Avoiding Food Waste: A Vegetable Guide

Last week, I posted about food waste in America, and the myriad problems that result from this waste. While it’s true that much food waste comes from restaurants and other food services, actions at home add up in a major way. Because food that ends up in landfills produces enormous quantities of methane as it breaks down, it’s important to try and avoid having food go into the trashcan whenever possible. In my last post, I listed ways that households can avoid food waste on a larger scale through methods like composting and freezing leftovers. Today, I’m breaking it down, vegetable by vegetable, in a quick guide designed to help you make the most of each vegetable while eliminating waste. For each vegetable, I’ve listed useage ideas to help make sure nothing gets stranded in the crisper drawer. You’ll find links for recipes to help inspire you, and hopefully some ideas that are fresh and new. There is also an “avoid waste” section for each listing, which addresses ways to use the parts of vegetables that most often end up in the trash, and gives ideas for using large quantities for situations when you have more than you know what to do with. Four options that come up frequently in the “avoid waste” sections are: regrow in water, make homemade greens powder, save for stock, and dehydrate. I haven’t added the links each time, but added them here for easy referencing. Enjoy!


Arugula

Use fresh or cooked: in salads, great for pizza, pasta, polenta, risotto, eggs, soups.

Avoid waste: make homemade greens powder or cook when starting to wilt.

 

Asian Greens

Use fresh or cooked: great for stir fries, sauteed with garlic, soups, eggs, polenta, etc.

Avoid waste: ferment, use in smoothies, greens powder, or cook when starting to wilt. Some (like bok choy) can be regrown in water.

 

Basil

Use fresh or cooked: pesto, pasta, casseroles, soups, eggs, for seasoning dishes.

Avoid waste: freeze in white wine or olive oil in trays for use in cooking later, make basil vinegar or oil.


Beets

Use raw or cooked: raw beets are great shredded on salads, juiced and in smoothies. Cooked, beets are delicious roasted and then served warm or cold, in soups, and alongside other root vegetables. Beet greens are also delicious; use them as you would spinach or chard.

Avoid waste: use the greens! Pickle the beet roots, ferment them, freeze them, or make nutritious beet kvass. Add trimmings to veggie stock. Beets also bake well in a variety of recipes, like this cake.


Cabbage

Use raw or cooked: in soups, salads, stir fries, braised, stewed, roasted, or even grilled.

Avoid waste: use the core, too. Cabbage cores can be thinly sliced or julienned before adding to stir fries, casseroles, or soups. Dehydrate wilted cabbage and add it to homemade greens powder. Ferment fresh cabbage to make kimchi or sauerkraut. Regrow in water.

 

Carrots

 Use raw or cooked: salads, baked goods,  soup, stir fries, casseroles, and roasted.

Avoid waste: use the tops to make pesto or soup. Add tops and trimmings to stock. Add small carrots to smoothies, make juice, or slice and dehydrate for later use. And don’t forget to make these delicious fermented ginger carrots. Carrot tops can be regrown in water.


Collards

Use raw or cooked: while collards are probably too tough for most salads, they work very well as a sturdy wrap for sandwiches or burritos when used raw or steamed. Collards can be braised, steamed, or sauteed. They’re excellent cooked on their own, with soups, paired with pork, or with eggs.

Avoid waste: most people don’t know it, but you can eat collard stems. Try braising them, fermenting them, or use the stems to make stock.


Corn

Use raw or cooked: in salads, on the cob, in sautes, chili, soup, chowder, burritos, fritters, and casseroles.

Avoid waste: make relish (try this fermented version, too!), and use the cobs and husks in stock! Corn cobs, especially, are exceptional in all kinds of stock. Don’t throw away the husks, either. They’re excellent for making tamales or using as a wrapper for a delicious grilled meal. Corn husks can also be used for arts and crafts and a variety of odd jobs around the house - check out these ideas!


Cucumbers

Use raw: in salads, pickled, in place of bread for sandwiches, and as soup (this is a great way to use up a lot of cucumbers at once).

Avoid waste: leave the peels intact and eat them whenever possible. If you must peel them, save the peels for stock, use them to make infused water, or chop the peels and add to salads or use as a garnish.


