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These recipe ideas will help you reduce food waste in delicious new ways.

By Marie Viljoen
May 04, 2020
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cooked Swiss chard stems in rainbow colors with lemon slices
Credit: Johnny Miller

Weekly produce shopping, farmers' market visits, CSA-boxes, and kitchen gardening all have something in common (apart from fresh produce, of course!): They generate a lot of vegetable detritus. But the roots, stems, skins, and leaves that pile up on our chopping blocks are culinary treats in camouflage, waiting to be recognized as bona fide ingredients.

From discarded carrot tops to tomato skins and the rooty heels of leeks, learn how to re-imagine the food that is so often discarded. As we make the most of these overlooked titbits, the rewards for repurposing vegetable scraps are threefold: We are well fed, we generate less food waste, and we enjoy extra wiggle room in our household budgets.

Stems and Stalks

Don't toss your beet stems! Chopped finely, ruby beet stems are a hearty addition to risotto (which turns pink) or serve as a delicious base for a nourishing and comforting soup (just add beans or barley!). You can also cook them gently in butter or olive oil for an unctuous toast topping.

Broccoli stalks shouldn't be overlooked, either. The peeled and substantial stems are delicious steamed and dressed with peppery olive oil or luscious walnut oil. We also like them mandolined raw into pliable green coins. They make zesty quick pickles, and they're also excellent raw batons for dipping into a warm anchovy and garlic bath. To be converted instantly to stem-eating, try this easy Asian-inflected salad that's ready in just five minutes. Like broccoli, cauliflower stalks and hearts deliver an addictive crunch. Dunk chunks into your favorite herbed oil or cream cheese dip. Dice or rice them finely in a food processor to sauté or stir-fry, or use them as the base for a smooth faux-risotto where they will stand in for lookalike rice.

The cruciferous goodness that is a cabbage core is dismissed as being tough, but shredded or shaved cabbage cores are crisply appealing in slaws and vegetable carpaccios. Toss with a classic and sharp mayonnaise and vinegar combination or top with soft goats cheese after a 10-minute brining in a seasoned 50:50 vinegar and water bath.

Take a second look at the photo above—once you see how beautiful the chard stems look, you'll never toss them again. Cook them in salted boiling water for about four minutes, then shock in an ice bath. Dry the stems and toss in your favorite dressing (we love the Lemon Citronette that's part of the Market Salad with Poached Chicken). To intensify the rainbow experience pair colorful chard with kaleidoscopic carrots. Simply boil the carrots a little longer—about seven minutes—before cloaking them in dressing. Or enjoy the chard stems hot: Cook the blanched midribs on an oiled grill until floppily tender; then drench in a warm anchovy and vinegar bath.

Another stem not to skip? Kale. While leafy kale greens are delicious in salads, kale stems are great, too. Chop yours very finely, then add to soup or simply dress raw with a punchy vinaigrette that features lemon zest and Parmesan. But avoid adding kale (and any brassicas) to basic broths as they tend to dominate the overall flavor.

Last but not least is fennel, and their stems, green and anise-strong, give body to fish soups and chowders, and are a wonderful base for a chicken-and-tomato stew finished with a pinch of saffron.

Leaves

Versatile beet greens are meatily succulent. They are superb added to borscht (along with their roots and stems), to any hearty soup, or to vegetable curries. They are mouth-watering green sides, fillers for pies, and toppings with ricotta for bruschetta. Or chop them finely and stir into thick yogurt to slather onto hot, salted potatoes, or thick slices of sourdough bread.

Cabbage's leaves should be saved, too. Slice any rejected or ragged cabbage leaves sliver-thin to make colcannon, the Irish potato dish that fills corners you didn’t know you had. Or make healthy yet crave-worthy baked cabbage chips.

You may love to munch on a bright, orange carrot, but don't discard their tops. Pungent carrot leaves create a unique green soup (serve it chilled in warm weather, and stir in some buttermilk). And, when in doubt, make pesto: we recommend first blanching the leaves then shocking them in ice water to preserve their vibrance.

The same goes for celery leaves. As herbally-appealing as their better-loved stems, celery leaves can be a building block of classic Bolognese sauce, a delicious component in the filling for Shepherd's Pie, or as a bed (with sliced lemon and potatoes) for roasted chicken pieces. Need salad? Whether it's creamy with avocado, comforting with potatoes, or crisp with bibb lettuce, celery leaves come to the rescue.

Leek leaves are a delicacy. Stewed slowly in oil they turn silky and soft. Serve them cold with a zippy, mustardy dressing, or top a decadent slice of fried sourdough bread with the creamily green and delectable mess. And don't forget about radishes! The peppery radish leaves make wonderful soup, and if you have never tried roasting them, now is the time!

Seeds

Winter squash and pumpkin pips all have seeds worth holding onto: Clean and roast them and season with your choice of spices for a healthy snack or substantial topping for soups and stews.

Skins and Pulp

Carrot skins shouldn't be thrown away for a few reasons. First, cooked carrots taste better unpeeled, so consider that. If you do peel them, though, hold on to those bold skins, which are a broth's sweet, secret weapon. Add them (along with onion heels and herb stalks) to your next potful, and enjoy the delicious results. If you like juicing, deploy the pulp from carrot juice into a dreamy quick bread.

As for your tomatoes, be sure to save those slippery skins for tomato powder. Not only is it stunning as a final flourish, but it's also packed with umami flavor. And when it comes to potatoes, go ahead and discard non-organic skins, but sauté or roast well-scrubbed organic potato skins with herbs to enjoy as crisp side dishes or as crunchy beds for eggs.

Roots

Roots of leeks, scallions, and onion are not to be missed: Those juicy heel-ends of alliums have enough character to fill out your broth. And have you ever tried fried leek heels? They are a revelation. Be sure to start with scrupulously clean leeks, and drop into hot oil, frying till gold and brittle. Serve with wedges of lemon, or aioli for dipping.

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