For a lot of people, recycling has become second nature. Separating glass bottles, plastic take-out containers and cardboard from the rest of your trash is something you probably do without thinking about it. But when it comes to food waste, it’s a different story.
“In the United States, over one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste. When food is tossed aside, so too are opportunities for improved food security, economic growth, and environmental prosperity,” according to the Department of Agriculture.
How often do you come home from the supermarket or the farmers market and throw out the leafy green tops of beets, carrots or leeks? When you open your refrigerator and discover bits of vegetables, herbs and leftover meat or poultry, what happens? If you’re like most people, that stuff ends up in the trash or the compost bin.
Earth Day is a good time to develop new habits for reducing the amount of food we waste, and making better use of ingredients, especially parts of vegetables, that most of us routinely throw away.
Tips For Reducing Food Waste In Your Kitchen
- Keep a list of what’s in your refrigerator. This is a great way to stay aware of what fresh foods you have on hand, what needs to be used soon, and which foods are hiding out behind the mayonnaise jar. A white board or a sheet of paper attached to the front of the refrigerator works best. A note that reminds you to “use broccoli by May 1st” or “use leftover roast chicken by Wednesday” can be enormously helpful. In addition to reducing food waste, maintaining an inventory of your fresh ingredients will help you be a more organized cook.
- Rethink leftovers. Last night’s dinner is not “old food” but food that has already been prepared, cooked and is ready for its second act. Leftover grilled chicken is ready to become tonight’s tacos or tomorrow’s chicken salad or chicken hash to serve with poached eggs. Think about leftovers as possibilities — not food with limitations.
- Save cheese rinds to flavor soups. Make a Parmesan cheese stock by simmering the rinds with onion, bay leaf, garlic and parsley and just covering with water. The stock makes a great base for minestrone and other vegetable-based soups. Cheese rinds can be added to soups and stews to add umami and flavor. Simply drop a piece of the rind into a slowly simmering soup or stew for added flavor.
- Use leftover bread to make breadcrumbs. Pulse the bread and crust in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Keep in a tightly sealed container out of direct sun for several days or you can freeze breadcrumbs for several months.
- Broccoli stems can be thinly shaved and used in salads or sautéed in garlic and olive oil.
- Lemon and citrus zest: Don’t throw out. Use a microplane or peeler to grate the zest from citrus and use in vinaigrettes or to season cakes, puddings, pies, etc. You can also make citrus sugar by burying strips of lemon or orange peel into a cup of sugar and let it infuse the sugar.·
- Use overripe fruit in smoothies and for baking.
- Rethink using plastic wrap and invest in plastic alternatives like Bee’s Wrap and other more environmentally friendly kitchenware.
What follows are three recipes using ingredients most cooks throw out, as well as ideas for soups and stocks you can make using leftover vegetables or chicken.
Roasted Carrots With Carrot Top Pesto
You buy a bunch of carrots. You twist off the greens at the top and throw them into the garbage or compost. STOP! Those carrot greens make a delicious pesto. Simply whirl carrot greens with pistachios (or any other favorite nut), olive oil, salt, pepper and grated Parmesan.
Roast the carrots and serve topped with the pesto. Carrot top pesto also works well on pasta, in risotto and as a topping for grilled or roasted fish, poultry or meat.
For the roast carrots:
- 4 carrots, about 8 ounces, peeled and cut lengthwise in half or in quarters if very thick
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the carrot top pesto:
- 2 packed cups carrot greens, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup toasted pistachio nuts or your favorite nuts*
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 packed cup grated Parmesan cheese
*If you have the time, lightly toast the nuts in a 350-degree oven for about 8 minutes. Cool before using.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Place the carrots in a medium roasting pan or baking sheet. Toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the freshness and thickness, or until just tender when tested with a small, sharp knife.
