As a cook and an adventurer, my connection to the land and bigger picture thinking feeds into everything I do. When the land is borrowed, you’re taught to leave no trace when it comes to exploring. Being close to my food source and knowing the people behind my produce, means you try not to waste anything. I thought I’d share some of my tips to help reduce food waste and even save you some cash money at the same time:
Re-growing from Scraps
First things first, seeds and plants have all they need to know inside them already. So, even if you’re just starting to flex that green thumb of yours, it’s going to be ok. Once you know a few little tricks and tips, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Ok, before you throw out that stumpy bottom part of your lettuce (the last 2 inches) or green onion (about an inch from the root) or leek or bok choy or…a lot of things, stick it in a narrow glass or see-through container, give it a bit of water (change this daily if you can), place it on your window sill to sunbathe, add a dash of patience, and then boom – lettuce or salad greens re-born! After a few days, you’ll start to see new leaves or sprouts growing, which means it’s time to plop it into the soil, water (damp but not super wet) and don’t forget to check in on your new plant babies because you’re in this together. This also works with regular onion scraps, leeks, celery and even potatoes. Oh, try it with herbs like cilantro and mint, too. Did I mention that this is now free food?
Speaking of vegetable scraps, take your peelings, onion and garlic skins, and stick them in a freezer bag until you have enough, and then make a delicious stock. Check this out – when you buy a whole chicken, you get a carcass for free! We all need homemade chicken stock in our fridge or freezer (just saying).
In the words of Oprah, ‘I LOVE BREAD’.
When it comes to real bread, like sourdough, the idea is to eat the entire load that day (all of it). One thing you can do is pre-slice your sourdough, stick it in the freezer, and take things slice-by-slice during your morning toast routine. Not only zero-waste but also you can stretch out the magic longer without the stale business.
There’s always someone who isn’t a fan of crusts or doesn’t do the end pieces. You can stick them, along with any stale pieces, in the freezer to make breadcrumb (or skip the freezing part and go straight to the breadcrumb part). When you’re ready, defrost, blitz up, add to a baking sheet with no oil, bake at a low temperature (say 250 degrees) to dehydrate, leave it to cool, and then store in an airtight container for whenever. Bread should only ever have flour, water, yeast and salt listed as ingredients, but the store-bought stuff tends to have a whole lot more than that. Doing it this way means you know who has made it, what’s in it and it’s a really solid pantry item, so win-win.
Speaking of bread, in Greece, I took a cooking class with Aglaia Kremezi in the island of Kea, and she would take leftover day-old Greek Salad (otherwise known as just salad in Greece), blitz it up and add that to her bread base, as well.
Re-use. Re-purpose. Recycle
1. Infuse your water with the leftover cucumber ends – who doesn’t like cucumber water?
2. Use an empty egg carton to start your seedlings off before transplanting into your garden.
3. Pierce wholes in the cap of your milk carton and you have a self-made watering can that’s gentle on those plant babies of yours.
4. Sundry your banana skins, then powder and build up the nutrient and potassium content of your soil. You can do the same with eggshells, just wash them before drying for a calcium pop.
In 2016, I travelled the world writing about how food connects us. During that edible adventure, I got a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how Parmigiano Reggiano is made. Randomly and by-chance, it happened to be the day the cheese inspector showed up – then the theatrics of knocking on the highest grade of cheese, followed by tasting a freshly cracked opened wheel began. That food memory will live with me forever. This brings me to cheese rind – don’t throw it away – instead use it to add funky umami to stocks or sauces. Did you know you could freeze cheese, too?
When you have a relationship with your farmers, fishmongers and producers, it’s easy to ask questions to figure out the option that right for you (not something you can easily do at a chain grocery store, might I add).
At my local fishmonger, fish are friends and food. Whenever you’re making fish cakes or salmon burgers, ask about mince instead of a fillet. You can step that up a notch by asking for the fish bones instead. Let me explain: whenever you fillet a fish, there is always a tiny bit of flesh left on the bone – take a spoon, scrape the mince off and make delicious, ocean-friendly things for cheap. In the past, I’ve managed to scrape off 3lb of mince, which cost me about $10 (wholesale). That’s a lot of patties for a family feast and your freezer. After scrapping off the mince, it’s time to make stock using the bones, which can then live in your freezer for months and months.
The concept of food culture is pretty interesting – in England, Michelin starred restaurants are serving up fish like Hake – but over in Canada, it’s considered by-catch, as well as an undesirable fish. That said, it’s pretty neutral in flavour, meaning you play with it, and cheap – hopefully, we can create a demand for by-catch to help our oceans and reduce food waste by buying more by-catch. Catching something, killing it and then throwing it back shouldn’t be a thing.
Greens – Beet, Salad Turnip Carrot Top
You’re at the farmers’ market waiting for your turn and then someone asks for the greens on their salad turnips or beets to be removed – cringe. You can and should eat them – if you eat them, you can save them from the compost pile, which reduces greenhouse gases, plus did I mention if the salad turnip or beet is organic, so, too are these greens? Simply sauté and add them to your stir-fry, or toss them with the rest of your salad mix and a vinaigrette. On a market day, I’ve put in a request with my farmer to save me all the salad turnip greens that have sacrificed their vegetable lives, collecting them at the end of the market. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
When it comes to the green carrot tops, again, use them and eat them – it was fake news that they were ever poisonous. Twist the tops off, chop them finely into a pesto type thing and there you go. I’ve served up the chopped carrot tops with lime juice, chilli and grated coconut before as a riff on a Sri Lankan recipe and sprinkled this onto some charred corn on the cobs. My rule is who cares what something is called as long as it’s delicious.
Photo Credit: Meg Froehler
For me, supporting local doesn’t have to be more expensive. So, ask questions, play with your food, and leave no trace.