16 Recipes That Give New Life to Your Fruit and Veggie Scraps
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Some food scraps are too tasty to end up in the compost bin; most fruit and vegetable peels, stalks, and greens can be baked, boiled, roasted, and blended for a zero-waste meal.
About 30-40% of our national food supply is wasted each year, which accounts for 11% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Most food scraps sent to landfills and compost piles, however, are perfectly edible, inspiring cooking communities to dedicate themselves to waste-free cooking: chefs like Max La Manna and Alison Mountford (the brain behind Ends+Stems) teach their followers how to repurpose food waste in their cooking, and use a fruit or vegetable in its entirety.
Here are a few food-waste-friendly recipes to get scraps out of the trash and onto the plate.
1. Sautéed Beet Greens
Instead of tossing the greens on a bunch of beets – which are rich in iron, vitamin C, calcium, and beta-carotene – try sautéing them for a side.
Blanch the leaves by boiling them in salted water for about two minutes, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. After squeezing out the excess water, coarsely chop the greens and cook in a skillet over medium heat with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Pair the greens with a soup, rice, or pasta dish.
2. Carrot- and Radish-Top Pesto
Spice up your summer pesto recipe with some carrot or radish tops. If you don’t have basil on hand – or want to avoid the plastic packaging of many grocery-store herbs – these greens can act as a substitute in your favorite pesto pasta or pesto spread.
Radish greens taste very similar to spinach, although some varieties have a fuzzy texture that can be easily removed by cooking or blanching before blitzing for pesto. Carrot tops are reminiscent of parsley and, after making sure to wash all the dirt out, can be prepared similarly to radish greens.
If pesto isn’t your thing, add the greens to a salad instead.
3. Fruit Scrap Vinegar
Pretty much any fruit – the more battered and bruised, the better for the fermentation process – can be used to make fruit vinegar.
Accumulate fruit scraps over time in the freezer if you don’t have a large amount all at once. Chop the scraps (and herbs, if desired), and add them to a non-metallic vessel along with cold water and some kind of sweetener (about one tablespoon per cup of water). Stir and cover with a cloth to allow oxygen flow, taking care to keep it out of direct sunlight. After about one week – stirring every day – the mixture will begin to bubble as the fermentation process progresses, at which point you can strain the liquid, compost the scraps, and allow the vinegar to continue fermenting for about two to four weeks. Use the finished product to toss a salad, spice up a cocktail, or add to soups and other recipes.
Apple vinegar is an especially popular, simple recipe made with only water, sugar, and apple peels and cores – so, if you’ve just made a batch of apple sauce or an apple pie, keep those scraps handy.
4. Pickled Watermelon Rinds
Give your homemade pickles a twist this summer by swapping out cucumbers for watermelon rinds.
While you can flavor them however you wish – even with garlic and dill, like traditional pickles – this old-fashioned recipe calls for cloves, lemon, maraschino cherries, and sugar for a perfect sweet addition to salads, wraps, or a picnic spread. Trim the dark green and pink parts from the watermelon, cut into one-inch cubes, and soak in water and pickling salt overnight. Drain and rinse the rinds, then simmer on the stove with water for about 10 minutes. In a separate pan, simmer vinegar, sugar, water, and the cloves and cinnamon. Drain the pot with the rinds and add it to the spice mixture along with some lemon slices and maraschino cherries. Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes until the rind is translucent, then fill jars with the mixture, process in boiling water, and let cool on a rack.
5. Pantry Pasta Sauce
Pantry pasta is the perfect “recipe” for those last few days before a grocery store trip. Following a few basics, cook up whatever is in the back of the fridge or pantry and add it to the pot. Now, apply the same concept to your food scraps.
Most veggie stems and stalks are perfectly edible. Cook up broccoli, asparagus, or kale scraps to toss with some pasta and oil, or, blend cooked stalks and stems for a scrap-sauce, adding some form of fat for consistency and herb scraps for flavor; parsley, cilantro, and other non-woody herb stems can be blitzed in too.
6. Fruit-Top-Infused Water
After slicing up strawberries for a summer snack, toss the tops into a pitcher of ice water along with some basil for an infused beverage. Pretty much any fruit scraps you have – the ends of lemons and limes, cucumber and orange peels, or the squished blueberries from the bottom of the container – will be a delicious addition to the pitcher, especially when paired with some basil, thyme, or other fresh herbs.
7. Homemade Potato, Sweet Potato, and Garlic Skin Chips
When preparing mashed potatoes or a garlicky dish, that mound of leftover peels need not go to waste.
