Cooking with Scraps

Clever Uses for All Your Spring Food Scraps

April 15, 2019

Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Ways to Green, where we're sharing all the little (and not so little!) things we do to live eco-friendlier every day. Stick with us all month long for a lineup of handy tips—from composting do's and don'ts to which reusable products really light up our lives.

Spring has sprung, your market is overflowing with the first produce of the season—delicate greens, fragrant herbs, freshly foraged mushrooms—and you’ve come home with all of it. (We know, we know, some of you are still looking at snow. We’re thinking positive!)

So you’re ready to use those tender asparagus tips, colorful radish roots, and sweet strawberries—but what to do with those tough asparagus ends, bitter radish greens, and tiny strawberry hulls? We’ve got ideas for all of those scraps and more. You can head back to the market, feeling good that you didn’t let a single ounce of spring’s fleeting treasures go to waste.

Artichoke leaves

Artichoke hearts are an especially delicious treat, but trimming them can produce a significant pile of scraps. Luckily those bracts (what we think of as leaves) can be eaten, too: Steam or blanch them and enjoy with melted butter or aioli—or put them to use in a tasty twist on nachos.

Asparagus ends

Young asparagus doesn’t need to be trimmed at all; its ends are just as tasty as the rest of the stalk. But that changes as the season goes on and asparagus gets bigger. If you don’t want to lose the entire end, sometimes peeling away some of the most fibrous part is enough to reduce any unpleasant stringiness, and those trimmings can live their best lives fried and salted (good luck trying to share). If you do slice or snap off the woody ends, the nubs have plenty of flavor left to give to soup or pesto.

Herb stems

Bundles of fresh herbs are a cheery sign of spring, but once you get through all the leaves on those herbal bouquets, you’re left with a pile of stems…that can be put to good use! Stems from soft herbs (like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, and chervil) are easy to work with: Just chop them very finely and use as you would the leaves, or turn them into jam. You can make herb-infused vinegars out of the stems from woody herbs, like thyme or rosemary; I tend to stick to one herb at a time, but feel free to go crazy and DIY your own blend. Woody herb stems can also be used to flavor stock or soup, or even serve as clever skewers.

Wilty lettuce

It’s hard not to get giddy about all of the delicate greens at the market right now. Even stored correctly, though, sometimes your lettuces can start to lose their luster. The solution: Braise ‘em, sauté ‘em, pickle ‘em, or make a batch of lettuce jam. (Common sense reminder: Limp, lightly bruised leaves are a-OK to use; leaves melting into a pile of their own slime belong in the compost bin.)

Mushroom stems

A lot of recipes call for mushrooms with softer stems, like cremini and portobellos, to be removed, but you can also just chop them up and use them along with the caps in whatever dish you’re making. If that idea doesn’t make sense for what you’re cooking, save the stems for stuffed mushrooms, noodles, vegetable paté, or compound butter. Mushrooms with firmer stems, like shiitakes, can be finely chopped and cooked if they’re very fresh, but if they’re older and the stems feel firm to the touch, your best bet is to add them to a pot of stock or a batch of gravy for a flavor boost.

Pods from shelling peas & beans

Shelled peas and beans make you work for the tender treasures within, but their fresh pods needn’t be tossed. In some cases, pods can be eaten after cooking, as with these Genius grilled favas. Unlock the flavor of more mature, tougher pods by simmering them to make stock—whether mixed in with other vegetables or all on their own for a single-flavored broth, as you would with corn cobs. Then use that stock in risotto or soups.

Radish (& beet, or turnip) tops

Like arugula or watercress, raw radish tops can add a pleasant bite in salads, whether green, grain, potato, or egg. Blended into an aioli, their slight bitterness is the perfect foil to the dip’s richness. They can also be sauteed and eaten as a side dish, added to soups. and combined with other types of greens for veggie burgers, “meat” balls, and more. Got early season beets or turnips? Their greens can be put to use in the same ways.

Strawberry tops

These are one of the easiest scraps to discard without much thought, but that would be a waste. If you’re quickly trimming and hulling a lot of berries, you’ll likely have a pile of tops with lingering bits of ripe fruit attached. Use those to infuse a pitcher of water with sweet strawberry flavor. Or, if you’re exacting about your strawberry top removal, the greens can find a home in pesto.

We also asked you what types of produce and other ingredients you have trouble using up, and based on your answers, we shared a few ideas for putting hard-to-use-up items to good use:

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gracenote1
  • Laura Koch
    Laura Koch
  • Pamela_in_Tokyo
  • venetia kudrle
    venetia kudrle
  • DeeDee
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Gracenote1 January 24, 2020
good article
Laura K. May 27, 2019
Has anyone infused water with mango pits? What other ideas do you have for mango pits?
Pamela_in_Tokyo April 22, 2018
Broccoli stems and broccoli peels
We all tend to NOT use the stem portion, but peeled, it is sweet and delicious. The skins are not fibrous and cook down nicely if given a little time.

Peel those broccoli stems and use the inside fresh with a dip on crackers or cooked for pasta. Chop it up fairly fine and add it with the garlic. Also you can use the peeled skins too if you chop them up fine as well and add them early on in the cooking process. They will cook down and be quite edible in the pasta. I saw Jamie Oliver do this with a broccoli pasta he was making.
Maggie April 23, 2018
I always eat the stems and stalks! Best part!
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
Broccoli stems are one of my favorite scraps, too!
Laura K. May 27, 2019
I shred my unpeeled broccoli stems and sauté them for omelets.
Pamela_in_Tokyo April 22, 2018
Radish/daikon/turnip tops are chopped fine and cooked with rice here in Japan. If they are really tender and fresh, after chopping fine, they can just be added to already cooked rice. With some sesame seeds too!

Love all these ideas.

Anna Thomas in LOVE SOUP says to save washed potato peels to make vegetarian soup stock.

About strawberry tops, boy I would not cut off so much as the photo seems to show. I take the tiny green tops off with hardly any red strawberry attached. But that strawberry water idea is great. Jamie Oliver also adds slices of ginger (ginger skins would work too) to such drinks.
venetia K. April 22, 2018
Asparagus ends, green leaves from cauliflower, fruit getting soft, brown bananas, apple cores....... Throw into a bag in the freezer and use in smoothies.
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
DeeDee April 22, 2018
Leek greens, parsley and mushroom stems are stockpiled frozen for stock. Radish, beet, broccoli leaves and other veggie tops are braised with garlic, oil and hot chili as a topping for rustic corn meal pizza. Squash skins, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, banana and orange peels, nut shells, onion and garlic skins and all the little trimmed bits and peels etc. are COMPOSTED and used to grow more veggies. Plant a garden. You'll learn not to waste any part of your produce and be grateful for everything delicious little miracle you've grown and put in your mouth; and not just on Earth Day.
Maggie April 23, 2018
Great idea for the pizza!
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
Agreed, that pizza sounds delicious!