- Meanwhile, make the carrot top pesto: add the carrot greens to the container of a food processor and whirl until chopped. Add the pistachios, salt and pepper and whirl again until chopped. Add the olive oil and finally the cheese and whirl until the mixture is smooth-ish thick paste. The pesto will keep covered and refrigerated for about 3 days.
- Serve the hot carrots lightly topped with some of the pesto. Serve the remaining pesto on the side.
Beet Greens And Stems And Sharp Cheddar Cheese Muffins
Unless you grew up in the South, you probably throw away your beet greens — those stunning pink and green leaves attached to your beets. Big mistake! Not only are beet greens good for you (full of antioxidants), but they have a sweet flavor and the vibrant pink-maroon stems are crunchy and sweet. Beet greens are delicious steamed or sautéed with oil and garlic.
Here, I sauté them and then add them to a simple savory muffin mixture flavored with sharp cheddar cheese and spring chives. These muffins can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Makes 12 muffins.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 ounces beet greens and stems, thoroughly washed and dried and then chopped (about 2 cups)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups flour, 240 grams
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or scallions
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or milk
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously grease a 12 muffin tin with cooking spray or melted butter, or place 12 cupcake liners in a muffin tray and set aside.
- In a medium skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the beet greens and stems, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. The greens should be slightly wilted and the stems still crunchy. Place in a bowl to cool.
- Melt the butter in the same skillet. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and half the chives. Whisk in the eggs and then the buttermilk. Fold in the cooked beet greens and stems and the melted butter and then the one cup of the grated cheese.
- Divide the batter between the 12 muffin trays and sprinkle the tops evenly with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated cheese and the remaining chives. Place on the middle shelf and bake for around 22 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before serving warm or room temperature.
Fresh Vegetable Rolls
Vegetable rolls are a great way to use up leftover bits and pieces you find in your vegetable bin. Although I’ve written a traditional recipe here, the ingredients you use in these spring rolls are wide open to interpretation. The idea is to use up anything you find in your kitchen.
I looked in my fridge the other night and discovered cooked chicken leftovers from taco night, quick pickles I made from local radishes, sprigs of fresh mint and cilantro, some slightly sad looking (but still crunchy) cucumbers and carrots.
What else could you add? The possibilities are endless: leftover cooked shrimp, fish, thin slices of cooked meat, grated beets, shredded cabbage, red pepper strips, slices of avocado, lettuce. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
- 2 spring roll wrappers
- 2 lettuce leaves
- 1/3 cup shredded cooked chicken, shrimp, meat
- 1/3 cup carrot peelings* (save the carrots for a salad or the roast carrot recipe above)
- 1/3 cup cucumber, cut into thin 2 inch long strips
- 2 to 4 asparagus ends, peeled or cut into small pieces lengthwise (save the asparagus for salad or side dish)
- 1/4 cup any type of pickles, cut into thin strips, optional
- ¼ cup thinly sliced radishes, optional
- Sprigs fresh mint and or cilantro
- Bean sprouts, optional
*Clean the carrot well and then use a wide vegetable peeler and peel the carrots. You want the peelings for the recipe.
Peanut dipping sauce:
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint, optional
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- Make the peanut sauce: In a bowl, mix the peanut butter, ginger, soy sauce and hot water together to create a smooth sauce. Stir in the cilantro, mint and vinegar. The sauce will keep for 24 hours; cover and refrigerate if you make ahead of time.
- Place the rice paper rolls in a bowl of warm water and soak for about 1 minute, until softened. Remove and place on a damp tea towel.
- Place the lettuce in the center of the wrapper. Layer on the chicken and top with the carrot peelings, cucumber, asparagus pieces, pickles, herbs and bean sprouts, if using. The order of the ingredients doesn’t really matter. Fold the bottom of the wrapper up over the fillings, then fold in the sides of the wrapper and roll it like a burrito, making sure the ingredients are tightly enveloped.
- Cut the spring rolls into 4 pieces and place on a plate cut side up. Place the dipping sauce in the center.