11 Creative Ways To Use Up Leftover Chinese Food

Chinese food tends to come in generous portions, which creates a lot of leftovers. After you're filled to the brim, there's a good chance that you'll find boxes of food that are barely dented — pints of rice and takeout containers nearly overflowing with popular dishes like General Tso's chicken, Mongolian beef, or vegetable lo mein. As tempting as it is to throw your leftovers in the microwave for round two of your Chinese food, the truth is that you can easily transform them into a completely new meal.

With minimal effort and just a handful of basic ingredients, those leftovers can achieve transcendence, morphing into a completely different cuisine that we'd dare say might be even more delicious than its original form. With just a few common staples like eggs, herbs, tortillas, broth, and fresh greens, your leftovers can undergo a complete transformation that's refreshing and delicious. So if you have some leftover Chinese food on hand and you feel the kitchen calling you, we have some tasty and creative ideas that are well worth the effort.

1. Turn Mongolian beef into cheesesteak

Tender and complex, Mongolian beef is often a favorite menu item at Chinese restaurants. Interestingly, despite its name, this dish doesn't really have any true ties to Mongolia. In fact, it's believed to have been created in Taiwan, where chefs gave the dish its Mongolian moniker in an effort to give the dish an exotic appeal to diners. Mongolian beef is typically made with flank steak marinated in a savory sauce that's equally sweet and spicy. The beef is often stir-fried with onions and peppers, making the leftovers perfect to repurpose into cheesesteak.

Most importantly, you need a hoagie. Give the hoagie a light toast to add some extra texture to the cheesesteak. Once your bread is toasted, make sure that you have some cheese ready. American cheese is a great choice, since it melts so beautifully and will add a good amount of saltiness to the beef to complement the sauce from the stir-fry. But really, you could use a variety of cheeses that you happen to have on hand in the fridge.

Reheat your leftover Mongolian beef in a pan with onions and peppers. Once everything is warmed up and sizzling, add some cheese to the pan and let it melt. When the cheese is melted, mix everything in the pan and make sure the melted cheese has coated everything. At this point, you can transfer the cheesesteak filling into your toasted hoagie and dig in.

2. Whip up a quesadilla with General Tso's

General Tso's chicken is a popular menu item at American-style Chinese restaurants — and for good reason. The dish consists of bite-sized pieces of breaded and fried chicken tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce that has a mild kick of heat. General Tso's is often garnished with fresh green onions and sesame seeds. The end result is deeply flavorful thanks to the sauce, which is typically made with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, hoisin, rice vinegar, sugar, and chili pepper flakes. A mixture of cornstarch and water is usually added to the sauce to thicken it up into a glaze-like consistency that clings to the fried chicken.

Because General Tso's is made with boneless pieces of chicken, the leftovers can easily be used in various ways, including a chicken quesadilla. Try dicing the chicken into smaller pieces, then baking it in the oven until it's warmed through and crispy again. Once it's out of the oven, toss the chicken in hot sauce for some extra flavor — buffalo sauce works great in this context. Then warm up some butter and cooking oil in a skillet, lay down a tortilla, and add some cheese. When the cheese starts to melt, add your chicken. Fold the tortilla over and continue cooking until both sizes are a light golden brown. Serve with sour cream and salsa.

3. Turn chicken with broccoli into pesto pasta

Chicken and broccoli is a stir-fry favorite. The combination of earthy greens with tender chicken is a mouthwatering mix that pairs perfectly with rice. But there's no reason that you can't think outside of the box and use these leftovers to make some pasta instead. Chicken and broccoli stir-fry tends to be made with a good amount of garlic, so most of the flavor is already there.

Boil up some pasta — and be sure to reserve some of the starchy pasta water. That water is a great way to thicken up your sauce later on. As far as the type of pasta you should use here, just about anything will work. We'd recommend fusilli here, since the pesto sauce and garlic can easily stick to the spirals. Warm up your chicken and broccoli in a wok or a high-walled saucepan, then add some store-bought pesto and mix it in. Add some of your reserved pasta water and stir until you've reached the right consistency. Garnish with fresh basil and some extra parmesan cheese.

