As every home cook knows, using fresh vegetables and fruits leaves you with a pile of produce “scraps” and nothing to do with them. Many of us have been conditioned to think of these as waste, but wasting produce scraps is wasting flavor, nutrients and the potential to create a truly amazing and nourishing dish.
Your stalks, stems, roots, and peels aren’t scraps, but essential building blocks of a dish that can create layers of texture and flavor. Learning how to cook with them prolongs the perceived life of fruits and veggies and stretches every penny spent on fresh produce. Of course, there’s the benefit of diverting these food from landfills (the National Resource Defense Council reported that most homes throw away $1,500 worth of food each year), but moreover, it teaches us to value our food, from seed to stem and create sustainable habits in the process.
Here are some easy and tasty ways to use up produce scraps in your home.
When you’re preparing root veggies, there’s always an abundance of the root tops and bottoms kicking around the kitchen. Don’t compost or toss them into the garbage! Those are still delicious and edible parts of the vegetable, and can easily be used on its own or incorporated into a dish. This is a super simple way to start getting used to saving veggie scraps.
Store carrots, radishes and turnips in a designated reusable freezer bag or container for soups and broths—that way they are always on hand when you need them.
Add any root veggie tops or bottom to your juices, smoothies, or sauces.
Blitz a handful in a food processor or blender for veggie burgers.
It might seem like a faux pas, but consider cooking the whole root vegetable as a beautiful reminder, right on the plate, of where our food comes from.
We’re so used to discarding the tough stalks or stems of most vegetables. Take broccoli, for instance, which has infinite ways to be cooked and added to a variety of dishes. There’s really no reason why you can’t eat most stalks or stems, aside from their bitter or bland flavor, and tough texture. However, a little peeling, chopping and cooking softens them up beautifully and makes them a worthy component of a flavorful meal.
This one comes in handy if you often find yourself with unused, wilted herbs! Use the stems of herbs like parsley, cilantro, mint, and even a hardy rosemary, instead of just picking the leaves off. They infuse flavor and add a satisfying crunch when used as a garnish, can be blended into pesto, salsa, sauces, and even muddled into a tasty cocktail!
When removing the stems of kale or swiss chard, set them aside and save them for a yummy side dish. These can be sliced and boiled for ten minutes (or sauteéd, if you prefer) until tender, then shocked in a bowl of ice to prevent overcooking. Then, add to pasta, stir-fry, frittatas, and more for a healthy boost of flavor.
Tough broccoli stems can be peeled and sliced to reveal a tender inner layer, which is easy to cook, or added to a food processor, raw, and used to bulk up a salad. When cooking or charring them, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices work wonders in making this a prime side dish to have in your arsenal.
*Pro-tip: Many stems taste great when cooked, baked or charred, and topped with crumbled cheeses, nuts, and spices. Give it a whirl and get creative next time you’ve got some!
The sweetest way to use up produce scraps is with the pits and peels from fresh summer fruit. Plus, a tip to go from zero to hero when you’re on the verge of losing precious, overripe fruits.
The skin of citrus fruits are bursting with flavor and aromatics, not to mention, natural essential oils! Toss citrus peels into a pot of boiling water, along with sponges and brushes to sanitize and disinfect them. It also makes your home smell amazing.
If you’ve zested or juiced a bunch of citrus fruits, save the hearts (the inner white part and the peel) to turn them into a flavor-packed citrus vinegar that can be added to salad dressings, used as a vinaigrette, in sauces and more. This beginner-friendly recipe is from chef Derek Wagner: Submerge 4-8 citrus hearts in white distilled vinegar and let sit for at least 2 weeks. Then, strain it into a pot and add ¾ cup of sugar. Slowly simmer it for three minutes and add salt to taste. Once it’s cool, pour it into a jar and refrigerate.
Here’s a fun one to jazz up a cocktail: pits and peels can be crushed and soaked to create an infused vodka, gin, or any other spirit. Allow it to sit for a week or two to absorb the flavor, then strain through a cheesecloth, fine mesh sieve, or coffee filter and transfer to a glass bottle or mason jar.
*Pro-tip: Save your overripe fruits by storing them in a reusable freezer bag. They might seem unappealing on the counter, but when frozen are perfect for smoothies, or served with hot oatmeal.
Based in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, Katherine Oakes Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering others to live a more conscious and connected life. She is a contributing writer for The Good Trade, Wayward Collective and pens articles on outdoor travel as the East Coast correspondent at Bearfoot Theory; Katherine is also the former web editor of Pure Green Magazine. Offline, you can find her on a yoga mat or in pursuit of adventure in the wilds of Maine and the neighboring White Mountains.