7 Ways to Make Use of Every Piece of Your Vegetables
It may not seem like it, but all those vegetable peels, ends, and stems we throw out while cooking could actually be put to delicious use instead of in the trash. And just because something is limp or wilted doesn't mean you can't give it a second life either. For those with a green thumb, you can even turn some scraps into new plants! A little creative thinking can go a long way, especially because the USDA estimates that we waste 30 to 40 percent of the food supply, and a lot of that happens on the consumer level (that means it's on us).
Before tossing those wilted greens or broccoli stalks out, try these creative ways to repurpose vegetable scraps and stretch your family dollar while doing it.
Turn Scraps Into Broth
Carrot peels, onion skins, and mushroom stems may not seem delicious, but do contain tons of flavor that when simmered in water make a tasty vegetable broth perfect for soups and stews. Collect vegetable scraps in a ziplock bag and leave them in the freezer until you have gathered a pot's worth or are ready to make broth.
To make homemade broth, add your frozen scraps to a large pot, cover with water, and simmer for 30 minutes before straining. Most veggie scraps work for broth, but avoid broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower trimmings as they can make the broth bitter. (Don't worry there's plenty of other ways to use those scraps.)
Blend Wilted Greens Into Pesto
We've all done it, bought the big bag or box of greens and before we are halfway through the container they are wilted. Spinach, arugula, even collards and kale that have wilted can all be turned into pesto. A handful of nuts, some Parmesan, a few cloves of garlic, and oil are all you really need to transform a box of old greens into a pasta supper or sauce for grilled chicken.
Carrot, beet, and turnip tops can all be turned into pesto too, although they are more bitter and benefit from being blended with basil and other greens.
Grow Scraps Into Fresh Vegetables
Ever left potatoes out for too long and watched as the eyes sprouted little green nubs? If you let those potatoes dry out and then plant them in soil, those eyes will turn into new potatoes.
Let's say you aren't a green thumb or don't want to hassle with dirt, you can save items like scallions tops, place them in a glass of water on a windowsill and before you know it have new scallions.
Not all veggie scraps can be planted and turned into fresh, but you'd be surprised by how many can.
Repurpose the Stems
Yes, many recipes, even our own, tell you to remove the stems of cruciferous veggies, from broccoli to kale, but just because they don't work in that particular recipe doesn't mean you can't save them and use them in other dishes.
For example, kale stems can be blended into soup or smoothies, turned into pesto, pickled, or thinly sliced and thrown in a salad. Cauliflower and broccoli stalks can be turned into low-carb cauliflower or broccoli "rice," blended into soups, or used in slaws.
Tough stems from tender herbs like cilantro and parsley are great blended into dressings. Even asparagus ends can be blended into soup.
Make Natural Food Dye
You won't be able to make every color of the rainbow, but a lot of food scraps can be turned into natural food dyes. Beet trimmings can make red and pink, red onion skins and purple cabbage trimmings can make purple, while mushy blueberries can make light blue, and wilted spinach can make vibrant green food dyes. All of which can be used in everything from cake batters and frostings, to coloring Easter eggs.
There's Always Soup
Soup is the kitchen sink of dishes. Anything from limp celery to squishy zucchini can be revived in a delicious hot broth. Any application where vegetables are going to be cooked for long periods of time, until very tender, is a good place to use anything overripe, soft, or on its way out. Same goes for braises—soft carrots and old leeks can be thrown in the pot, because all you need is the flavor from the vegetables; any solids will be discarded before serving. Or if you want to use up vegetables odds and ends before noon, throw them in a frittata.
Everything Else, Compost
Turn any vegetable scraps you can't find a use for into nutrient rich food for your garden. Through the magic of microorganisms and a little grunt work, vegetable odds and ends will quickly become a cheap and easy conditioner for your soil. We have a guide on how to get started.