After all that time in the kitchen, chopping, dicing and slicing, you’ve assembled a meal with healthy, beautiful, colorful vegetables. You also have a pile of garbage made up of stems, leaves and vegetable peels. What about that fruit on the counter you’re just not going to eat before it goes bad? Is it truly trash (or compost), or are there other ways to cook and prep efficiently and use up everything you picked up from the produce section?
While it may take a little bit of extra thought to plan out your veggie prep, using as much as you can will save a lot of time and you’ll have a lot less cleanup in the long run. Plus, you’ll save on grocery bills, get all the benefits of healthy produce and elevate your chef game.
Some great tools to have on hand are glass canning jars with tight-fitting lids for use in both the refrigerator and freezer, reusable silicone zip bags or even a vacuum sealer system. There are several inexpensive options available. Additionally, a food dehydrator offers a simple way to dry extra herbs, fruit and vegetables. You can even dehydrate fruit purees and make your own fruit roll-ups.
Stuck with a bunch of leafless stems after needing just a few sprigs of parsley, cilantro or mint for your recipe? Herb stems can be added to a salad dressing, chopped up and sprinkled on your baked potato, or frozen in a container for the next time you make soup. One of my favorite ways to use up extra soft leafy herbs like parsley, chives, tarragon and oregano is to chop them finely, pack them into an ice-cube tray, cover with olive oil and freeze. Pull out a cube or two to easily start off tasty scrambled eggs or sautéed vegetables.
Create! Whip up a tasty salad dressing that’s perfect for a simple leafy green salad. Combine parsley stems from one bunch of parsley (save them in the freezer), two green onions, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth.
Don’t toss those ribs and stems
I think that throwing out broccoli stems and kale ribs is one of the great shames of our culinary lives. Simply use a vegetable peeler to peel away the tough outside skin on the lower parts of broccoli stems, then chop the stem into 1-inch thick slices and then into quarters. Steam or sauté them with the bright green florets, but give them an extra minute or two of cooking time before adding florets. Similarly, after removing the leafy parts of kale, collard greens or other greens with thick ribs, slice up the ribs diagonally, about ¼-inch wide. Steam or sauté the ribs with the greens in the same manner as broccoli.
Soup up! Check out this simple recipe for an easy and hearty pareve vegetable soup starring collard greens and their ribs.
Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes are chock full of fiber, but we lose a bunch of that when we peel away the outer layer. Remember to scrub your veggies well with a vegetable brush before peeling if you’re going to eat the skins.
Crunch away! After peeling, pat your root veggie skins dry, toss with a bit of vegetable or olive oil, lay them out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt or spices and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Nosh right from the baking sheet (no one’s looking), or crumble them for a crunchy garnish, especially for mashed potatoes.
Prep for the future
Chopping vegetables is a time-consuming part of cooking, but I find it easier to spend 30 minutes chopping onions and carrots or celery and then portioning into 1-cup measures (as a ballpark, one medium onion or two carrots or celery ribs) and freezing them. This way, I can use fewer large onions instead of several small ones, saving time and tears.
Mom’s idea! My neighbor once told me about the prep work she remembered her mother doing to prepare delicious meals for her Indian family. She’d save extra cilantro, green chiles, garlic and ginger in the freezer until she had enough to puree them with curry leaves, turmeric and other herbs. By freezing this blend in ice-cube trays, she had a base for Gujarati kudhee (or kadhi), a flavorful Indian soup that can be made either dairy or pareve. All she’d have to do is take a few cubes from the freezer, simmer them with yogurt (dairy or non-dairy, or broth), pigeon peas, chickpea flour and dried spices, and the soup would be ready in just a few minutes to serve with rice or roti.
Don’t be afraid to freeze fruit or vegetables. Most fruits like berries, stone fruits and bananas will do very well in the freezer, but not all fruits will keep their shape, so plan to use them for baking, smoothies or sauces. Wash and be sure to dry fruit very well before freezing. Remove large seeds or pits, slice large fruits into one-inch chunks or smaller, freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet until solid and then transfer to a freezer-safe container. Fruit will taste best within six to nine months, but as long as it is kept frozen, it will still be safe to consume for a long time after that.
Bake-a-banana! Got a banana that’s too ripe for your taste buds? While it might not be hand fruit anymore, it’ll be great in banana bread, and you don’t even have to peel it before throwing it in the freezer. Just let it thaw thoroughly before easily opening the peel and adding the soft banana to your batter.
What’s your favorite way to use it all?