Whole-food cooking is like foraging in your own refrigerator. It’s seeing the leaves you looked past before, noticing the silver (or strawberry, or mustard) lining in a jar you thought was spent. It’s putting more of those bits and pieces to work in the kitchen rather than in the compost pile.
For this issue’s Waste Not, we couldn’t resist giving you a look into Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Eat It Up!: 150 Recipes to Use and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Buy. Brooks Vinton shows us that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when utilizing would-be compostables in favorites like pizza and roasted veggie chips, and her Pickle Spice Mustard gives new meaning to scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Food costs. Throw out your food and you’re throwing out your money. It’s hard to imagine buying new clothes, coming home, and throwing half of them away, yet that’s what many of us do with our food. Maybe not all at once, but a little bit at a time. And it adds up. I sometimes catch myself as I’m about to toss out something that represents a relatively small percentage of my total grocery bill, such as leftover rice. It’s easy to just pitch it, but by doing so I’m getting less for the money.
Half of last night’s rice, a few bites of chicken, a handful of broccoli florets. That amount of food is often discarded without a second thought. But when you stop to look at it, you haven’t just thrown out a bite of this and that. Sauté it up with an onion and maybe some sesame oil and you’ve got dinner. Save those bits and bobs and you haven’t just saved the cost of the leftovers, but the cost of the new meal you didn’t have to make. Eating it up, saves it up. After all, no one ever got rich by wasting money... or food.
We’re busy people with busy lives. Who wouldn’t want an extra slice of time in their week? Using up what you have on hand can mean more efficient trips to the market. Utilizing leftovers from last night’s dinner gives you a running start on tonight’s meal prep. Eat it up and you’ll spend less time buying and cooking it up.
There’s no sustainable kitchen practice that’s worth a fig if it doesn’t lead to a tasty meal. Food is about pleasure, first and foremost. Although there are a lot of reasons to support local agriculture—from environmental to social to economic—I was lured into the Real Food movement by my taste buds. Locally raised, in-season, fresh-from-the-field grub is the tastiest you will find. When I’m eating up every last bite of the food I have in my kitchen, I’m not thinking, Oh, clever frugal me; I’m thinking, Dang, that looks tasty.
I can remember my Granny Toni giving the jar of her home-canned -tomatoes a swish with a little water and pouring it into whatever sauce she was making. I made some wisecrack about her being such a penny-pincher and she said to me, “It’s not just the money, it’s the flavor. You’ve got to get all the flavor into the pot.” I think of that every time I take the extra effort to get to the dregs of the jam jar, the last bit of pickle juice in the crock. Don’t waste it, taste it!
Preserves Natural Resources
It takes a lot to grow food. A lot of water, a lot of energy, a lot of fresh air and sunshine. Every step in the process—from planting the seeds to weeding to harvesting and shipping—is quite resource intensive. Machinery needs to be powered. Fields are irrigated. Crops are transported. Even the most sustainably run farm uses natural resources to produce the good food that fills our plates. By enjoying every last bite of the food that comes out of this process, we lower the resource-to-calorie quotient. Eat it up and you’ll be doing your part to use but not waste the air, water, soil, and energy it takes to grow our crops.
Honors the Farmers’ Hard Work
Accountant, marketer, customer service representative, advertising exec, machinist, weather forecaster, ecologist, community organizer—these are just some of the jobs that a modern farmer needs to be expert at these days.
Oh, and having the ability to actually grow food. And not just make it come out of the ground but do it well. That means properly prepping the soil so the carrots grow straight, knowing the exact moment to harvest broccoli before it bolts, curing the sweet potatoes so they don’t rot, understanding the positive effects of frost on parsnips, puzzling out your fields with underplantings and crop rotations that not only maximize the space, but encourage fertility and more. And doing all those things before many of us have even had our first cup of coffee. It’s not just hard work, it’s incredible shape-shifting, mystical, miracle-making stuff. The best way to honor the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to fill your market basket? Eat it. Every bite of it.
Maximizes Farmland Productivity
More people means we need to grow more food, right? Well, how about instead of growing more, we just eat what’s already there. Americans only consume about half of the food that comes off our fields. Simple math, we can have about twice as much food without planting a single acre more, if we just eat what we grow.
Excerpted from Eat It Up!: 150 Recipes to Use Every Bit and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Buy by Sherri Brooks Vinton. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Beet and Turnip Greens
Beet greens. Who knew? Well, everyone, I hope. I’m on a personal mission to get eaters to enjoy their beet greens instead of—gasp!—throwing them away. And turnip greens, too. We may buy these foods for their roots, but the greens are equally attention worthy. They are as tasty as any other sautéing green, such as the newly minted rock star, kale—so much so, that you should really consider the health and vibrancy of these greens as much as the roots when you are purchasing your beets and turnips, so you can be sure you enjoy the one-two punch of both terrific parts of the plant.
You can treat beet greens as you would Swiss chard in many recipes. Their tender texture and mild flavor blend easily into dishes and make them very versatile. Turnip greens are a smidge more bitter. You can use them in recipes where you would normally include Asian choys, broccoli raab, or other hardy greens. Both beet and turnip “bonus” greens also have enough flavor to stand alone and are delectable in dishes that highlight their unique taste and texture.
Broccoli and Cauliflower Leaves
The first time I saw a fully grown, straight-from-the-fields head of cauliflower, I didn’t even recognize it. An armful of a plant with layers of frilly leaves—almost petal-like—surrounding the tightly bound hub of florets of the plant. The creamy head—the part you usually see in the grocery store—was nestled deep inside the center of the leaves, like a bud waiting to bloom. It’s a striking plant that earns the “flower” in its name. If you shop in the farmers’ market, this is often how you will find them—gorgeous in all their glory.
Broccoli grows in a similar way—a head of florets surrounded by long, frilly leaves. However, broccoli is harvested differently from cauliflower. Rather than taking the head and leaves all in one pass, it is possible to harvest broccoli in a “cut and come again” fashion. The farmer removes the largest broccoli crowns from the plant, leaving the leaves intact. Side shoots will continue to grow where the head was harvested, developing florets that provide a second, side harvest. At this time, the leaves can be taken as well. So, while you will often find broccoli leaves in the market, you will rarely find them surrounding the central crown.
Don’t see much broccoli or cauliflower leaf around at the market? Ask your farmer. It’s a bonus crop that usually gets turned under when the plant stops producing but, like garlic scapes, is starting to gain ground in the market as eaters come to understand its uses and great flavor. And that’s good news because these leaves aren’t just gorgeous, they taste terrific—very similar to other Brassicas, such as kale, that are grown for their greenery.
When I was writing the “Put ’em Up!” trilogy on home food preservation, I got pretty tight with pickles. Developing recipes, testing recipes, tasting recipes, I was quite deep in the brine. As a sideline to coming up with new pickle recipes, I also came across some good uses for pickles and pickle by-products, such as their leftover brine. Whether you make your own or buy your pickles, these recipes will put your “extras” to work. My advice: for best results, use pickles with only ingredients you can pronounce.