Zero Waste Cooking: How to Use Up your Leftovers
Words Rebecca Ulanoff
Tips to reduce food waste and recipe ideas for using up your leftovers.
While I pride myself on cooking seasonally for my family of three, sometimes my eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and I end up composting or even throwing out once-beautiful produce. For someone with a propensity for guilt, this is a doozy: it’s bad for my budget, worse for the environment, and could have been used by someone in need.
I’m embarking on a new challenge: learn how to make the most out of every herb, green and squash I buy, so I won’t have to toss them later.
We already covered how to store leftovers and pantry staples properly; so I scoured the internet (and my favorite cookbooks) for recipe ideas and tips for “whole veg cooking.” There’s a wealth of information out there, so I’m only covering ideas that I’ve tried or would love to try. I also met with our in-house expert, Lua, the Product Manager behind our GreenSaver Produce Keepers and resident scrap queen for her best advice.
Tips to Reduce Food Waste
Planning Makes Perfect: I’m something of a spontaneous chef, but meal planning saves my family from take out when I’m feeling crunched for time.
Keep a list: While I’m still shopping for the season, I take stock of what’s already in the house before heading out, so as not to get seduced by new-to-me-goods when I already have something perfectly fine at home.
Store veggies right away:
This includes cutting up carrots for my five-year-old (practically the only vegetable she’ll eat), prepping other vegetables to add to weekday salads, and putting everything else in a GreenSaver or on my kitchen island.
Maximize your freezer: Store herbs and leftover wine in Glass Baby Blocks or ice cube trays. Pop one out at a later date to give new life to a sauce or saute.
Lua also recommends cutting up ripe fruit, laying it out on metal sheet pans and freezing before storing in stackable containers instead of just throwing the fruit into a freezer bag (guilty!) to pry apart later.
Save the Date: Lua uses our POP labels to add dates to items she preps in advance, like big batches of beans or grains. That way, she knows what to use when.
Depending on where you live, you might compost in your backyard or have curbside pickup. I live in an apartment with no backyard or pickup. However, we can compost at our local greenmarket. I use our leakproof Compost Bin for toting my family’s scraps and feel confident that there won’t be any accidents on my way.
Scrap Recipe Inspiration
Unconventional Pesto: I’ve been saving carrot tops, cilantro and hardy green stems to use for alternative pestos. The recipe is the same as basil pesto: green + garlic + oil + nut + cheese = yum.
Quick Pickles: Got a spare container and an hour to kill? You too can make quick pickles . The hands on cooking time is under 5 minutes, and the results last up to 2 weeks. Better yet? You can reuse the brine for new veggies or to marinate chicken before roasting.
Veggie or Bone Broth: I’ve extolled the virtues of a pressure cooker before, and quick bone broth is a perfect example of its utility. I barely use a recipe for this: take veggie scraps including carrot peels, onion ends, elderly garlic and add it to about four cups of water and chicken bones (if you like). Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo adds about three tablespoons of fish sauce to her broth so now I do too.
All-Purpose Green Sauce: I recently went on vacation with not one but two caterers (I know, lucky me, right?). One of them made a cilantro sauce that I put on everything. My subsequent recipe search led me to this genius Green Sauce recipe that helps you use up any wilted greens or herbs languishing in your crisper.