Are you throwing away money? You might be if you are like a lot of people who don’t fully use their food. In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply. Unfortunately, a lot of what is thrown away is perfectly viable parts of produce with important vitamins and nutrients.
The secret weapon to reducing your food waste –– specifically produce waste –– and maximize your food supply is root-to-stem cooking.
“Food production is resource-intensive. Learning how to maximize produce and eat all parts of a fruit or vegetable can be very beneficial for the wallet and our health. With root-to-stem cooking, you can cook as many edible parts as possible of a fruit or vegetable to reap all of the benefits,” Dr. Nisha Patel, MS, MD, a culinary medicine expert and hospitalist says.
Luckily, incorporating root-to-stem cooking in your kitchen is quite simple. The biggest joy of engaging in this type of cooking is developing a newfound liking to parts of plants you used to toss out. Below, find root-to-stem cooking tips as well as root-to-stem plant-based recipes that encourage you to use parts of the plants which are typically discarded.
- Make a stock using vegetable peels.
Many of the vegetables we eat have peels, such as carrots, onions, squash, and garlic. Once you peel your vegetables, do not throw them away. Save them for a delicious vegetable stock! This flavorful stock is made entirely of plant peels and can be used for soups, stews, and baked casserole dishes.
Vegetable Peel Stock
● 1 bay leaf
● 2 sprigs of Italian parsley
● ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
● 5 quarts water
● 2 teaspoons olive oil
● Sea salt, to taste
● 8 cloves
● 8 cloves of garlic, minced
● Four pounds of assorted vegetable peels, such as garlic, onion, carrot, turnip, potato, eggplant, and squash peels
- In a 7 or 8 quart stockpot put in the minced garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, and parsley along with the four pounds of veggie peels you have on hand.
- Add olive oil and enough water to cover the vegetables completely. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Gently simmer for 1 hour. Taste and add salt as needed, then strain the stock. Discard the soup vegetables. Use immediately or cool and bag and freeze. Enjoy!
2. Make a pesto with the stems of vegetables.
When preparing leafy green vegetables like swiss chard, kale, and collard greens, it’s common to just chop off the stems. Stems of vegetables are perfectly edible and contain key nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin K, and calcium. One of my favorite ways to cook the stems of vegetables is in a delicious green pesto. This pesto is a great addition to any meal, from pastas to salad dressings to stir-frys.
Stem Basil Pesto
● 2 cups of assorted green vegetable stems, such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, beet greens, and swiss chard stems
● ½ cup Italian parsley
● ½ cup fresh oregano
● 1 cup fresh basil
● ⅓ cup olive oil
● ½ cup pine nuts
● 1 clove garlic
● ¼ teaspoon salt
● ½ lemon, juiced
- Add the green vegetable stems and herbs to a blender. Make sure you add the herb stems as well!
- Add the olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. Blend on full speed until smooth. Enjoy!
- Add fruit trimmings to your dessert.
Have a sweet tooth? Luckily, you can satisfy your cravings with fruit trimmings, such as fruit tops, peels, and leaves. Oftentimes, they are great to purée into smoothies or shakes as the taste is completely disguised. I enjoy adding my banana peels into homemade banana bread, which makes it really moist and rich.
Homemade Plant-Based Banana Bread
● ½ tsp salt
● ½ tsp cinnamon
● ¼ tsp nutmeg
● 3/4 cup coconut sugar
● ¼ cup brown sugar
● 2 cups whole wheat flour
● 1 tsp baking soda
● 3 medium bananas, blended
● 1 tsp vanilla extract
● ⅓ cup coconut oil
● 6 tbsp aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)
- Preheat your oven 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Get two medium-sized bowls and mix the wet ingredients in one and the dry in another. Then, mix together the wet and dry until just incorporated and transfer to a greased 9×4–inch loaf pain.
- Bake for 45 minutes in the oven. After 45 minutes, cover the pan with tented tin foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Remove the loaf pan from the oven and let it cool.
- When cool, use a bread knife to carefully separate the sides of the banana bread from the pan. Turn upside down and gently pull out your perfect loaf of banana bread.
- You can slice when the bread is completely cooled or enjoy it immediately warm. To save the bread, wrap in tin foil and keep in the fridge for up to one week. Enjoy!
I also enjoy making an Indian stir–fry with watermelon rinds, called tarbooz ki sabzi. This pan-fried watermelon is a popular recipe among the Indian community, which involves repurposing watermelon rinds to make a delicious spiced dish. It’s fragrant, spicy, and unbelievably a family favorite.
Watermelon Rind Stir-Fry (aka Tarbooz Ki Sabzi)
● 2 ½ pounds watermelon rinds
● 1 dried Kashmiri chile
● 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
● 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
● 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
● 1 teaspoon coriander powder
● 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing) powder
● 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
● Juice of ½ lemon
● Kosher salt
- Steam the chopped watermelon rinds in a pressure cooker for 2-3 minutes or a microwave oven on full power for 5+5 minutes). Taste a piece, it should not be hard skin any more.
- Heat oil in a medium–sized pan. Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida. When the seeds begin to crackle, add the Kashmiri chile. Add the chopped watermelon rinds, salt and the rest of the spices.
- Stir to mix, cover and cook on low heat until skins are cooked. They should not be raw and hard. This will take about 30-40 minutes of slow cooking. Once cooked, add the lemon juice. Adjust seasoning and lemon juice; it should be quite hot and tart.
- Once the rinds are cooked to your liking, serve hot with freshly made naan bread or rice. Enjoy!