No, it's not your imagination. Some food really does taste even better once you've liberated it from the fridge the next day. That's because chemical reactions keep happening even after cooking is complete, often blending or heightening existing flavors. So whether you'll be dining on your original dish as is or turning it into something new, here are 15 great leftovers to nosh on.
Pasta, especially standbys like baked ziti, seems to get better in the fridge. All those lovely, aromatic ingredients – onions, peppers, garlic – become even more flavorful after they've had time to mingle. Another bonus: The sauce gets a lot less runny. Add a splash of water to keep noodles moist during microwaving, and it's dinner (again).
Meatloaf benefits from the same aromatic ingredients that make pasta dishes great leftovers. It's also easy to give meatloaf a new, flavorful spin to keep those taste buds from getting bored: Make a sandwich, toss it into some pasta, use it in stuffed peppers, or throw it in a breakfast scramble.
Whatever regional favorite you prefer, chili depends on that perfect mix of spices -- cumin, cayenne, oregano, paprika, or whatever else you like to throw in-- but they taste better when they've had a chance to meld in the fridge. It can also easily be tossed on some nachos, on top of a baked potato, or into that pasta dish on the second go 'round.
Whether you're a margherita purist or prefer something more adventurous, pizza also has those lovely, aromatic ingredients getting even more pungent as the classic Italian pie chills in the fridge. But how it's reheated is crucial (that is, of course, if you're not a cold-pizza devotee). While convenient, zapping pizza in the microwave will make the crust rubbery. Use the oven or, even better, toss it in a covered skillet.
Curry is better the next day (and the day after that) because the extra post-cooking time allows those very distinct flavors -- think cumin, ginger, turmeric and coriander -- to mellow, making the curry a more harmonious dish. It's even possible to make it on the cheap in a slow cooker, saving money and time.
Whether turkey actually gets any better with age is open for debate. It's not as fatty as other meats, which gives it less ability to retain flavor, but it still has a spot on our list because it can be just about anything in its second life. Leftover turkey can be a base for delicious soup, fill a samosa, anchor a Bolognese, or hold its own in a tasty pot pie.
Step away from the microwave: Leftover fried chicken is undoubtedly best eaten cold. The crust might lose some crunch, but the flavor is more intense. If you just can't stomach it cold, Cook's Illustrated recommends letting the chicken sit out of the fridge for up to an hour, then baking it on a wire rack for best results.
Making a hearty stew is the perfect way to warm up as the weather cools, and ingredients like potatoes, onions, and carrots get more potent after absorbing the broth over time. The fat content in beef also helps sustain flavor. Give beef a more creative second life by tossing it into a casserole or pot pie.
Desserts that rely on bright, fruity flavors like cobblers and trifles only get better as they chill in the fridge, giving all those fruit juices more time to condense and intensify. For ease, make a tasty, apple-cinnamon cobbler in the slow cooker.
Barbecue lovers, rejoice: Pulled pork tends to hold up better in the refrigerator than other meats. Toss a big batch of it in the crockpot for hearty meals all week long. It can easily be the filling for a tasty quesadilla, round out a grilled cheese sandwich, or take a pizza from humdrum to memorable.
A savory soup can be even more delicious later on. It's also easy to add a fresh garnish to brighten up leftovers -- think green onions, croutons, nuts, or even a hard-boiled egg for some protein. Bonus: Leftover soup heats up well in the microwave, unlike other foods that are prone to drying out.
Cold sesame noodles can be their own delicious treat, and a saucy dish with plenty of ginger and garlic like General Tso's Chicken holds up well in the fridge. If the rice gets hard or chewy, it can still form the base for a batch of fried rice, as in this recipe from Bon Appetit Do skip the microwave and reheat takeout on the stove for best results.
No, those leftover tortillas and tortilla chips will never be the same – they'll just get soggy and stale the longer they stick around. But a lot of Mexican food makes great leftovers: taco meat, refried beans, enchilada fillings, pork from carnitas, and even the veggies and meat from fajitas. Throw them on top of nachos, in a casserole or on a sandwich.
Didn't scarf down all your pancakes? They're easy to heat and eat later, and luckily anything tastes good when it's slathered in maple syrup. Pancakes also freeze well, so whip up a huge batch or the next fewmonths. Consider separating them with a layer of wax paper to prevent sticking, then storing them in a resealable bag.
Egg salad (or tuna salad, macaroni salad, or any mayonnaise-based cold salad) seems to become even more flavorful the next day once the onion, celery, mustard, garlic and other pungent favorites blend and mellow. Leftover egg salad is also a terrific breakfast whensmeared on toast or a bagel.