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After reading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler, I was inspired by the author’s dedication to cooking every last stem and leaf then using the flavorful cooking liquids (a base of highly salted water) to make soups, sauces and marinades.
Since then I’ve been on a quest to squeeze the most from every bit of produce I grow, purchase at the farmers market or wild harvest before it finally hits the compost. For those of the same thrifty ilk who hate to see any part of the harvest get tossed, this no-waste mentality can truly breed creativity. My fridge often holds numerous containers of edible odds and ends. It’s been worth the weirdness: maximizing my food budget, adding more nutrients to my diet and creating interesting new dishes.
1. Powdered Greens
Once I realized just how many beautiful greens accompany beetroot, I delved into utilizing them all. I exhausted the preparations—sautéed with soy sauce and sesame oil for sandwiches, quesadillas, pasta, and soup; baked into casseroles; made into dips; used in place of spinach—but I became so overwhelmed by them that couldn’t eat them at all for years. Then I realized dried and ground greens would make a great smoothie supplement or finishing spice for a meal.
I use a food dehydrator to dry the beet greens. Strip the clean leaves from the stems, saving them for another use (see below), and hop the leaves finely by hand or in a food processor. Spread the chopped leaves on the fruit roll insert of a food dehydrator. Turn your dehydrator to the herbs setting as indicated in the machine’s manual.
Annie Wegner LeFort
Alternatively, chopped greens can be spread thinly and evenly on a baking sheet near a sunny window away from a draft or moisture. Turn the leaves each day to allow for even drying. Oven-drying requires a very low oven setting and—unless you feel comfortable leaving your oven on overnight—may require a few rounds of turning on then off and keeping the door closed.
I now dry and ground kale, radish greens and spinach, including the leaves and stems that begin to bolt. I keep the powder with my other smoothie add-ins in a small jar with a food-grade desiccant packet saved from bottles of supplements. The powder gets mixed with sea salt and used as seasoning. I’ve also crafted my own popcorn seasoning with dried kale, nutritional yeast, dried shiitake powder and salt.
2. Fermented Vegetables
One of my newest avenues for using vegetable cast-offs is fermentation. Chop up the stems from kale, Swiss chard, beet greens, mustard or turnip greens, and add them to a jar with other commonly fermented vegetables, like cabbage and carrots. For those familiar with the basics of vegetable fermentation, adding in some extra texture and color from these stems creates new possibilities with this traditional preservation method.
3. Pesto and Sauce
Annie Wegner LeFort
Pesto is another efficient way to utilize vegetables ends. My favorites are carrot green pesto, kohlrabi leaf pesto and broccoli-cauliflower stem pesto. If not enjoyed fresh, portion into ice cube trays or mini-muffin pans, freeze, and then transfer into labeled and dated freezer bags or containers. The small quantities can thaw easily on a metal baking sheet to use with a quick pasta meal during the winter.
Kohlrabi leaves can also be tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes to add additional flavor to the pesto. The roasted leaves, along with sun-dried tomatoes, plenty of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper can be turned into a thick and rich dressing and added to a simple white bean salad along with sliced black olives. Alternatively, smash the roasted greens with garlic, tamari and sesame oil, and spread on toast.
To use tough broccoli stems, peel and cut them into 1-inch chunks and cook in highly salted water before puréeing into pesto. I cook cauliflower cores the same way and use in combination with broccoli to make a sauce for pasta, potato salad, or soup throughout the year.
One of the most frequent outlets for my vegetable stems and ends is the juicer. I love juicing kale, parsley and cilantro stems along with fennel and celery fronds to make a super-green smoothie. Add fresh lemon, lime and green apple to make it bright and palatable. If juicing a single vegetable, like carrots or beets, save the juicer pulp and dry it (as mentioned above with the greens) to use as a smoothie supplement. Combinations of vegetables can be dried and turned into the base for seasoning salt.
Other plant parts infrequently recognized as edible include raspberry and blackberry leaves, which can be used fresh or dried to make tea.
6. Crisping Agents
Grape, currant or cherry leaves, when added one or two per quart, may aid in keeping heat-processed pickles crisp.
7. Quick Pickles
The good old watermelon rind is a common discard that requires a pre-treatment salt-water soak to soften and enhance the flavor. The jarred rinds are a delicious addition to a cheese plate and the syrupy goodness left over can replace simple syrup in a craft cocktail.
The possibilities are endless with all of these vegetable odds and ends. Ever since I was introduced to this low/no-waste cooking school of thought I have not looked at my vegetable trimmings the same.
If you’re still unconfident in using up every last vegetable part, here’s one of my favorite recipes to get you started.
Recipe: Souper-Scrappy Seasoning Mix
Yield: 24 to 32 ounces
I adapted this recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. It’s a very salty mixture to be used in place of salt in soups or stews and freezes well.
- 1 cup coarsely chopped leek greens
- 3/4 cup coarsely chopped fennel fronds
- 3/4 cup peeled and coarsely chopped carrot
- 1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped celery root (celeriac)
- 1/4 cup dried tomatoes or tomato end pieces
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley stems
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro stems
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon salt
Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend together. The result will be a moist, granular paste. Spoon into glass jars and seal with tightly screwed lids. Refrigerate or freeze. To use, stir 1 teaspoon of the seasoning into 1 cup hot water before adding to soup. (Account for this amount of water when preparing soup.) Use the seasoning within six months.
About the Author: Annie Wegner LeFort is a chef and food writer who lives in southeastern Wisconsin. Find more of her recipes at “The Mindful Palate.”