We are a wasteful society and many of the kitchen habits that we observe, serve no economic nor health conscious purpose. Many of our habits in food preparation are not based on nutrition but on cultural preferences. Having worked as a chef (for more years than I care to remember), the customer is not overly concerned with nutrition, rather than theater.
Over the years, I was trained to cook food which was enticing to the eye and tantalizing for the palette. Rarely were people concerned with nutrition or health care when dining out. As a result of this, most chefs prepare the prime cuts and discard, or process them into other dishes. These days, we are smarter and more educated in the ways of food preparation and nutrition; never the less, these cultural habits die hard.
Your local supermarket are more likely to buy in their vegetables pre-packed, so the goodness has already been leached out of the vegetable in its natural state, so you will have to find a local grower or greengrocer who will sell them whole and unprepared. If you are cheeky like me, I ask for the discarded stuff as they will only get binned as waste.
Here are my top ten rejects that I never throw out.
1. Broccoli and Cauliflower stems and leaves
Full of goodness and great in minerals and plant sugar, leaves and stems carry the nutrition to the flower head, but provided awesome flavour, texture and colour to a meal. Leave them attached to the flower and cut off as you need them. Cut them into bite size pieces and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, cool in cold water and add to your stir fry. Great with the flower or on their own.
2. Beetroot leaves
Fantastic washed and mixed raw with your other salad greens such as celery leaves, lettuce, beansprouts and rocket. I drizzle virgin olive oil and pink Himalayan rock salt, cracked pepper and Moroccan seasoning.
3. Cabbage outer leaves
Why discard the dark green outer leaves? They are full of iron and taste fantastic when treated as you would Norrie or Sushi sheets. Cut the vein out of the centre, blanch in boiling salted water for 30 seconds and plunge into cold water and lay flat in the fridge for an hour or so. Lay flat, rub sesame oil on one side and fill with a mixture of sprouts, grated veges, sliced meats of seafood and roll up like sushi. Wrap in cling film and slice when cold.
4. Potato skins
Fully ripened (not green) skins are an excellent source of vitamin c and roughage. Scrub them well and either rub olive oil into them and bake or cut and boil. Even in creamed potatoes, that nutty earthy flavour is a bonus. Alternatively, peel them and store in water until you have the oven on next and toss in salt, seasoning and roast.
5. Orange and lemon skin
Never miss an opportunity to zest and grate the skin off citrus fruit. Why peel and discard it? I use a potato peeler to remove the skin and infuse in olive oil to use on salads, deserts, and in roasted root vegetable. Alternatively, I eat them whole, yep skin and all.
6. Lettuce outer leaves
You can cook lettuce, yep that right and its great. Instead of breaking off the outer leaves and throwing them, rinse them and roll them into cigar shapes and plunge in boiling salted water. Remove when limp and season to taste. Alternatively, fill them as with the cabbage leaves and serve them hot, cold or as an accompaniment to a meal. They don’t keep too well due to water content, but serve straight to the table and what an addition to any meal.
7. Garlic and onion skins
Save all the hassle of peeling and chopping, put them whole into stocks, soups, sauces etc. Not only do they add flavour but they add colour as well. Of course, they are not too good for chewing, but they work well in the garden in plant drinks, mosquito and greenfly repellent.
8. Fennel stalks and leaves
Most stores sell the fennel without the stalk (bulb only), but the stalks and leaves are fantastic in salads, soups and stocks. The smell is great and fits well when chopped and tossed in olive oil and salt as a salad. The larger stalks can be woody, but cut in to small pieces, blanch and cool and you won’t know the difference.
9. Pumpkin skin and seeds
Butternut, Green Skin and Buttercup are great winter squashes. I bake them whole and eat skin and all. The seeds can be scooped out and roasted, and sprinkled on salads. They make great soup when cooked and blended, and require no flour or thickening. Add nutmeg and cinnamon and turn into pumpkin pie. Don’t waste the skin by peeling it away, before cooking, cook it first then remove it, if you prefer. As with most vegetables, the vitamins and minerals generally lay under the surface, so capitalise by leaving it in place. Just wash before use.
10. Celery leaves and crown
Most people throw the good parts away when eating celery. Always leave the stalks attached to the crown (base) and cut stalks away as you need them, then put into a polythene bag and into the fridge. Cut the leaves away as you need them and use in salads, stocks, soups, sauces, and in stir frys. When all that left is the crown, use it in stocks, or in your roast pan to flavour gravies and sauces. Sometimes, I use the crown as a roast vegetable with parsnips and carrots.
As with all foods these days, one should NEVER blindly trust that what you are buying is free of harmful pesticides and chemicals, regardless of what it says on the label. Buy local and support local and where possible - GROW your own or get into a cooperative where you can exchange goods for services. My last resort is a supermarket. Eat seasonal, Bottle or freeze in season, buy bulk and most of all, don;t be fooled by tags such as "organic", "healthy", and other marketing trends. Remember, eat foods that don't need a label where practical.