Indian Cooking From Leftovers-Good Food, Bad Times

Green Mango sandwiches, a hasty tasty snack with an Indian touch by my mother who loved impovised meals from leftovers

Green Mango sandwiches

Indian Cooking with Leftovers: Green Mango Sandwiches

In a changing economy and environment, it helps to have always been creative with very little.
Every day at lunch break at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Delhi, India, hordes of ink-stained white-uniformed schoolgirls would surround me, salivating for a taste of my home-made lunch: aam ke achaar ke sandwiches.

What, you’ve never heard of green mango pickle sandwiches? Well, then you didn’t know my mother who was the queen of improvised meals. No cheese or tomatoes in the house – then how about raiding the tall earthen jar of homemade mango pickle marinated in mustard oil, redolent with anise and spice? The hard core of the mango pickle was discarded and the plump slices were placed on buttered bread, and turned into succulent sandwiches which left you weeping with spice-induced joy. Not something you’d find in your neighborhood deli!

I had never eaten this gourmet concoction before nor have I eaten it since – it was a creation of my mother who was both frugal and innovative in wasting nothing and conjuring up meals out of unlikely ingredients.

Sindhi Spinach Tikkis

Leftover cooked white rice was turned into nasi goring – Indonesian fried rice (mom had a sister in Djakarta who had taught her this) or crunchy rice croquettes. Left over Sindhi spinach (cooked with veggies and chana dal) was transformed into pan-fried flat cakes with the addition of a magical binding agent like besan or chickpea flour. A leftover chapatti would be heated, then torn up and mixed with sugar to become Kutti – a sweet treat for a crabby, tearful child.

Any leftover cooked vegetables like cauliflower or peas and potato curry were always pushed into new and unlikely roles. Aloo tikis or potato croquettes would have interesting mixtures of reserved dal or veggies; sometimes these were pan-fried, and sometimes dipped in egg and breadcrumbs to be transformed into crispy vegetable cutlets.

Another reborn treat was sayal mani, a Sindhi delicacy, which was always concocted out of leftover chapattis. Dipped and cooked in a rich mint and coriander sauce or in a tomato sauce fired with garlic and black mustard seeds, it was like getting a star crowd pleaser out of nothing. Who would have thought a day-old chapatti could be a treat?

But the one snack we loved the most was ‘jaffals’ or toasted sandwiches cooked in a jaffal maker over an open fire – the result was a crisp golden grilled sandwich which when cut into 2 triangles revealed the spicy filling of minced keema or the paneer-peas sabzi left over from last night’s dinner.

Indian Leftovers Cake

My mother’s showpiece, however, was made out of things which by themselves would have been regarded as quite boring and blah: leftover dal, a few spoonfuls of chutney, leftover vegetables and some mashed potatoes. Each was smeared on a slice of bread and the slices were carefully tied together with thread – the makeshift cake was covered with spiced mashed potato and then deep fried. When cut into slices, the golden cake had many colors and flavors and tasted great with ketchup.

I guess I inherited my mother’s frugal way of saving the earth (and moolah!) long before it became fashionable and even now take pleasure in fashioning cutlets, pullaos and sandwiches out of whatever I have left over from the last meal.

Whether it was due to her Hindu belief in ‘andata’, her experiences surviving the hardships of the Partition or just her frugal nature, food as a sustainer of life always received a lot of respect from my mother. Before we ate, she always said a silent prayer and took out a portion for the birds and the cows; and of course, the leftovers from a meal were never discarded. The next day they were always reincarnated and reborn as a fabulous new meal!


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  1. My favorite frugal recipe uses leftover dal to make paranthas. Deeelish – can be done with subzi (veggies) also.

  2. You are from CJM – Delhi!
    I stumbled on this article while looking for some Sindhi recipes, and it is the mention of my school that caught my attention.
    This article brought back such nice memories of school! I have bookmarked your site. Good work!

  3. Nalini Mehta on

    Hi Lavina,

    Yes I used to love my achaar ke sandwiches growing up in Delhi and taking it for lunch to Carmel Convent as well! These days living in California and loving nature’s bounty, I’ve started putting this key ingredient to even better use. This is a wonderful Beets and Avocado Ceviche salad with achaar as the dressing:

    Indo-Mexican Farm to Table Lunch

    Hope you get around to making it. I promise it’s delicious.

  4. Lavina Melwani on

    Well, start cooking extra so you can have the joy of eating leftovers! The food actually tastes better and you think an invisible chef has whipped up the meal for you.

  5. Lavina Melwani on

    Nava, I guess we Indians are a frugal bunch – and creative too! I recall a cookbook written by an Indian woman in which she used even the peels of various fruits and vegetables to make some really delicious dishes.

  6. It’s quite normal for us at home to convert cooked rice into many different types of fried rice, from the Chinese style and the spicy type. Roast chicken leaf over is added to fresh veges like tomatoes, salad leaves etc to make Chicken Sala.

  7. Lavina Melwani on

    Alka, thanks for sharing these innovative tips – recycling food is such a good, tasty idea

  8. Cool Mom too treated the leftover food almost the same way as yours, but hey, the makeshift, fried cake sounds delicious…a must try!
    I generally mix the leftover Bhugi dal (dry moong dal that we make for stuffing parathas) with some boiled veggies or simply with boiled potatoes and spice it up with few Indian herbs and bake till crisp.
    The leftover rice of course gets the avatar of either Garlic fried rice, or biryani or sometimes the simple Sindhi style Aur waara chaanwaran or the mustard seeds tempered rice.
    The stale bread slices makes excellent bread upma, the leftover mixed vegetable subzi fills the ‘wraps’,the leftover Dal is turned into pancakes after adding besan and some herbs.The curd that need to be consumed soon before it turns sour,is used to top up the fried or baked bread slices along with some boondi and chutney, and voila instant chaat is ready to savour.The Peda or mawa mithai, goes well in halwa (carrot or Dhoodhi), or sometimes even to make rabri.
    So many more things to share, but will take a break at this moment 🙂

  9. Kriti, can’t see myself actually trying to make achaar (pickles) here (or anywhere, to be honest!) and you do need raw green mangoes for the pickle.
    The shortcut is to buy a bottle of green mango pickle from the Indian stores – I did get a pretty good match to the remembered taste.
    I haven’t made Nasi Goring for years – maybe I’ll cook up a batch!

  10. Lavina – thanks a ton! The sad thing is I have to wait to get to India for the real good mangoes. Have you tried with mangoes from Mexico yet cause that’s all we get here. In the meantime one of my favorite dishes is Nasi Goring – I make it almost every week….

  11. Hi Frane, we’re on the same page where mothers are concerned! I try to use my leftovers in creative ways too – in fact I once bought an amazing little paperback cookbook in India which had only recipes for leftovers, including veggie skins which have a lot of nutrition. If I manage to find this I’ll share some of those offbeat recipes which taste great.

  12. Frane Bhattaharya on

    Really loved reading this, am definitely going to try the ‘aachar’ sandwiches…..reminded me of my mom, she made tasty crispy croquettes with leftover rice! There was always something to look forward to when I returned from school each day. And it is amazing how innovative one can get in the kitchen. Reading this has motivated me to try out something different, the kids tire easily and I have to be creative in the kitchen. Thanks Lavina for sharing!

  13. Lavina Melwani on

    At this time we all need tips on stretching the dollar, the yen and the ruppee! Would love posters to comment on their own ways to getting the most out of their money.

  14. That is one juicy blog!!!, after reading this I am nuking the fridge for leftovers, especially I would like to try the samwitch ! deliciaso!
    please provide us some tips on frugal living…:)