It’s dinner – not trash
There always seems to be a bag of vegetable trimmings in my freezer. I’ve been teased about my frugal and eco-friendly habit, but my motives aren’t always so altruistic: this “waste” makes fantastic soup stock.
I’m certainly not alone in this habit, as a recent article in the New York Times reports. In fact, some cooks have made using every inch of edible goodness into an art form. With rising food prices and a renewed interested in gardening and foraging, we’re becoming more aware of what we waste. Many of us discard parts of the plant, fruit or vegetable that are packed with nutrients like fibre and antioxidants.
Here are some ways you can use up what other people might throw out.
Overripe vegetables: No one will notice if the celery is a little limp or the carrots are a little soft after they’ve been lovingly simmered into a soup or stew. If you’re worried they’ll turn to mush, opt for a pureed or cream soup instead. (About.com has a good how-to article about pureed soups to get you started.)
Going-soft zucchini offers the perfect excuse to make zucchini muffins or bread, but grilled slices are always welcome in a hot sandwich. (If you don’t have a barbecue, an indoor grill will do — just brush the slices with a little oil or your favourite salad dressing.)
Vegetable peels and trimmings: Not sure what to do with carrot peels or the tough tops and bottoms of celery? Toss them in a freezer bag until you’re ready to make your next batch of soup stock. True, they’ll eventually end up in the compost heap — but you’ll have sucked all the nutritional value out of them first.
What about the leaves from celery and carrots? Depending on your tastes, experts say you can chop them up and use them as herbs in soups and salads.
Root vegetable peels: Like many vegetables, it often isn’t necessary to peel potatoes or sweet potatoes. (Depending on the variety, you can cook these starchy vegetables with the skin.) If you do peel your spuds, fry them up or bake them for a crispy snack.
Onion skins and outer layers: Like many fruits and veggies, onions have plenty of antioxidants in their skins. You can use those papery outer layers in homemade soup stock or stews. (You’ll want to discard them before serving, of course!)
Onion skins will also add a lovely golden colour to your stock — or you can use them as a natural dye in projects such as coloured Easter eggs.
Broccoli stems: Slice them up and add them to stir fry or cook on their own with some olive oil, garlic and seasonings. Enjoy them raw with dip, marinate them with your favourite dressing, or julienne them for broccoli slaw. They also make a tasty cream of broccoli soup while sparing the florets for the dinner table. If you find they’re a little tough, it’s okay to trim away the outside to get at that soft core.
Cauliflower and broccoli leaves: If you’re lucky enough to get a fresh cauliflower or broccoli from your garden or market, those greens can be cooked much in the same way as collards (they’re from the same family, after all). If you’ve got a good kale recipe, don’t be afraid to try a substitute.
What about the tougher parts? Try thinly slicing those greens and sautéing in a little olive oil or butter. (Same goes for the tough ribs of leafy greens such as kale and Swiss chard.) You can also use them in slow cooking dishes like stews — they’ll need plenty of time to soften up.
Corn cobs: After you’ve cut the kernels off, toss those cobs in your next batch or chicken, vegetable or chowder stock or simmer them separately to make a delicious Corn Cob Stock. Make the most of corn’s sweetness by adding some lemon juice and pectin for a Corn Cob Jelly. (Cooks say the jelly has a sweet flavour reminiscent of honey.)
Overripe fruits: Dare we say smoothies? Sauces and purees work on everything from ice cream to pancakes. Overripe fruits are also great for preserves and chutneys. If you’re short on time, try freezer jam and spare yourself the canning process. (Look for special pectin in stores — you can even find low sugar varieties.)