A whopping thirty to forty percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste, estimates the USDA. Fortunately, we can buck this trend in our own kitchens by being resourceful. If you normally throw out citrus peel, broccoli stalks, mushy berries, or carrot tops, think again. By integrating these ingredients into your cooking, you’ll glean more dietary fiber, save money on groceries, and feel savvy and virtuous. Read on for tips on transforming these edible “rags” into riches.
Cauliflower or broccoli stalks: Trim, peel, and thinly slice the stalks. Then stir-fry or saute for a standalone side. Or, to make a creamy soup, cook sliced stalks and puree with warm stock.
Asparagus spear ends: To avoid stringy asparagus, you should always cut off the bottom few inches. Cook these discards and puree into soups, like lemony asparagus or pea and asparagus.
Fennel fronds: Mince the fronds and combine with lemon zest and some olive oil. Rub mixture into fish filets, like cod or salmon. Or use as a colorful garnish for poached salmon.
Herb stalks: Once you mince or chop fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, use the stalks to flavor soups and stews.
Carrot, beet, or radish tops: To make a pesto, puree chopped tops with garlic, raw pine nuts, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Stir in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Toss pasta with pesto or drizzle this fresh green condiment over eggs.
Ginger root: Simmer root in water to make a zingy tisane (herbal tea). For more flavor, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice.
Potato peels: Scrub and peel potatoes with a Y-shaped peeler. Toss peels with salt, paprika, pepper, and olive oil, then roast for a lighter take on potato chips.
Corn cobs: After you’ve removed the kernels, add the cobs to simmering milk, cream, or broth for soup, like New England clam chowder.
Vegetable pulp: Once you’ve juiced veggies, use the leftover pulp in muffin batter or a dip. Try carrot or beet pulp in muffins and cucumber pulp in a garlicy yogurt dip.
Mushy berries: Simmer with monkfruit sweetener or honey and salt until saucy. Whisk arrowroot into fresh lemon juice, then add slurry to the mixture. Simmer until thickened. Serve sauce over yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, and cake.
Lemon, lime, or orange peel: Before juicing a citrus fruit, use a Y-shaped peeler or sharp paring knife to remove the peel (try not to glean any of the bitter white pith). Simmer this peel in water (for a tisane), olive oil (for a flavored oil), milk or cream (for desserts like bread pudding and ice cream), or soups and stews. As an alternative, you can use a rasp-style grater to zest the colored part of the peel. Stir this vibrant zest into butter, vinaigrettes, or marinades or use as a garnish.
Very brown bananas: If your bananas are too ripe (and mushy) to eat, peel, slice, and put in freezer bags. Freeze and use in smoothies. Or, after peeling, mash and incorporate into banana bread.
Melon rinds: Simmer rinds in vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and pickling spices (like cloves and peppercorns) until they soften. Serve with air-fried chicken or on a platter of pickles.
The mustard at the bottom of the jar: To the jar, add minced shallots, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a bit of honey, and salt and pepper. Close and shake well to prepare a homemade mustard vinaigrette.
Cheese rinds: No ingredient supercharges soups and stews like the rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Just throw into simmering broth and yield a nuttier, richer dish.
Less-than-fresh bread: Cut up bread that’s past its prime and pulse in a food processor to form breadcrumbs. Use in meatloaf, meatballs, burger patties, and fruit dessert toppings. Alternatively, you can cube the bread and toast it for croutons or use it in French toast or bread pudding.
Pickle juice: Use the brine in jars of pickled vegetables as the basis for a vinaigrette or marinade. Toss with steamed or boiled potatoes and chopped shallots for the ultimate German-style potato salad.
Takeout rice: Stir-fry green onion, ginger, garlic, vegetables, and meat (like chicken) in oil in a wok or large saute pan. Then add cooked rice and continue to stir-fry.
Bacon, duck, or chicken fat: Pour fat into a jar and store in the fridge. Melt in a pan or pot, then use to saute ingredients or toss liquid fat with vegetables before roasting. Think: black bean stew with a base of bacon fat or Brussels sprouts roasted with duck fat.
Raw chicken bones: After cutting up a raw chicken, save the bones. Simmer them for hours with vegetables and seasonings to form chicken stock.
Used coffee grounds: Once dry, you can use grounds mixed with spices (like salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika) as a dry rub for steaks. Or stir the dried grounds into coffee or chocolate cake or brownie batter.
Coffee grounds and food and vegetable scraps: If you have a garden, turn your kitchen scraps into compost (a natural fertilizer) to nourish your growing herbs and veggies. Outside, in a designated compost bin, layer brown material (like dead leaves and shredded newspaper and cardboard) then green material (like food scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags). Chop up the mixture and moisten the pile with a small amount of water. After a week, turn the pile, cover with a tarp, and let sit. Turn each week, letting the mixture gradually decompose into compost. Treat the soil in your vegetable garden with your creation.