I’m not here to guilt-trip you about the fresh vegetables I know you throw out every week. There are plenty of environmental preachers who are more than willing to lecture you about why cutting food waste can save the planet, support local farmers and feed the hungry.
That’s all true, but I’m here to entice you with the possibility of getting more out of your food and saving money when grocery prices are rising.
Over time I’ve discovered little things — not big ideas — that I actually practice in everyday cooking. These practical tricks are not projects requiring a culinary degree and they aren’t expensive. They’re just easy alternatives to letting food that you paid for die in your refrigerator. Plus: They taste great.
The easiest first thing to do if you have excess fresh veggies and fruit is to peel, chop and freeze them on a cookie sheet and save in a bag. Some harder veggies like carrots and green beans should get boiled briefly in salted water first.
Pickles in the fridge: Real canning is complicated. Instead, cut slightly wilted carrots, cucumbers, radishes and celery in small pieces. Simmer a quart of white, rice or wine vinegar, a few tablespoons of sugar or honey, a tablespoon or more of salt, plus seasonings like garlic, mustard seeds, fresh dill, bay leaf and chili flakes. Taste and tweak the flavor. Pour over veggies in a jar and place in the fridge. Do the same with leftover store-bought pickle juice.
Vegetable broth with oomph: Save your vegetable trimmings and peelings, onion and garlic skins (but not chilies and eggplant), cabbage leaves, stems and tops from herbs to make broth that can add oomph to soups, stews and sauces. Freeze the broth in easy-to-use cubes. To bulk up veggie broth, start with saved pasta cooking water and add dekerneled corn cobs.
Herbed grilling salt: Dry fresh herb leaves including mint, basil, thyme and rosemary on a plate in a sunny window (or in the microwave). Blend dried herbs with sea salt in a coffee grinder to use as a seasoning for grilling seafood.
Turn greenery into pesto: Don’t toss herb stems, carrot tops or beet and radish greens and celery leaves. Turn them into pesto. Combine a cup each of pine nuts, grated Parmesan and olive oil, plus four large garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor. After it’s smooth, add about six cups (or more) of herbs. Taste and adjust ingredients. Freezes well for future pasta.
The beauty of broccoli: People throw away half the broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous veggies they buy. The leaves can be cooked like greens. Peel the outer skin off broccoli and cauliflower stalks. The innards can be spiralized or shredded, then steamed, sauteed or slawed.
Amazingly easy vegetable fritters: Try these quick fritter/pancakes inspired by Jacques Pepin. Mix about 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, a sprinkle of salt, and about a cup of sparkling water. Mix in a cup of corn kernels, chopped greens, minced apple and other ingredients. Spoon into a hot skillet with 1/4 cup of oil or so. Four minutes per side, drain on a wire rack and serve hot.
Stuffing the blossoms: Clean and stuff excess zucchini squash blossoms with a lasagna-like mixture of ricotta and Parmesan cheeses with egg and herbs. Dip it in the fritter batter (or egg and bread crumbs), and fry until crispy in oil or bacon fat. Serve with eggs over easy or chili verde.
Spud skins for munching: Much of the nutrition and flavor in potatoes is in the peels. For a surprisingly tasty snack, scrub and rinse potatoes, peel and allow peelings to drain. Mix with salt, pepper, oil and seasonings like powdered chili, then spread on a sheet and roast at 350 degrees until crisp.
Fruit for smoothies: When fresh fruit is cheap, cut it in chunks, freeze on a sheet and bag it. Peel and simmer under- or over-ripe apples, stone fruit, pears and berries and puree into a smooth sauce. Freeze for later smoothies, baking and sauces.
Your own syrups and cordials: Simmer skins, trimmed pieces and fleshy pits of peaches, apricots, plums and mangoes with water, a little sugar or honey and vanilla. Cool, strain and use as pancake syrup. This also works with pineapple cores.
Infused alcohol: Fill a jar half full of summer fruit slices. Add a sprig or two of fresh mint. Cover the fruit with a good local vodka. Some like to add a vanilla bean and sugar. Cover tightly and forget in the fridge. Taste, strain and bottle as gifts.
Zest your bubbly water: Every time you eat any citrus fruit — orange, lemon, grapefruit, kumquat or tangerine — don’t toss the peels! Use a zester or peeler to trim the outer zest — not the white bitter part! — and store in the freezer. Use peels to enhance soda water, and add to pies, pasta, chicken, dressings and cocktails.
Strawberry top vinegar: Really, you should hull strawberries: Pull back the green and cut out a round plug at the top. But if you just want to lop the tops off, make rose-hued strawberry top vinegar, suggests my friend Kate Lacroix. Layer strawberry tops (minus the green) and trimmings in a jar. Heat vinegar — I like rice wine vinegar — in a saucepan and pour over strawberries. Store in the fridge for a week and strain.
For more food-saving tips, listen to a series of 12 KGNU radio shorts I recorded at news.kgnu.org/category/food-waste.
Words to Chew On
“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomat — the problem is entirely the same in both cases: To know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.” — Oscar Wilde
Local Food News
Moxie Bread Co. has opened Moxie Mercantile at 355 Main St. in Lyons … Fritz Family Brewers is open at 6778 N. 79th St. in Niwot. … After a long hiatus, BookCliff Tasting Room in North Boulder will host its inaugural First Friday wine event on Aug. 6. … Boulder’s Food Lab offers classes in mastering plant-based cooking: Plant-based Sichuan (7/29), Plant-based Indian (8/17), Plant-based Thai (8/17), foodlabboulder.com
John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s Food Editor. Comments to: Nibbles@boulderweekly.com