Eggplant

Use cooked: in casseroles, grilled, roasted, salad, and in soup.

Avoid waste: do not peel unless needed for your recipe. Use the peels and ends in stock. Eggplant is also an easy vegetable to freeze for later use.


Fennel

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soup, roasted, in stir fries, stewed, sauteed, or try them on a homemade white pizza.

Avoid waste: fennel fronds can be added to salads or used as a garnish for a variety of dishes. The stalks are great for juicing, steaming alongside fish, and in stock. Try fermenting fennel for a crisp and fresh garnish. Can be regrown in water.


Green Beans

Use raw or cooked: for snacking (try making green bean “french fries!”), sauteed, grilled, in casseroles, and as the base for a tasty salad.

Avoid waste: save the trimmings for stock. A surplus of green beans can easily be fermented, pickled, or frozen.


Kale

Use raw or cooked: in salad (try this kale caesar salad, this shredded kale salad, or this lovely massaged kale salad), in soup, sauteed, with eggs, in smoothies, roasted, and yes, grilled.

Avoid waste: kale freezes easily, can be juiced, added to smoothies, or dehydrated to make greens powder. Don’t throw away the stems - use them for stock, cook them to eat, or pickle them.


Leeks

Use cooked: in gratin, as a side dish, in soups and stews, roasted with other vegetables, in place of or in addition to onions in most recipes.

Avoid waste: leek trimmings are gold for stocks of all kinds - save them save them save them! Also, regrow in water.


Lettuce

Use raw: salads! Also, lettuce works great in place of bread for sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and more.

Avoid waste: add the bottoms to stock, regrow in water. Extra lettuce can be used up easily by making soup, adding to smoothies, or juicing.


Onions

Use raw or cooked: literally in everything.

Avoid waste: onion trimmings and peels make great stock. Keep in mind that the peels will add color (in addition to delicious flavor) to your stock, so if you’re feeling picky about that, you may want to omit them.


Peas

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soups, stir fries, as a snack.

Avoid waste: freeze them, pickle them, add a handful to a green smoothie, juice them, and add the trimmings to stock.

 

Peppers

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soups, stir fries, casseroles, burritos, on pizza, roasted, stuffed, as a breakfast bowl, as crudites...endless possibilities!

Avoid waste: add the trimmings, seeds, stem, etc. to stock. Dehydrate them or freeze them for later.


Potatoes

Use cooked: mashed, fried, sauteed, in soups, casseroles, gratins, as a gluten free crust for quiche, in bread, as chips...what CAN’T potatoes do?

Avoid waste: only peel them when needed, and when you do peel them, save the peels to make these delicious chips. Alternatively, add the peels to vegetable stock.


Radishes

Use raw or cooked: salads, with butter (on a sandwich or dipped), in stir fries, on tacos, in soup.

Avoid waste: add the trimmings to stock - and DON’T throw away the greens! Radish greens are delicious! Use them to make pesto, soup, salad, or braise them as you would any other hearty green (think bacon fat and salt).


Summer Squash (and zucchini)

Use raw or cooked: in salad, sauteed, stuffed, as a pizza crust, in casseroles, as chips, fritters, soup, with eggs, battered, grilled, and roasted.

Avoid waste: save the ends for stock. Large quantities of zucchini and summer squash can be made into “noodles” for quick eating (it’s faster and easier to make them with a “zoodle” maker, but you can make them by hand as well). Remember that zucchini bakes well - try making bread or these brownies. Try making pickles or fermenting them.


Swiss Chard (and spinach)

Use fresh or cooked: in salad, lasagna, soup, burritos, with eggs, sauteed with garlic, over pasta.

Avoid waste: use the stems. They can be chopped and cooked, requiring a little more cooking time than the leaves. Swiss chard and spinach both dehydrate well for homemade greens powder. Any trimmings can be added to stock.


Tomatoes

Use fresh or cooked: everywhere! Soup, salad, on sandwiches, in homemade salsa, sliced and sprinkled with salt, in sauce, stuffed.

Avoid waste: tomatoes can be preserved in a multitude of ways. Make them into sauce and can them, make fermented salsa, dehydrate them, even freeze them. Making soup uses a large quantity at once - try gazpacho for a refreshing and cooling option.