4. Make pork into a barbecue sandwich

Chinese restaurants often have an assortment of pork dishes on their menus — sweet and sour pork, pork lo mein, and pork fried rice are just a few. While all of these could technically work in a barbecue pork sandwich, it would require plucking out the little pieces of pork from other ingredients. The ideal scenario is if you happen to have some leftover pork belly.

Chinese braised pork belly is often coated with a reddish-brown sauce made with ingredients like Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger, and scallions. The end result is sticky, tender, and flavorful. Because the pork is so succulent with a hint of sweetness, the leftovers can be easily converted into barbecue pork sandwiches. Simply roast your leftover pork belly in a cast iron skillet until it's hot, or bake in the oven. When it's warmed through, brush it with some store-bought barbecue sauce and cook it a little longer until it's caramelized on the surface of the pork. Add your barbecue pork belly to a bun and top with some creamy coleslaw. If all goes well, you'll be surprised at how quickly your Chinese pork belly has captured the flavors of the Deep South.

5. Turn garlic shrimp into scampi

Garlic shrimp is another dish often on the menu at Chinese restaurants. The shrimp is usually marinated in raw garlic and chili powder, then tossed in various sauces while being stir-fried. If you have leftover garlic shrimp from a Chinese restaurant, you can easily turn it into a pasta dish like garlic shrimp scampi.

First, quickly wash the shrimp under cold water to rinse off any sauce. Then heat up butter and olive oil in a pan and lightly saute minced garlic, black pepper, red chili flakes, and shallots until everything is aromatic. Deglaze the pan with white wine or broth and reduce by ½. Add your shrimp, then add some fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley. Toss the shrimp well in the sauce to coat, then lower the heat and be sure not to overcook — the shrimp is apt to get too tough since it's already been cooked. Add cooked pasta such as spaghetti, linguine, or angel hair pasta to the pan and coat it in the sauce. Pair this with a fresh salad and some garlic bread for a very well-rounded meal.

6. Turn your veggies into an omelet

There's a good chance that you'll have some leftover vegetables after ordering Chinese food. Whether you order vegetable lo mein, vegetable fried rice, or General Tso's chicken (which often comes with steamed broccoli), there's a wide range of cooked vegetables that you may have on hand. Mushrooms, green onions, and peppers are all commonly used in Chinese food — and also happen to make an excellent filling for an omelet.

The beauty of this, of course, is that your veggies are already cooked. All you need to do here is reheat them in a non-stick skillet with some butter and season with a little salt and pepper. Beat a few eggs until they're smooth and well-mixed, then pour over your vegetables. If you have some cheese on hand, sprinkle a little in before you fold your omelet. If making an omelet is a bit too advanced for your particular skill set, you can always just turn your veggies into scrambled eggs instead. The point is that you can easily turn those leftover vegetables into a completely new dish just by cracking a few fresh eggs, and the results and outstanding.

7. Make some spicy peanut sauce for your tofu

It's fairly common to see a variety of tofu dishes at Chinese restaurants. Some restaurants will even let you substitute tofu in meat dishes, which creates even more options for vegetarians or anyone who is cutting back on meat. If you find yourself with some leftover tofu, there are a number of ways that you can change it up in a delicious way. Whipping up an easy peanut sauce is a wonderful way to put that tofu to good use.

If you've never made spicy peanut sauce before, the good news is that it's super simple and only requires a few common ingredients. First, add hot water to some peanut butter to thin it out. Then add a few splashes of soy sauce, sriracha, lime juice, and rice vinegar. Stir in some fresh minced garlic, light brown sugar, and chili pepper flakes. If you have some red curry paste, add a spoonful for a little extra flavor. Season to taste. This spicy peanut sauce is good on everything from tofu and chicken to vegetables and shrimp, making it a highly versatile sauce to have up your sleeve.

