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.

Recipe ideas:
Potato Peel Crisps with Sour Cream
Oven Fried Potato Peelings

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.

Recipe ideas:
Broccoli Stem and Carrot Slaw
Baked Broccoli Chips
Sautéed Broccoli with Floret Vinaigrette

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.

Recipe ideas:
Roasted Cauliflower Leaves with Soy Sauce, Garlic, and Spring Onions
Funny Farm Stuffed Broccoli Leaves
Lemony Braised Broccoli Leaves and Stalk

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.)

Apple peels and cores: If you have to peel your fruit, you can still reap the benefits of the fibre and antioxidants in the peels. Cooks suggest using the peels to make apple jelly (along with the cores) or add them to smoothies. Make a cup of tea or add pureed peels to hot cereal.

Recipe ideas:
Apple Honey Tea
Apple Peel and Core Jelly
Apple Peel Twigs
Cinnamon Apple Syrup

Citrus peels: The zest has so many uses from flavouring baked goods to topping steamed vegetables, but you can enjoy the whole peel too. Experts suggest drying them to add to soups or braised meet, and they can be used to infuse oils and liqueurs.

If you've got a sweet tooth, try candied peels -- or preserve your rinds using sugar or salt. (You can use the flavoured sugar or salt in recipes too.)

Recipe ideas:
Candied Lemon Peel (can be adapted for other peels too)
Lemon Olive oil
What To Do With Citrus Peel on Local Kitchen Blog.

Watermelon rind: Trim away the green skin and you're left with a mild flavoured inside rather like cucumber. Some sources say you can use watermelon rind in both fruit and vegetable-based salads or cold soups. Many people are familiar with watermelon rind pickles, but you can use those rinds in relishes, smoothies, chutney, stir fry and blended drinks.

Recipe ideas:
Watermelon Rind Pickles
Serbian Slatko Lubenice (Watermelon Rind Jam)
Watermelonrind.com has a full list of ideas to try.

Watermelon seeds: Forget seed spitting contests! Roast them and toss them in a trail mix or salad, or add them to baked goods such as muffins. You can use them in many of the same ways as sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.

Recipe ideas:
Banana Watermelon Seed Muffins
Toasted Watermelon Seeds

Tips before you try it

- Keep food safety and hygiene in mind. For instance, you might not want to use corn cobs from which people have eaten -- cut off the kernels instead. Same goes for watermelon seeds and rinds -- collect them as you’re cutting up the fruit.

Also, whether or not you keep the peels you should still wash the fruit or vegetable. Contaminants from the outside can get inside via your peeler or knife.

- Do some research. If you go beyond the basics, make sure it's safe to eat wild plants or parts of the plant not normally found in stores. For example, some sources maintain tomato leaves are toxic while others say they're safe in recipes such as tomato sauce.

Also, there is some debate about the safety of consuming fruit pits. Many sources note you can boil peach or apricot pits to make tea or add flavour to sorbets, but use that inner kernel with caution.

- Adjust to taste. Just because you can eat it doesn't necessarily mean you and your family will enjoy it. Experts recommend tasting ingredients of unusual greens such as carrot tops or celery leaves before adding them to dishes.

Unfortunately, it's often necessary to throw out food or parts of food. (We hope you're able to compost it.)  Still, it's fun to expand our repertoire of cooking ideas, and who doesn't love another way to stretch the food budget?

Additional sources: EatatCube.com, The Kitchn.com, LiveStrong.com, Oprah.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ pilipphoto

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers