HOW TO: upcycle old salad

Miss Thrifty8 March 5, 2014

new uses for old salad

You know when you have leftover salad and it sits in a bowl in the fridge, and when you peer into it a day or two later, what greets you isn’t altogether… appetising? The lettuce is limp and perhaps a little brown at the edges; the tomatoes manage to look both withered and squooshy. As for the cucumber: let’s not even go there.

I know a lot of people will simply chuck the contents of that bowl into the composter or (shhh) the bin.  But not in this house, where the words food waste are dirrrrrrrty. Here, we eat that salad.

Now, I don’t serve it as salad – let’s face it, nobody really wants it. Instead, I upcycle. This is what I do.

Note: this only works if your salad is past its best, but still technically edible. If you have sludge and sog in that bowl, give over and compost it.


using up old lettuce

Oh, you are going to love this if you try it! It’s a great way to use up lettuce that has gone limp or brown around the edges.

This is my thrifty version of a recipe found in Nigella’s How to Eat, which is itself a classic (and simple) French side dish. I call it French Peas. (Zero marks for imagination; full marks for accuracy.)  Traditionally this recipe is made with petits pois but really, the regular (and cheaper) garden peas are just as good.

French Peas

40g butter or marg

500g frozen peas

1 tsp sugar

Leftover lettuce, chopped roughly

Leftover spring onions, chopped


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan.

2. Add all the ingredients except for the sugar. Stir until everything is glossy and buttery.

3. Add the sugar along with 50ml boiling water. Put a lid on  the pan and cook gently for 20 minutes.

4. Season and serve.

This dish will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and can be reheated with a little extra butter and water.

If you cook with lettuce (which I do: check me out), you will know that certain lettuces lend themselves to this better than others. Little Gems are always good, but the recipe above also works well with Iceburg and Round Lettuce, which tend to be the cheapest lettuces on the supermarket shelf. I haven’t made it with more expensive varieties, so please report back if you do.

Incidentally, if you buy mixed salad rather than rounds of lettuce, check out my recipe for toasted radicchio. Radicchio is the thick, red-purple leaf used to bulk out salad bags. It looks great but tastes bitter, so is often left over.



use up old tomatoes

When tomatoes get soft, get saucing. I oven-roast them with some garlic,  olive oil and herbs from the garden for a quick and delicious pasta sauce. This works particularly well with cherry tomatoes, because of their naturally sweet flavour, but really any tomatoes will work.

This is the thrifty version of a dish I used to cook back in the ol’ pre-thrifty days, which involved anointing each cherry tomato half with posh mozzarella prior to roasting. Sadly you can’t do this with budget mozzarella, which tends to melt into a sticky gunk at the bottom of the roasting tray. Turns out you don’t need it though…

I have previously posted the full recipe here, so do have a bite look. It’s very simple and makes a perfect weeknight supper, because the chunks of tomato roast in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Oh, and it makes the kitchen smell amazing.



use up old cucumber

I must admit, I don’t buy cucumber so often now – and when I do, I buy the half-cucumber rather than the whole. The reason? As my fridge gets older, it has been getting colder. This is ok for the most part, but the dratted cucumber always freezes after a couple of days. Defrosted cucumber is soggy and not salad bowl-compatible. So I’ve become an expert in finding new uses for soggy cucumber slices.

My favourite one is to put that old cucumber to work out in the garden, as a powerful pest repellent. This was a tip sent to me by my Frugal Grandma in 2010, and I blogged about it here. (Actually, reading that post again after all this time, I note that my fridge has been merrily freezing unsuspecting cucumbers for at least the past four years. Hurrumph.)

This one is simple: if a plant is under attack from unseen beasties, scatter chopped cucumber beneath the plant’s leaves.  Frugal Grandma said that by doing so, she was able to rehabilitate her ailing primrose and polyanthus plants.

Another way to fend off beasties with a humble cucumber, which I featured in a more recent post about cutting food waste, is to turn it into a slug deterrent. Place slices of cucumber as close to the besieged plant as you can, on an aluminium pie case or piece of tin foil. The cucumber reacts with the aluminium to create an undetectable odour that is Slug Kryptonite.

If you have other ways to use up old salad, please share them in the comments below as I would love to hear them – and so, I am sure, would all the other Thrifties reading this blog. Thank you!

Image credits: Trinity (lettuce); TonalLuminosity (cucumber).

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8 Responses to “HOW TO: upcycle old salad

Tracey belcher says:

I love these ideas especially the lettuce one – thank you so much for sharing – Errrr – can’t wait for my lettuce to start to turn – not quite the idea!

March 5, 2014 at 10:53 am

Hannah Ruth says:

This is great – I love cooked lettuce and I’ll be trying some of these tips. I find that cucumber seems to last better outside the fridge in our house. Usually it will be ok for a good few days at room temperature rather than in the fridge where it often goes funny.

March 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Wonderful advice! I am all about reducing food waste and avoiding chemicals to rid pests if I can do so. Had to pin this to my pinboards so other folks could benefit. 🙂

March 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Wonderthrift says:

Harhaha, upcycling salad. Cool.
Also, you can make a great pesto using old lettuce leaves like rocket/ crazy greens instead of basil. It is yum!

March 7, 2014 at 1:09 am

beth306 says:

Throw salad into stir frys – even radishes and cucumber are fine hot.
or wilt lettuce or mixed leaves into curry or risotto instead of spinach

March 15, 2014 at 4:59 pm

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