Ode to My Pantry: Garbage*

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.



I can’t throw out veggies. Maybe it’s my pseudo hippie dippie roots, my abode’s lack of compost-ability, my limited grocery budget or my somewhat unnatural love of fiber, but I just can’t do it. I assume many people share a similar outlook when it comes to discarding whole vegetables, but do they pause before discarding the scraps? Judging by the number of raised eyebrows I get when I object to friends clearing my cutting board into the trash, I will assume no. Not gonna lie, I was a bit saner (and more tolerable) before I spent an unemployed winter in an apartment without a city-run composting program. I emerged from the defrost somewhat deranged with produce prices on the brain. I could use them to shine my shoes or darken my grey hair! Or I could just eat them instead.

When it comes to eating garbage, you just need to look at your fridge objectively and reanalyze your kitchen habits. There are a lot of old wives’ tales for cooking, but how many of them ring true for you? Instead of relying on them, look to the three Rs instead.

 

Reduce

There are a lot of steps that cooks employ out of habit as opposed to necessity. Does this actually make your meal taste better or are you just accustomed to doing it? Given the opportunity, go for the lazy option before you go for the garbage bin. Trust me, sloth has its perks.

Why would you throw out tasty?

Savor your seeds. Countless recipes for tomato soups and sauces tell you to deskin and deseed them for a smoother puree. Ignore their instructions and embrace the slightly grittier sauce. Tomato seeds contain three times as much glutamate as the actual flesh, the amino acid responsible for tomato’s umami aka savoriness. Why would you want to toss that out? You wouldn’t! Keep the seeds, save some time, win all the flavour points!

Stop. Step away from the peeler! Before you strip your veggies naked, figure out if they actually need to be peeled. If they aren’t grown in a pesticide and herbicide heavy environment, you might as well take the lazy way out. There’s still debate about how many nutrients are actually hidden in vegetable skin, but there’s nothing wrong with adding another dose of dietary fiber to your meal. In the case of carrots, beets and other root vegetables, that fiber hardly changes the texture of the finished product. Just keep everything clean by thoroughly washing your produce with warm water and a scrubby pad or brush. Or if you’re still a bit skeezed out, make an apple cider vinegar bath.

 

Reuse

Fiber isn’t scary if you attack it first!

Lots of plant parts are wasted after they’re gnawed once and deemed too tough. Instead of writing stalks off for being fibrous, embrace the stringiness! Learn to work around this potential problem by reaching for your knife instead of the garbage pail.

Learn to cut. Start by looking at the stem and tracing the direction of its fibers. If you leave them long they’ll get stuck in your teeth and your guests will complain (once they manage to stop chewing). Shorten them up to make them manageable, and possibly even delicious! This doesn’t mean you have to pulverize your plants into submission. For broader leaves like leek greens, chop them into 1/2 cm strips before sauteeing them with balsamic and mustard. For fibrous stems (where you don’t want tiny rounds), cut them on the bias instead. All of a sudden a pile of kale stems becomes a stand in for broccolini.

Take a cue from meat when you turn on the heat. Whenever you’re perplexed by a particularly fibrous vegetable, think WWMBD (What Would My Butcher Do). Tough cuts of meat are also plagued by long fibers, but chefs have been dealing with them for years without mushing their meat. Roast ‘em or braise ‘em low and slow to give your tough veggies enough time to soften and tenderize. Even if you are vegetarian, the steps to Boston Butt tenderness can still make your meal great.

 

Recycle

Two veggies for the price of one!

Any object worth acquiring should have eight other uses and the same principle applies to the contents of your crisper drawer. Even though you might like a carrot for its root or cauliflower for its florets, that doesn’t mean it’s the plant’s best part. Keep an open mind to other dinnertime possibilities. Whenever my girlfriend’s roomie tosses out a broccoli stem, I secretly die inside. Please don’t make me die inside.

Don’t throw out the wrapping paper. Plant leaves are just as edible* and flavourful as the vegetable they come with, so make sure to have a taste before you bin them. Broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables’ outer leaves are a bit fibrous, but they’re also free. You might have to cut them into smaller segments or cook them a bit longer, but you’ll be rewarded with a slaw or stirfry with a similar flavour profile.

Hold onto your greens. The same green-gobbling principle goes for root vegetables as well. Embrace the produce potential when you’re lucky enough to bring home taproots towing healthy greens. Treat your beet greens like collard greens. Add radish leaves’ peppery bite to your next salad. Or update an old recipe by substituting young carrot greens for its herb cousins parsley, dill and cilantro. Just make sure to store the greens and the roots separately so both parts don’t deterioriate.

When in doubt, throw them into the freezer. Make it into stock. Enough said.

 

*Sometimes they really aren’t edible. Confirm that your plant part is palatable

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

15 Comments

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    I’m with you Kristin. Broccoli stems are the tastiest part of the plant.

    If you must seed paste tomatoes you can also take a tip from Jose Andres and gently remove the seeds with the gel intact so that they remain together as they were in the tomato cavity. They look cool and are the essence of tomato goodness. Serve them on a Japanese-style soup spoon with a drop of olive oil and maybe a some chopped herbs (or radish greens or carrot tops) and you are on the cutting edge of gastronomy sister! :)

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    These are great tips! I don’t really peel anything and I think I might like broccoli stems and leaves more than broccoli itself, but maybe I’ll try leaving in tomato seeds the next time I make a sauce. I always throw them out.

    Holiday Tip: crushed eggshells make great fake snow for DIY snowglobes!

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    I’m kind of weirdly fussy about my tomato sauce. I’m not worried about a smooth puree (who the hell wants a puree of tomato sauce anyway? chunks!), but the tomato seeds make the sauce more bitter and I refuse to use any kind of sweetener, so out they go. Also, removing them cuts down on the water in the sauce, which is another important thing because I don’t want to overcook the sauce just to make it quit being watery.

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    So wait… If the article in the NY Times that you linked to says that carrot greens are dangerous…I think it may be misleading to have a picture of what appears to be a carrot labeled “two veggies” and denoting that the greens are the second… Perhaps I am confused?

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      carrot greens, as far as this gardener knows, aren’t actually poisonous, but they are rather bitter and alkaline. however, carrot and parsnip leaves & stalks do contain a chemical that can irritate your skin, so if you’re pulling or weeding them (or cutting them up), wear gloves!

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    Guess not on the carrot greens, although the other ideas are great if you can’t compost. Another good stem/bad leaf combo is rhubarb. Good for pie, but the leaf is dangerously high in alkaloids.

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    Don’t let your lawn go to waste, either (if you don’t use pesticides or own a dog, that is). Dandilion greens make a delicious lettuce substitute in sandwiches and wraps. The older, larger leaves are more bitter and better chopped up and sauteed or cooked with a pasta. The roots can be boiled in water to make a delicious tea, and the flowers can be added to salads or battered and fried.

    I also have a lot of wood sorrel in my yard, a cute little plant with leaves that taste like citrus. Also good in salads, pasta and wraps.

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