Leftovers? Try Tacos!

Tacos are one of the best and easiest uses for leftovers.

Just about any protein can be used in a taco. That is why I recommend keeping taco shells in your pantry. If you prefer something more along the lines of a burrito, you can use corn or flour tortillas; I suggest hard taco shells mainly because they have a longer shelf life.

The two key things you need to make tacos out of leftovers are fajita or taco seasoning and salsa. After that, it’s just a matter of choosing your toppings: lettuce, cheese, chopped tomatoes, green onion, jarred chilies, guacamole, sour cream–anything goes really. (I’d add fresh cilantro to the list but I know that’s an ingredient that few people tend to have on hand for a last-minute dinner. If you do have it, you might want to add it too.)

As to what you can repurpose into tacos, here is a list of the proteins I’ve used: store-bought rotisserie chicken, turkey, pulled pork, steak, and refried beans.  You could even mash up leftover burgers and turn them into taco filling. It sounds unappetizing, but it’s just meat and once it’s reheated, seasoned, stuffed into a taco shell, and loaded with toppings, no one will know it’s day-old burgers. (Read to the end of this post for tips on using fish and tofu.)

There is no exact recipe to follow. For refried beans, you really just need to reheat and serve since the spices tend to be pretty compatible with tacos already. You may find your pulled pork can be reheated and served as-is too, but if you want to spice it up a bit you can follow the general instructions below. 

The basic process is pretty much like making fajitas or a standard taco filling and it’s entirely customizable.

  1. If you like onions and peppers in your taco filling, chop them first. 
  2. Heat some oil in a large skillet. Saute the onions and peppers until they just start to soften.
  3. Add the protein and as much taco seasoning as you like. You can toss in a bit of salsa too to add a little moisture. Stir fry everything until the protein is heated through. 
  4. Heat your taco shells according to package directions. 
  5. Scoop your filling into tacos and serve with all the desired toppings. 

What About Fish?

Fish tacos are undeniably delicious when done well. I’ve not done fish tacos with leftovers very often, but it can work, depending on what your leftover fish was seasoned with. If it was lemon and dill, it might not taste too great with chili powder and other taco spices added. But if you started with something more neutral or spicy, you can try adding the fish to tacos. You just have to be gentle with the cooking process because fish is so tender.

We typically eat only salmon or trout so I have no real experience with white fish. I find that with salmon and trout, a light saute with some taco seasoning is enough to give the fish the flavour you might be seeking. The toppings for fish tacos tend to be different than for standard tacos too, so plan on fresh avocado instead of heavy dairy like cheese or sour cream, and citrus rather than tomato for the acidic punch that finishes the dish. I’d say fresh cilantro is also essential for fish tacos, but I know that is a rather divisive topic given how intensely some people hate cilantro. 

What About Tofu or Meat Substitutes?

Yes, you can use tofu and some other meat substitutes in a taco. Ground “meat” is the easiest. Just follow the instructions above. A word of caution: I find the taste of some of this soy “meat” really unpleasant and strong enough that it can overpower even a highly seasoned dish like tacos, so be prepared to experiment to get the right balance of flavours.  

Tofu is a little trickier, especially if you’re new to using it. Silken or soft tofu has a lot of moisture so you have to cook it for a while to get it to dry up enough for a taco. Firm tofu is easier to work with for this meal, but you have to mash it first then follow the instructions above. Tofu is extremely bland so you may want to load on a fair amount of seasoning to give it some flavour. And don’t just let it sit on the surface expecting it to seep into the tofu; work it in really well.

Taco image by Mariia Sultanova | Dreamstime.

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