaction of crossing out as yet. Wrapping last minute presents often catches me out but this year many of the family and our lovely team here at Ballymaloe Cookery School are going to get a copy of my latest book One Pot Feeds All, which I hope will make their busy lives a little easier. I’ve already signed and wrapped them in brightly coloured tissue but there’s still lots more to be done. I’m getting lots of help from my older grandchildren.

It’s only five sleeps away from St Stephen’s or Boxing Day, when we can all relax and breathe a sigh of relief till next year but for me there’s still much fun to be had dreaming up delicious ways to use some odds and ends and bits and bobs lurking in my fridge and pantry.

Even when you are super organised, Christmas dinner is still quite a mission, but whipping up some recycled leftovers is a more chilled affair entirely. I love the improvisation and creative challenge of incorporating dollops of this and that into something entirely different. Think Asian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Mexican as well as traditional favourites.

So let’s think what you might have left over apart from the usual morsels of turkey, ham or goose, maybe plum pudding, stale bread, cranberries, sprouts….

Cranberries, you don’t have to fuss about, pop them into the freezer, they’ll keep for months but better still, remember them and throw a fistful into scones, a muffin mix or soda bread. Cranberry sauce keeps for weeks, maybe longer and will add oomph to a roast chicken or an apple tart.

Brussel sprout soup is absolutely delicious, quite the revelation actually.

Strip away every last morsel of turkey off the carcas, including the skin, there are so many delicious ways to enjoy any of those precious bits left over after the family have descended on the remains to make turkey and stuffing sandwiches. Make sure to make a batch or two of mayo for Christmas, I love to add some chopped watercress to slather over those turkey sandwiches.

I’ve included two recipes, Mexican Chilaquiles and Laksa. I also love to have some plum pudding left over to slice and cook gently in a little butter on a pan. If you have Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce, well, have that with it otherwise slake some sweetened whipped cream with Irish whiskey and put a generous dollop on top. By the way there’s no rush to use up the plum pudding it will keep perfectly well wrapped for several weeks at least.

What about all those miscellaneous root vegetables? Why not make one of my favourite things in the whole world — Picallilli. This recipe was given to me by Gary Masterson one of the senior lecturers at the Ballymaloe Cookery School — it’ll keep for months and will enhance so many meals and serve as a coveted present for your friends. Perhaps you have some croissants left over, why not try this Ham and Cheese Croissant Pudding — Serve it with a salad of green leaves and the last of the soft herbs lurking in the corner for your fridge.

So enjoy the satisfaction of emptying your fridge and pantry in a delicious way so there’s zero waste – one of our big new year resolutions.

Turkey and Coconut Laksa

    Serves 6-8 as a starter
  • 2 red chillies, chopped with seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 150g fresh coriander, leaves and stalks coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 1-2 limes
  • 50ml toasted sesame oil
  • 250g leftover turkey (cut into thin shreds)
  • 2 x 400ml tins coconut milk
  • Generous 700ml homemade chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp nam pla, fish sauce
  • 150g fine rice noodles
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour boiling water over the bowl of rice noodles and allow to soak until soft — 10 minutes approximately.

Drain and cut into 5cm lengths.

Put the chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and juice of one lime into a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste.

Thinly slice the cooked turkey meat at an angle (half cm wide) and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan and fry the chilli paste for three minutes. Add the whisked coconut milk and turkey or chicken stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.

Add the thinly shredded turkey, bring back to the boil and barely simmer for a further 3-4 minutes or until the turkey is warmed through. Add thefish sauce and taste and add more lime juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls, ladle in the hot soup and garnish with spring onion and coriander leaves.

Note: Do not allow the soup to boil once the chicken is added, otherwise the meat will be tough.

Chilaquiles Verdes o Rojos

    Serves 4
  • A delicious way to use up stale tortillas.
  • 6 –8 corn tortillas (stale is fine)
  • 12fl oz (350ml) Tomato and Chilli Sauce (see recipe)
  • 225ml chicken broth
  • 1 large chicken breast, freshly cooked and shredded with fingers
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Accompaniment
  • 4 tbsp sour cream
  • 8 tbsp crumbled queso fresco or grated mozzarella and cheddar mixed
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (optional), rinsed under cold water and drained
  • Fresh coriander leaves

  • Equipment
  • Ovenproof dish 20cm x 10 cm
  • Tomato and Chilli Sauce
  • 700g very ripe tomatoes, peeled or400g can good quality tomatoes, drained
  • Hot green chillies to taste (2 – 4 serrano chillies or 2 – 3 jalapeno chillies)
  • 50g onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp sunflower or peanut oil
  • Salt and sugar to taste

Cut the tortillas into eights. Dry them out in a moderate oven if they are moist, they are best stale and leathery for this dish.

