There ought to be a specific word to describe the feeling of throwing out perfectly good food that still has prana, or life force—you know, the leftover rice from Indian takeout, the broccoli stalks your kid won’t eat, those egg yolks when the recipe only called for whites. It’s a combination of regret, guilt, and ultimately surrender, because really, what are you going to do with a handful of veggie stems?
“We’ve gotten used to using only the ‘best’ parts of our produce and meat, and tossing the ugly parts,” says New York City chef Eddie McNamara, author of the vegetarian cookbook Toss Your Own Salad. We’re also up against modern food production and marketing methods, which have moved us unconsciously toward overbuying and wasting, and away from the wise methods our grandmothers used for stretching a pantry—and a dollar. In fact, up to 40 percent of food in the US gets thrown away, and food waste is the single largest type of trash going into municipal landfills, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, 49 million US households struggle with food insecurity. The dissonance that comes from wasting sustenance is tragic.
The good news: Implementing a few simple strategies at home can help you eat more consciously and make good (and tasty) use of things that would otherwise end up in the trash or compost. “Food is precious, whether it’s been raised, grown, or foraged—and part of living consciously is using all of it,” says yogi chef Louisa Shafia, co-founder of Magpie Cookshop, a line of eco-friendly kitchen products. “There’s a feeling of deep satisfaction when you find a way to make stray ingredients or leftovers into something delicious and nourishing. It’s a way of practicing ahimsa, or non-harming, toward the earth.” Read on for easy ways to preserve food and transform your scraps into delicious meals.
9 Ways to Give Leftovers a New
Got any of these things hanging around? Whip up a new dish with a few strategic additions.
4 Waste-Wise Choices to Make at the Store
1. Use the bulk aisles and salad bar to your advantage
Be sure to read your recipes before you shop and make a detailed list to remove the guesswork, says Sara Haas, RDN, a culinary dietitian in Chicago. For example, if a stew or soup recipe calls for a small amount of seeds or grains, such as sunflower seeds or barley, use the bulk section to measure out only what’s needed instead of just buying large bags. Or, if you need five olives for a recipe and no one in your household devours them, don’t buy an entire jar! A handful from the salad bar will do the trick, says Amy Gorin, RDN, a dietitian in Jersey City, New Jersey.
2. Shop small
Try to buy only for the week ahead, says chef Eddie McNamara, which may mean eschewing a larger portion that is on sale. Just because you can get 10 bottles of salad dressing for the price of five doesn’t mean you should. Odds are low that you’ll use it all before the expiration date.
3. Buy pulses for your pantry
Keep lentils, chickpeas, and dry peas on hand to jazz up your leftovers. And try stashing a jar of minced garlic in the fridge to add flavor to those legumes in a flash (it also cuts down on food waste—how often have you bought a head of garlic and just used one or two cloves?).
4. Give ugly a chance
Sellers typically toss “irregular” produce that’s perfectly fine but doesn’t look ideal, assuming buyers want picture-perfect items. Thankfully, some stores now have a special section for ugly fruits and veggies that taste the same as the pretty stuff and cost less too, says chef Josh Tomson, executive chef at The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania.
See also 5 Tips to Reduce Food Waste
3 Waste-Wise Things You Can Do at Home
1. Prep veggies for the freezer
Late-summer bumper crops like tomatoes and bell peppers best retain flavor when they are roasted before they are frozen. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400° until skin is charred, 30 minutes; then freeze. Zucchini keeps well when it’s sliced into rounds, blanched in salty boiling water for 2 minutes, and then shocked in ice water and dried before freezing. Green beans, snap peas, and wax beans do well when frozen raw; just remove the ends, snap in half, and freeze.
2. Save scraps for soups
Freeze parts of food that are typically trimmed and tossed, like mushroom stems or eggplant tops, in a zip-top freezer bag, says Gorin. When you’ve collected quite a bit, make a vegetable broth: simmer veggie scraps in a pot of water for 2 hours; remove and strain the liquid. If you’re not going to enjoy it right away, freeze the extra broth in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into small freezer bags for storage.
3. Grow your own herbs
Create a little herb garden in a sunny windowsill for recipes that require only a sprig of favorites like basil or thyme, says New York City chef Gabe Kennedy, winner of ABC’s The Taste. It’s gorgeous, fragrant, and allows you to trim only what you need.
4 Recipes That Transform Scraps Into Supper
Vegetable Kuku with Potato Crispies
From Chef Eddie McNamara, author of Toss Your Own Salad
“Kuku is like the Persian version of a frittata. Or maybe a frittata is the Italian version of kuku? Either way, this is a delicious way to use produce bits that people often throw away―potato skins, broccoli stalks, chard stems―and turn them into something special.”
6 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp flour
1 1/8 tsp salt, divided
½ tsp black pepper, plus 1/8 tsp, divided
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cumin
½ bunch Swiss chard with stems, diced
1 broccoli stalk (hard outside layer removed), shredded
1 carrot, shredded
2 tsp olive oil, divided
2 russet or Yukon Gold potato skins (If you haven’t already eaten the potatoes, place them in a bowl of water, refrigerate, and cook within 24 hours)
1. Heat oven to 400°.
2. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, flour, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, baking powder, and cumin. Add Swiss chard, broccoli stalk, and carrot; stir until evenly combined.
