It’s common knowledge that fresh vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. You know this. This is why you buy, cook, and eat them on the regular. But did you know you could be getting even more out of your veggies than you already are?
Fresh vegetables (especially organic ones) can be expensive, but rather than skimping, I say use every last part of them -- even the parts you usually throw away. So often, these so-called scraps can be made utterly delicious with just a little bit of effort. This means your money goes further because your veggies yield more meals, AND you get to pat yourself on the back for helping minimize waste. It’s good for the earth, healthy for you, and great for your wallet. Read on for five easy, tasty ways to turn vegetable scraps into gourmet eats.
Beet, Radish, and Turnip Tops
Don’t toss out the green, leafy tops of root vegetables, like beets, radishes, and turnips! They’re perfectly edible, often with a pleasantly bitter flavor, not unlike chard or kale. They need nothing more than a good rinsing (they’re often covered with dirt, so do this thoroughly) before they’re ready to use. Chop them finely and toss with lemon juice, olive oil and salt for a delicious salad, sauté in butter for a lightening-quick side dish, or puree into a fresh pesto with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper -- it’s great tossed with cooked pasta or spread over freshly-grilled chicken or fish.
Tough, fibrous broccoli stems may seem destined for the compost bin, but two minutes of effort will totally transform them into tender, tasty bites of awesomeness. Simply grate the stalks, using the large shred side of a regular cheese grater (or shred in a food processor using the grater attachment). The resulting broccoli slaw is a nutritious, fiber-packed substitute for cabbage coleslaw. Try tossing it with shredded carrots and your favorite creamy dressing, or a mixture of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of honey, for a lighter, fresher slaw. For a crunchy Asian-inspired slaw, toss it with rice vinegar, a touch of sesame oil and crunchy toasted almonds or peanuts.
Many recipes call for potatoes to be peeled, but don’t throw away the peels after you’ve removed them! Rather, toss your (scrubbed and dried) potato, sweet potato or yam peels with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 12-14 minutes until crisp. Toss with herbs or even some grated Parmesan, and serve as you would potato chips or French fries -- ketchup optional. These are also amazing tucked into sandwiches.
Chard and Kale Stems
Fibrous, stringy chard and kale stems are no fun to eat raw, but pickling them changes them completely. To make, cut 2 bunches of stems into thirds, and place them in a medium pot. Add ½ cup regular water, 2 ¼ cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 1 hour. After about an hour the liquid will have mostly evaporated. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes, then drain any remaining liquid.
Let the stems cool completely, then serve them alongside grilled meats, sandwiches, on a cheese platter or on their own as a refreshing snack.
Fresh Herb Stems
Nearly all recipes calling for fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or parsley instruct you to discard the stems and use only the leaves. While the stems often have an unpleasantly chewy texture, they are packed with intense herb flavor. Rather than tossing them, try making herb paste or pesto. Combine chopped herb stems with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and a garlic clove and lemon juice if desired. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth (this usually takes a little bit longer than making pesto with herb leaves). Herb stem pesto is fabulous for slathering all over chicken or fish before cooking, or for blending with fresh goat or cream cheese for a flavorful cracker spread.
While tougher, woodier herb stems (like the ones of thyme and rosemary) aren’t suitable for herb stem pesto, they are still super flavorful and are therefore excellent in stocks and broths. Just throw them in while the liquid cooks, then discard before using/serving.
What are your favorite uses for vegetable scraps? Tell me in the comments!