Heat oil in a deep fry and cook the tortilla chips in batches until crisp and light golden. Drain on paper towels.

Just before serving, spread half the tortillas over the base of a deep- sided serving dish. Cover with finely shredded chicken, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Thin out the sauce with a little chicken broth if it is too thick. Put another layer of tortillas on top. Cover with the hot sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.

Heat through in the oven, 230C/gas mark 8 for 5-10 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately with sour cream, more grated cheese for sprinkling and fresh coriander leaves.

To make the Tomato and Chilli Sauce

Roughly chop the tomatoes and whizz in a blender or food processor.

Seed the chillies if you wish. Chop and add to the blender or processor along with the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan. When hot, add all the pureé at once and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. The pureé will cook into a thick, more orange-coloured sauce. Season with salt and if necessary add sugar. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Gary’s Piccalilli

Good with cheddar cheese, ham, oily fish, terrines, Paté, pork pies, cold meats. Works well with various vegetables and vinegars. Find your best combination.

  • 1 cauliflower (700g)
  • 3 large onions (600g)
  • 8 shallots (300g)
  • 25g salt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 300ml malt vinegar
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • Half to 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 350g castor sugar
  • 50g English mustard powder
  • 25g turmeric
  • 3-4 tbsp corn flour

Break or dice the cauliflower into small florets about 1 cm, chop the onions and shallots into small 1cm dice. Place all in colander over bowl and sprinkle with salt and leave 24 hours or minimum overnight. Rinse in cold water and dry.

Peel (optional) and deseed the cucumber and sprinkle with a little salt and leave to stand in sieve for 10-15 minutes, rinse, dry and add the cauliflower onion mix. Put the two vinegars and chili flakes into a pot and bring to a boil to infuse and then leave to cool. Strain if required to remove chili flakes.

Combine the sugar, mustard powder, turmeric and cornflour in a bowl and make a paste with 100ml of cooled vinegar mix, bring the remainingvinegar back to the boil and pour in the mustard paste and whisk till blended, bring back to boil and cook for three minutes then pour over the vegetables and mix well and pour into hots jars. Best left to mature for a few days but is good eaten straight away.

Will keep for at least a month refrigerated.

Cheese and Ham Croissant Pudding

    Serves 6 People
  • 6 large croissants
  • 125g cooked ham or bacon, thinly sliced
  • 250g gruyère and cheddar mixed, thinly sliced or grated
  • 2 -3 tsp of Dijon mustard

  • Savoury custard
  • 5 freerange eggs
  • 450mls cream
  • 225ml whole milk
  • 30g grated Parmesan
  • 30g gruyère
  • Sprig of flat leaf parsley

Cut the croissants crossways. Fill each one with a slice of ham, a slick of mustard and a generous layer of grated cheese, reserving half the cheese for adding to the ‘custard’ mix.

Butter an ovenproof gratin dish, arrange the croissant sandwiches in the base in a single layer. Whisk the eggs well with the milk and cream. Fold in half the grated cheese, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour evenly over the croissants. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or longer if you have time.

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. Sprinkle the mixed Parmesan and gruyère cheese on top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the ‘custard’ is set and the cheese is melted and golden on top. Flash under the grill if necessary.

Serve with a salad of organic leaves with lots of sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.

Hot Tips

Remember Maura Laverty

Full and Plenty was one of my favourite cookbooks in the 1960’s, I loved Maura Laverty’s prose and recipes.

A sparkling new play starring Bairbre Ni Chaoimh and Malachy McKenna, where trailblazing broadcaster, writer, agony aunt and celebrity chef, Maura Laverty, who was a household name in Ireland for three decades, is spirited back from the dead to appear on a surreal TV show called

This WAS Your Life, to demonstrate some of her cooking and reveal secrets and stories from her tumultuous life.

Showing in Ballymaloe Grainstore on Friday, February 28. Tickets are €22 at www.ballymaloegrainstore.com. Might be the perfect last minute gift idea.

Nollaig na mBan

Start to plan a get together for Nollaig na mBan – many hotels are offering special events plus a complimentary glass of fizz. A great excuse to catch up with female friends and family.

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up