Prep time: 10 min / Cooking time: 20 min / Total time: 30 min / Serves 4-6
Ever since I was a student working my way through school, I’ve challenged myself on a regular basis to invent dinner out of whatever we have on hand in the house. Not only does it save me the time, effort, and money needed to get myself and my pint-sized entourage into and out of the supermarket; but it also pushes me to think outside the box.
Last night was one of those nights. We’d recently returned from a week away visiting family, and I hadn’t had time to get to the store yet. And while our tiny garden was bursting with cucumbers and zucchini after a week of neglect, we needed a break from these seasonal favorites (having eaten them at least once a day out of my mom’s garden while visiting her).
I went hunting through the freezer for the very last half-pound of our Easter ham, but came up empty-handed. What I found instead was a half-pint of baked beans leftover from the Fourth of July, which I’d hastily stuffed into the freezer before we left town, and a small chunk of deli ham that had met a similar fate the month before. Searching through the veggie bin in our fridge, I came up with a 12-ounce bag of carrot sticks I’d gotten off the clearance pile at the store before our trip, and clearly forgotten to pack for snacks along the road during our travels. This discovery prompted me to check the plastic basket where we keep potatoes. Sure enough, there were a few stragglers there in an equally sorry state, starting to sprout after having been left alone for so long.
I first learned how to make hash from my mother, who learned it from her mother-in-law. It was a favorite “use up those leftovers” meal of my father. As one of five boys my grandmother raised through the Depression and World War II, he grew up on his share of suppertime inventions along these lines; so to him, ending the day with hash on the table was as much about comfort as it was about frugality. It’s always been a “comfort food” meal for me, too, and it’s one that my own kids and husband love just as much as I do. Best of all, the speedy prep and low-maintenance cooking time leave ample opportunity to set the table, make a salad, and get most of the cleanup done before supper even starts!
My Family’s Favorite Hash
The Basic Recipe:
- One large onion
- Approx. ½ lb. leftover ham, chicken, turkey, or other cooked meat (approx. 1-2 c.)
- 2-3 medium potatoes, raw or (leftover) cooked (mashed OK)
- 3-4 large carrots, raw or (leftover) cooked
- Cooking oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor, chop the meat and vegetables into little bits. (If the potatoes are raw, I use the grater disc; if they are already cooked, I use one of the chopping blades.) Heat 1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large flat skillet or electric frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped food to the frying pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir well to blend all ingredients. Using the back of a spatula, press the mixture into a large, flat mass in the pan. Cook approximately 10 minutes, then gently lift and flip large sections with a spatula (it should be starting to crust over a little on the bottom). Cook approximately 10 minutes more, or until any raw ingredients are fully cooked and the whole thing is heated through. Serve hot; promptly refrigerate any leftovers.
Mix it up:
- My family loves to eat this topped with ketchup. My father used to top it with his mother’s homemade tomato-and-onion sauce. Your family’s favorite condiment, whether it’s salsa or barbecue sauce or steak sauce, would probably be equally tasty.
- Last night, I skipped the onion. Also, as I noted above, since I didn’t have anything close to ½ lb. meat last night, I threw in some baked beans instead. (You could even use a can of kidney beans to stretch the protein, or two cans to make a vegetarian version.)
- While ham is my favorite meat to use, because it adds a bit of saltiness, you could also use chicken, turkey, or whatever you have on hand. When I was growing up, we most often had hash made with leftover venison or bits of pot roast.
- If you’re doing a Thanksgiving leftovers version, feel free to throw in the stuffing and mashed potatoes along with the Cuisinart-chopped turkey – cranberry sauce too, if you like! – and top with your leftover Thanksgiving gravy.
- This is one of those recipes that is designed to swallow up whatever leftovers you’ve got to throw at it, whether that’s leftover cooked peas, a half-cup of cooked rice or pasta, or a few branches of cooked broccoli. Get creative, and have fun!
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