On a tray lined with parchment paper, bake potato or sweet potato peels tossed in oil, salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings at 425ºF for 15-20 minutes until crispy. Even onion and garlic skins can be made into a salty, waste-free treat. Bake the skins at 400ºF for 10 minutes (they will burn much quicker than potato peels) tossed with oil, salt, pepper, and a few extra whole garlic cloves, if desired. Enjoy as a snack, garnish, or part of this crispy garlic skin salad.
Most vegetable peels can be repurposed for a similar snack, so get creative with whatever veggie skins you have.
8. Leek Tops
Leek tops are completely edible, and can act as a flavorful onion replacement – especially in a stir fry, soup, sautéed vegetable medley, or omelet.
If you’re making potato leek soup, utilize the entire vegetable to give it a stronger flavor and brighter color.
The greens can also be cooked on their own to enjoy as a side dish; they have a slightly tougher texture than the white part of the plant, but will become just as tender when cooked over low heat for 30-40 minutes.
9. Ginger-Peel Broth
After peeling ginger for a recipe, add about a quarter cup of the leftover ginger peels per quart of water (or more, if you prefer a stronger taste). Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Once the broth is completely cooled, strain out the ginger peels and store the finished product in the refrigerator. Use the broth in a cocktail, mix with hot water and honey for ginger tea, pour into soup, or use in place of water when steaming vegetables (or, if you don’t have time to brew a broth, a pinch of ginger peels into the pot of vegetables will suffice).
10. Beet, Radish, and Turnip-Top Salads
Like leeks, all beet, radish, and turnip tops can be eaten along with the bulb. Beet-green salads – like this one with feta, apples, and pecans – are particularly popular, but use any of the three in place of traditional greens in your favorite summer salad, or sauté to eat as a side. Radish greens also make a delicious pine nut pesto.
11. Grilled Favas With Pea and Bean Shells
Even without the inner beans or peas, grilled favas from leftover shells are a delicious, waste-free appetizer.
Gather pea and bean shells left over from other dishes, and follow your favorite grilled favas recipe. For simple, spicy favas, toss the shells with olive oil, and grill on high heat for 5 minutes until charred, turning occasionally. When finished, toss with crushed red pepper, salt, scallions, and lemon.
12. Parmesan Rind Broth
To add some extra flavor to a soup or pasta sauce, toss in a leftover parmesan rind (and remove it before serving). If you don’t have an immediate need for the rind, prepare a parmesan broth that can be stored and used later for risotto, pasta sauce, stuffing, etc. In a large saucepan, cook a quartered onion with garlic, peppercorn, and other desired herbs until brown, then add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add parmesan rinds and water, bringing the broth to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering for about two hours, stirring to keep the cheese from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Strain the broth, then store for up to four days before using.
13. Mushroom Stem Gravy
When a recipe calls for cremini and portobello mushrooms, their soft stems can often be chopped up and used like the rest of the mushroom. For hardier varieties and older, firmer stems, using them in a batch of gravy still ensures they don’t go to waste.
For this simple, vegan mushroom gravy, cook half an onion and four ounces of finely chopped mushroom stems (or a combination of stems and tops) for about 8-10 minutes over medium heat. Add flour, and after 3-5 minutes, or once golden brown, add vegetable stock slowly, simmering until thickened. Strain out the mushroom pieces if you wish, or serve as is. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce.
14. Candied Citrus Peels
After enjoying an orange, lemon, lime, or other citrus fruit, keep the peels for a sugary snack.
Cook peels in boiling water until tender (about 10 minutes), then transfer to a wire rack to dry. Bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil – one cup of each should be enough for the peels of about ten fruits – stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar, then add the peels. Continue boiling for 8-10 more minutes, or until the sauce is thick and the peel turns translucent. Spread the peels on a rack to cool for one hour, then toss in sugar until fully coated.
Use candied peels in muffins or scones, in citrus-based cocktails, to garnish a dessert, or as a snack on its own.
And, when all else fails…
15. Vegetable Skins for Veggie Stock …
Add vegetable skins (or any other vegetable scraps) – making sure they’re completely clean – to a container in the freezer over time, accumulating enough to make your own veggie stock. Boil the scraps in a large pot of water for 30-40 minutes, adding salt to taste. Strain out the scraps, and store your homemade stock in the fridge or freezer.
Use your waste-free vegetable stock in soups, risotto, and your other favorite recipes.
16. … and the Stalks for Soup
Freeze heartier vegetable trimmings – like mushroom stems or cauliflower, broccoli, and kale stalks – for later recipes that call for the vegetable, or prepare a veggie soup with all of them.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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