It’s very trendy right now to revisit foods and meals that were mainstays of the dinner table in times past. Nose to-tail has been very en vogue, but what about leaf-to root? Or the lettuce that you’ve had languishing in your vegetable drawer that you were meaning to use for dinner but you were invited to the neighbour’s barbecue so it didn’t make it?
Should we relegate these to the garbage disposal and aim to plan more effectively next week, or is there some way we can use these to reduce food waste and potentially increase the nutrient density of our meals?
It’s not just the food itself that has been wasted, it’s the time taken to harvest, the toll on the soil, the human hours and storage space dedicated to getting it to the supermarket, then the resulting methane production caused by rotting vegetables that is a more potent gas than carbon dioxide with regards to the environment.
A study conducted in 2015 found New Zealand households waste an estimated $563 a year in food, and fruit and vegetables were one of the main contributors. While 87 per cent of New Zealanders hate the idea of food waste, close to half of us bin leftovers as we don’t want to eat them again the next day. How can we mitigate some of these problems without risking food boredom? Further, can we “save” some of our greens from losing all their nutrients (and appeal) if they’ve been sitting around longer than intended?
Planning your meals in advance, writing a shopping list and buying only what you need are three obvious ways to minimise food waste (and likely save time and money in the process). Do some initial preparation in the weekend, such as par-cooking vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, kale) in anticipation of your meals, freezing them in zip lock bags, or preparing the protein part of your meal to freeze in single-serve portions ready to cook (mince is great for this). This means if your plans change, you’ve not wasted your fresh foods and have retained many of their nutrients.
Storing fruit and vegetables properly will go a long way towards extending their shelf-life. Wash and pat greens dry, wrap in a clean tea towel and pop them in a glass container or zip lock bag. Many vegetables become wilted or limp due to dehydration.
Soaking them in water for around 20 minutes (while preparing other elements of your meal) can help rejuvenate salad greens. For kale, heartier greens, and celery, trim the bottoms and stand them in a vessel with a little water so the stems can soak up some of the water when you bring them home from the supermarket.
This might take some reorganisation of the fridge, but will also remind you of their presence and you’ll be more likely to use them. Limp broccoli can be similarly revived in this way, as can carrots.
Peelings & scrapings
And what about the bits of vegetables that often don’t even make it to the dinner plate — are these always destined for the garbage disposal? Not necessarily. Keeping the skin on potatoes, beetroot or pumpkin (for example) will increase the nutrient density of the produce and reduce a lot of vegetable wasted when peeling.
Interestingly, a bit of digging in the scientific literature revealed a study showing pumpkin skin contained a protein that helped fight fungal infection. Who knew?! Leaves and tops of carrots, beetroot, radishes and cauliflower are all edible and in many cases, are nutrient-dense.
Carrot tops are reportedly a rich source of potassium, vitamin C and chlorophyll (a phytochemical known for its digestive, detoxification and anti-carcinogenic activities). Beet leaves and radish leaves are good sources of vitamin C and K, certain B vitamins, precursors to vitamin A, magnesium, manganese and calcium. It’s just knowing how to use these, and therefore I listed some ideas below.
Use rice paper wraps to create "spring" rolls of leftover meat and vegetables and add a fresh herb— take to work with a small container of soy or tamari sauce and add some pickled ginger.
Make omelette "wraps" by whisking a couple of eggs and adding a dried herb of choice. You can either prepare this on the stove top or in the oven (on bake for 4-5 minutes). Do this at the start of the week and keep in the freezer (in single layers) until needed. You get a protein boost in the form of a wrap.
Pop leftover chopped vegetables and meat into large muffin holes (around ⅔ full). Crack and whisk 12 eggs and pour evenly over the muffin holes. Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese (or use nutritional yeast, if dairy free) and bake in 200C oven for around 15 minutes until golden.
Make a pesto using carrot top leaves (or any leaves!) Use around 2 large handfuls, a small amount (30g) parmesan cheese, 30g of nuts, juice and zest of ½ lemon, a clove of garlic, salt, pepper and at least 2 tablespoons olive oil blended in a small food processor. Freeze what you might not use.
Roast radishes whole, with the greens, in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and ground pepper, in a preheated oven (220C) for 15-20 minutes, squeezing over fresh lemon juice before serving.
Combine your leftover vegetables with a whisked egg, a little flour or almond meal, some seasoning or spices and canned sardines, salmon or tuna to make patties — adding chia seeds will also firm this up if need be. Let the batter sit 5-10 minutes before using.
Any vegetable can be chucked in a smoothie for a nutritional boost — banana or berries do a great job at disguising the taste. Zucchinis are a great way to thicken any smoothie.
Any bits and bobs left over from your meals, cut them into chunks and chuck them into a freezer-bag for later use once the weather starts cooling down and soup starts to become more appealing. Bones from cuts of meat or chicken can be used similarly.
Slightly overripe berries can be made into a sugar-free jam using chia seeds (1 cup of chopped fruit to around 1 Tbsp chia seeds) or into gummies using gelatin (also good for your gut).
Bananas can be chopped into quarters and frozen, to be brought out again and used as ready made ice cream. Just let them sit for 10 minutes to thaw slightly, then pop into a food processor with or without a tablespoon or two of coconut cream, peanut butter or a few chocolate chips.
Toss pumpkin seeds (from your whole pumpkin) in olive or coconut oil and bake in an oven for around 45 minutes on 180C.
Toss skins of your pumpkin, kumara or potato in olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt and bake into "chips" on 200C until crisp.
Add peels from citrus fruit to meat dishes, or dry out in your oven on a low heat (around 100C)and use as part of a tea mix or to help flavour some homemade nut-based cereal mix.