I have always been this way – being raised by my single mother to appreciate and to conserve, compounded by a tendency towards thriftiness that’s totally inherent. I consider this a gift, as it’s given me a whole lot of freedom, my love of secondhand treasures, and a contentedness with having less that I rarely witness amongst my peers.
So yes, I’m an economizer, especially in the kitchen. Which means I’ve had a lot of practice making the most out of leftover odds and ends, eking out a meal from the seemingly discarded bits and pieces, always determined not to let anything go to waste. And during this past year of post-separation/trying to land on my feet/trying to survive on so much less/single-mothering pandemonium, I’ve had to kick my conservation creativity up into overdrive.
And I’ve been pretty creative. That kale up there for example? Each bunch that I buy serves me in three completely separate and wholly unique ways. Three distinct forms of food from every leaf of kale. Triple the serving, triple the nutrients, triple the savings!
It all starts with the whole leaf, as pictured above. From there the first thing I do is de-rib, by separating the soft leaves from the woody stems. The leaves are eaten, almost always as either kale chips or steamed up and served in a heaping pile for dinner, like so:
What I’m left with after that is the woody stems, but they never last long. Into the juicer they go!
Mmm green juice. The stems from dark leafy greens are just as nutritious as the leaves (that goes for broccoli, too) so I never want to just throw them away. Juicing is the perfect solution!
The stuff that comes out of my juicer looks like this:
Pulp! The liquid, along with many of the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, have been extracted into the juice, but my kale isn’t finished working yet! There’s still plenty of green goodness in there, and I am determined to get it!
All the juice pulp goes into containers which I keep in my freezer, adding to them each day when I juice, until I’ve amassed a collection of 5 or six full tubs of veggie bits – that includes trimmings like carrot tops and cucumber ends, onion skins and garlic husks, and of course the juice pulp. And at that point, when I’ve got a bunch . . .
I make vegetable broth! I put all those veggie scraps in my big stock pot, cover it with water, add salt and oil to draw out the nutrients, add a bit of kombu or dulse to kick it up a notch, and then let it simmer. What I get is a delicious, rich broth that’s brimming with vitamins and minerals to enhance all my beans, grains, pastas, soups, and spreads. Because I make broth so often I have a ton of it, so I use it in everything from homemade hummus to my breakfast pudla. I even cook Waits’s pasta in it! It adds lots of flavor, plus so much extra nutrition.
Once the broth is strained, the boiled veggie mush gets dumped into the compost bin, where, come to think of it, it continues to work for me and my family. And that, my friends, is the end of the line for good ol’ kale. Not too shabby, right?!
I’ve used kale as my example here, but of course I do this with all my produce. My vegetables are always pulling double and triple duty, between my dinner plate, my juicer/blender, and my stock pot.
I’ve also been experimenting with other produce maximization methods. For example, if you take a head of lettuce or celery, you can cut off the leaves/stalks for normal use, and then place the leftover stump in a bowl of water. The stump will actually begin to produce a new plant! It’s kind of crazy, but it totally works. You can do this with lettuce, bok choy, green onions, and garlic.
Another one I’ve set my sights on is ginger! Apparently, when your ginger root begins to bud in the fruit bowl, you can plant the whole thing in a pot – bud up – and grow an actual ginger plant. I’m trying it out:
The idea is that you can grow an actual ginger plant, so that besides just having another beautiful houseplant, you can also dig up and hack off a piece of the root every time your recipe calls for ginger. This project is still in progress, so I’ll have to check back in and let you know how it goes!
Do you have any tricks for making the most out of your produce? I’d love to hear them, so please share in the comments. I’m sure you guys have lots of amazing ideas – let’s compile an awesome resource here!