3. Grease a 9-inch baking dish with 1 tsp oil. Add egg-and-vegetable kuku mixture to dish, and use a spoon or potato masher to flatten mixture so that a thin layer of egg rises to the top.
4. In another bowl, toss potato skins with remaining 1 tsp oil, 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Lay the potato skins in a single layer on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
5. Bake kuku and potato skins until eggs are set and potatoes are as crispy as chips, 30 minutes. Top kuku with potato crisps. Serve on its own, or inside a pita with hummus.
NUTRITIONAL INFO 115 calories per serving, 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 7 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 8 g protein, 577 mg sodium
Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Stew
From Chef Josh Tomson, executive chef at The Lodge at Woodloch, in Hawley,
This dish makes use of any leftover cooked chicken, as well as a bumper crop of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp yellow onion, diced
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 quart low-sodium tomato juice
1 cup frozen heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 tsp ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
1 tsp harissa paste (Moroccan chile paste); or gochujang paste or sriracha
1 small eggplant, diced
1 red onion, diced,
1 red bell pepper, diced
(can also use frozen roasted peppers)
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 cup of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, shredded
1 tbsp shelled sunflower seeds, optional
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, sauté 1 tbsp olive oil, yellow onion, and garlic until onion is lightly browned, 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and slowly fold in tomato juice and frozen tomatoes. Return to heat and add ras el hanout and harissa paste. Bring to a simmer and cook Moroccan sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally,
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté eggplant, red onion, bell pepper,
zucchini, yellow squash, carrot, and garbanzo beans in remaining 2 tbsp olive oil until vegetables are slightly tender, 8–10 minutes. Add chicken to mixture and stir
to reheat, 2 minutes.
3. Pour Moroccan sauce over chicken and veggies and stir; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Split stew among 4 bowls and garnish with sunflower seeds if desired.
NUTRITIONAL INFO 360 calories per serving, 19 g fat (3 g saturated), 45 g carbs, 14 g fiber, 9 g protein, 641 mg sodium
See also Chunky Vegetable Stew
Ravioli with Carrot-Top Pistou and Parmesan Broth
From Chef Gabe Kennedy, winner of ABC’s The Taste
Finally, a way to enjoy carrots from root to tip! After eating the carrot, save the green tops for a delicious pesto that pairs well with ravioli and broth made from leftover Parmesan rinds.
½ white onion, diced
½ head garlic, skin on, plus ½ clove, peeled; divided
1½ tsp whole black peppercorns
4 sprigs thyme
¾ cup dry white wine
2 Parmesan rinds (about ½ pound)
24 large ravioli (or 48 small ravioli)
¾ cup carrot tops
½ cup basil
1/8 cup walnuts
¼ cup grated Parmesan
½ lemon, zest plus juice
¼ cup olive oil
1. In a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté oil, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and thyme until onion and garlic browns, 3–5 minutes. Add white wine and let alcohol cook off, 3 minutes. Add Parmesan rinds and 1 quart water. Simmer uncovered until level of liquid has reduced by half and the broth is flavorful, 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or sieve, reserving liquid.
2. Cook the ravioli according to package instructions.
3. In a food processor, pulse ½ clove garlic, carrot tops, basil, and walnuts until chopped. Add grated Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, and oil. Pulse until the mixture is coarse but cohesive. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
4. Divide ravioli among 4 bowls or plates. Top with a ladle of broth and a dollop of carrot-top pesto.
492 calories per serving, 26 g fat (6 g saturated), 39 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 16 g protein, 536 mg sodium
See also Ravioli with Sweet Potato Sauce
From chef Gabe Kennedy, winner of ABC’s The Taste
This dessert makes great use of the fruit peels we usually throw away. The candied peels can garnish any sweet treat or be eaten alone.
4 orange peels (or 5 lemon or 3 grapefruit peels), sliced into 1-inch long strips
3 cups sugar, plus 1 tbsp for dusting
1 ½ quarts vanilla ice cream or gelato
3 plums or peaches, sliced
1 ½ tsp freshly grated ginger
1. Using a paring knife with its sharp edge facing away from you, scrape along each citrus peel to remove most of the pith.
2. In a medium saucepan bring 2½ cups cold water to just boiling, then add sugar and simmer fruit peels until translucent, about 1 hour. Remove peels and drain with a slotted spoon. (Store leftover simple syrup in the fridge for cocktails, tea, and other desserts.) Place peels on a plate, uncovered, and let dry overnight.
3. Dust with additional 1 tbsp sugar and store in an airtight container.
4. Top a scoop of vanilla ice cream with 3–4 slices plum, 1 tbsp candied citrus peels, and 1/8 tsp ginger.
NUTRITIONAL INFO 380 calories per serving, 8 g fat (5 g saturated), 76 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein, 62 mg sodium
See also Mango-Ginger Sorbet