You know those times when you’re making dinner and the recipe calls for parsley or cilantro and you have to buy an entire bunch from the grocery store even though you only need about a tablespoon? What do you do with the rest? Throw it in the refrigerator in hopes that you will use it again before it goes bad? I cannot tell you how many times I have had to throw away produce, because I only used a little bit for one recipe and then it sat in my fridge wilting away because I had no other use for it. Or the times I have tossed out vegetable scraps that were deemed “unusable.” Over time I started to feel guilty for all the produce I was throwing away because 1) I knew it was still edible and 2) I was essentially wasting money. This encouraged me to start challenging myself to find alternate uses for my food scraps and as it turns out there are actually a lot of creative and simple ways to use all of those peels, stems and other bits that I had never thought about before.
Making vegetable broth is actually pretty easy because it only consists of three components: water, salt, and vegetables. If you make a lot of home-cooked meals you may tend to toss out vegetable scraps such as the ends of onions, peppers or asparagus but those can actually be saved to make a delicious and nutritious broth. All you need to do is store those leftover scraps that you are not going to cook or eat in a freezer safe bag or container and once you have about 3 cups of them you can make a broth. You can always get a little more creative and toss in any extra vegetables or seasoning you have on hand to add extra flavor. For instance, I had some baby carrots and fresh thyme I didn’t plan on using so I tossed those in for more flavor. Making your own broth is also great if you’re trying to go zero waste or simply want to cut back on your spending.
As you can see I’m using red and green peppers, onions, leeks, zucchini, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes. It took me about a month to save enough scraps but that will differ for each person depending on how often you cook from scratch at home.
Vegetable Scrap Broth
- 2-3 cups vegetable scraps
- 8 cups water
- 1 tbsp salt
- Using a large stock pot bring 8 cups of water to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling add salt and vegetables then cover the pot and reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool before straining out the vegetables with a mesh strainer.
- The broth can be stored in jars and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. You may also store the broth in the freezer so it will stay fresh longer.
Another great use for leftover vegetables is to make a stir fry. A typical stir fry recipe usually calls for broccoli, red pepper, and snap peas but you can also add any other vegetables you want. For instance, save the top part of leeks to add to your stir fry. All you need to do is chop them into bite size pieces and cook until tender. The same goes for carrots, zucchini and onions.
If you ever find yourself with half a head of cabbage leftover and no idea what to do with it try making kimchi. Kimchi is fermented cabbage commonly found as a side in Korean cuisine. It has a bit of a spicy, sour flavor to it and you might enjoy it alongside rice or with eggs. A popular trend I have seen recently is using it as a topping on French fries. Another great side to make with leftover cabbage is sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is another form of fermented cabbage but it has more of a sour flavor and is less spicy than kimchi. I love topping my bratwurst with spicy mustard and sauerkraut. It is also commonly used in Reuben sandwiches or you can add it to salads for an extra kick of flavor.
I use quite a bit of fresh parsley and cilantro when I’m cooking, but I do not always end up using it all before it starts to wilt. One solution I have found for this issue is making “sauteing cubes” to save and use the next time I’m cooking chicken or vegetables. All you need is half a stick of butter and about a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs. Melt the butter over medium heat, add the chopped herbs and mix. Once the butter is melted completely you can portion it out into ice cube molds and set in the refrigerator to cool completely. When the butter has solidified just pop the cubes out and store in a jar. This is a good time to get a little creative and combine a few different herbs together or add some garlic to give it a little more flavor. I think these cubes are especially great to use when sauteing zucchini or any other vegetables for that matter.
Another way to save your fresh herbs is to dry them. I’m sure most of us have Italian seasoning in our spice racks so why not add your own dried parsley to it. It is actually very easy and lasts a long time. Just arrange the herbs on a baking sheet and place in an open oven set at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 hours. You will know the herbs are dry when they begin to crumble easily.
I hope all of these ideas have inspired you to get creative with your food scraps before tossing them in the trash. For those of you that have any other tips I could use for leftover produce please leave a comment below!