It’s easy to forget, leaves and stalks are part of a vegetable, not obstacles to it.” – Tamar Adler
As I prepare daily meals, I still think about this line I read many months ago in An Everlasting Meal. For years I’d discard the broccoli stalks once I’d removed the prized florets, I didn’t think twice about tossing pesky kale stems, and I had no interest in the leafy greens attached to beets. Over time I started to see the obvious uses for these leaves and stalks. In our ThreeManyCooks days, we started creating recipes that reflected our respect for the whole vegetable, incorporating both roots and greens in Local Beets & Greens Salad, and using florets to make pesto and adding the trimmed and sliced stalks with the pasta in Penne with Broccoli Pesto.
When I started composting a couple years ago, I became less creative about using food scraps. If it wasn’t destined for a landfill, why not? But Tamar Adler’s words provided an important reminder. These leaves, stems, and stalks aren’t just usable, edible parts of the produce, they add flavor, texture, and depth to our meals.
We’re approaching summer when our countertop baskets and produce drawers are overflowing with fruits and vegetables. This year I’m committing to compost less and use the less obvious bits more, to feel the satisfaction and delight from making something delicious from that which would have otherwise been tossed.
On Saturday night I cut the kernels from four ears of corn and composted the cobs. A few minutes later I had my “Oh, wait!” moment. I retrieved them and simmered them in a quart vegetable broth. What I got was rich, corn-flavored stock which I transformed into a smoky corn and rice chowder for two. The soup would not have been the same without the rich corn essence infusing the whole dish.
This afternoon I peeled an orange for my son. Again, I went to toss the peels into the compost. This time I stopped. What can I do with these? Following Tamar Adler’s great suggestion for citrus peels, I thin sliced them and put them in a pot with a cup each of water and sugar and turned on the heat. The result was a fragrant orange simple syrup that we mixed with cold seltzer, the perfect treat on a late spring day.
Here are some other ways to turn the skins, peels, leaves, stalks, and stems into something delicious.
- Make croutons out of stale bread
- Turn carrot tops or broccoli stems into pesto
- Make vegetable stock from veggie scraps, peels, and cobs
- Use herb stems to infuse olive oil or flavor stock
- Use herb stems to infuse oil or vinegar for herby vinaigrettes
Got other ideas? I’d love to share them!