8. Turn your lo mein into a frittata

Noodle lovers tend to be big fans of lo mein at Chinese restaurants. Lo mein comes in plenty of variations on the menu, including beef, chicken, shrimp, pork, and vegetable. While it may be tempting to throw those noodles into the microwave when hunger strikes, the truth is that lo mein noodles tend to get a bit mushy during round two. One way to combat this is to include these noodles in a baked dish like a quick and easy frittata recipe.

Frittatas are basically just baked omelets in pie form. Start by whisking up your eggs with a little salt — a decent-sized frittata will probably require around 6-8 eggs for a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Turn on your oven to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then add some butter to your skillet and warm up your lo mein on the stovetop. When the noodles have been warmed up, pour over your egg mixture. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the eggs are set. The noodles will get crispy from the cast iron, and the eggs will be nice and creamy.

9. Make ginger chicken noodle soup

Ginger chicken is a dish that can be found on many Chinese restaurant menus. As its name suggests, the dish is made with fresh ginger and chicken. It also tends to feature scallions. All of these ingredients make leftover ginger chicken a great candidate for some chicken noodle soup.

Add a little cooking oil to the bottom of a pot, then set your burner to medium heat. Once the oil is warm enough to sizzle, add your leftover ginger chicken. If you want some extra flavor, feel free to add some more fresh ginger, onions, garlic, or diced carrots. Once the chicken and vegetables are warmed through, add some chicken stock and egg noodles. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When the egg noodles are soft and tender, ladle into a bowl and enjoy a fresh bowl of ginger chicken noodle soup. If you don't have any noodles in stock, you can always make some rice instead if you have that on hand. If you're all out of rice too, have this with some crackers or eat as is. For some herbaceousness, top your soup with some fresh cilantro.

10. Turn your leftover rice into fried rice

Leftover rice from Chinese takeout presents the perfect opportunity to make a new batch of fried rice. It's also a great time to raid your fridge and find other ingredients that might need to be cleared out soon. Those mushrooms and onions that only have a day or two left of shelf-life? They have now found a new purpose. That leftover grilled chicken hiding in the shadows of your fridge? Rescue it from the dark recesses of abandonment and usher it into the light for some action.

All you really have to do here is chop up all of your ingredients and have a sauce ready. Ideally, you have a wok to stir-fry this in, but if you don't, you can always use a big skillet or a high-walled saucepan. Get your pan nice and hot, then add some oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add your veggies and meats, but be careful not to crowd the pan, since this will essentially sauce everything to steam and get soggy. Once your ingredients have some texture, dump in your leftover rice and fold it into the vegetables and whatever else you're cooking with. For the sauce, a simple mix of soy sauce, chili flakes, honey, ginger, and fresh garlic will do. Add the sauce and stir-fry until everything is well-coated, then serve in a bowl. Garnish with fresh scallions, and if you really want to go the extra mile, top it with a fried egg.

11. Turn bourbon chicken into a salad

Bourbon chicken is another top-tier Chinese food dish that's very popular. Unlike some other Chinese dishes, bourbon chicken usually isn't breaded and fried. Instead, it typically features dark meat chicken that's stir-fried and glazed with a blend that includes soy sauce, bourbon, sugar, vinegar, and garlic. Sometimes a splash of apple juice enters the mix to give the chicken a touch of fruity sweetness.

Bourbon chicken is savory and sweet. It has some nice textural contrast, too, since the outside has a little bit of char and the inside is tender and succulent. While it's true that it pairs very nicely with steamed rice, this chicken goes great on a bed of fresh greens. Make a salad with ingredients like baby spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, mandarin oranges, red onions, nuts, and seeds. Then top your salad with your leftover bourbon chicken and your favorite Asian-style salad dressing. Not only is this salad a delicious way to use up your leftover chicken, but it's also much more nutritious than eating it with a starch like rice or noodles.