Updated: May 23
Part Two: Using Your Produce Its Fullest
Today we're going to talk about ideas to avoid produce food waste, which is the largest contributor to household food waste. Since produce does have a limited shelve life, I am sure you are not surprised by this. It just takes a bit of out-of-the-box thinking to overt produce waste.
First a little background.
As a young parent, the more I felt it important to buy organic produce, what with all the pesticide use, depleted mineral poor soils, and being responsible for my young children’s health, the more I became acutely aware of the effect of my choices on my wallet. All the vegetable scraps I was throwing away were money that literally went into the garbage after I already spent more on better produce.
If I spent $3 on a pound of asparagus, but discarded the woody bottom part of the stems, I spent about 25% more on that asparagus, or $3.75/lb. If I spent $4/lb on various organic vegetables, and discarded a quarter of that in peels, bottoms, stems, or less-than-perfect outer leaves, then my organic vegetables actually cost $5/lb. When my fresh greens lingered in the vegetable compartment until I finally remembered them, some of the kale leaves had turned yellow, and the outer leaves of my lettuce had become slimy. That meant that I paid a third more because I used less than what I bought. Money down the trash adds up over the course of the year. Wasting $10 per week on discarded vegetable parts alone adds up to over $500 per year. And we’re not even talking about mealy apples, rotten plums, or forgotten moldy yogurt in the back of the fridge.
So here are some of my favorite practical tips, to help you reduce your food waste and save money by using up produce you thought destined for the trash.
Broccoli Stems: Use your broccoli stems by peeling the tough outer part away. The inside is soft and can be grated for a raw salad, just like any root vegetable, or chopped and added to your broccoli crowns for roasting in the oven. If you buy broccoli crowns, the stems will have been discarded at the farm, and you pay a higher price for crowns than for whole broccoli, so don't buy just the crowns. The stems are also great to toss into a stir fry.
Root Vegetables: No need to peel cucumbers or most root vegetables. If you do peel larger turnips, beets, or celery root with tougher skin, or discard outer lettuce leaves, onion peels, scallion, leek or garlic ends, save them in a bag for the end of the week and make some vegetable stock. Cook for 45 minutes in a big pot of water, strain and use as a flavorful and mineral rich soup base, to thin your chili or other stew, or to make sauce. Stock freezes well.
Portobello Mushrooms: Use your Portobello mushroom stems. I chop them up and add them to whatever filling I make when I roast stuffed ones in the oven. If you buy Portobello caps at the supermarket, the stems will have been discarded at the farm, and caps are double the price of whole Portobello's.
Greens: Too much greens? Just don’t forget them in your vegetable bin. I bet you didn't know that beet greens contain 7 times the amount of calcium than the root. You can find plenty of delicious, savory or sweet smoothies to use your greens up in no time and give your body an immune booster. Another popular way to use your beet, turnip, radish or other greens is to sauté them in olive oil with some chopped garlic, salt and pepper flakes, also soy sauce and ginger. On the weekends, we drizzle sautéed greens with some toasted sesame oil, top them with a fried egg, and eat them for brunch with some salsa. In case of doubt, blanch and drain greens, and freeze in baggies, rather than wasting them.
Asparagus Ends: Use your asparagus ends to make a delicious soup. Snap off the woody asparagus ends, boil for 20 minutes in enough water to just cover, purée in a high-powered blender, then enhance – salt and pepper, a bit of curry and cumin or a bit of nutmeg, sour cream and a sprinkle of Parmesan, or a beaten egg folded in while hot. Tip: Freeze your asparagus ends in a Ziplock bag and keep adding to the bag until you feel like making soup. The freezing actually softens the fibers and makes the soup smoother.
Tomatoes: We are in the thick of tomato season, and I am sure many of you have more then you can handle, but you can't ever have too many tomatoes. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is to make homemade sauce. But what about tomato soup? Each of these can be made today, put in the freeze and used at anytime. Did you know you can also freeze tomatoes whole? They will be a mushy when they thaw, but that is fine if you are making sauce, the flavor will still be there.
Bananas: How often do you have bananas whose time is almost done? They might not look so good on the outside, but that brown and speckled skin means that they are at their maximum sweetness. This is the perfect time to make banana bread or muffins if you prefer. If you can't use them right away, throw them in the freezer and use them for your smoothie or throw them in your pancakes.
Fruit: What to do with an abundance of fruit from your garden when you’re not into canning? Apple sauce and stewed fruit is my first choice. Both freeze well. Keep the peel on your apples, remove the core, cut them up, simmer on very low heat with some cinnamon or cardamom and a bit of starter water for about 20 minutes or until soft. When cooled, purée in a food processor, then freeze in small glass jars. Quarter stone fruit and remove pit, simmer a little starter water or lemon juice on very low heat for about 20-30 minutes, freeze in glass jars or baggies. Stewed stone fruit makes for a delicious quick dessert served over vanilla ice cream.
And lastly, to make your inevitable produce scraps go even further, consider composting as part of your food waste reduction effort. Oh, and by the way, I water my houseplants with the mineral rich greens steaming water once cooled.
In the next segment, I will talk to you about how to make the best use of your animal protein, and how to use parts you may typically be throwing out into food you will want to eat!
To find out more about Susanne, please visit her website at www.susannemeyerfitzsimmons.com.