In our house, growing up, there was no such thing as waste when you could find a new use for it. With this mantra, my dad ingrained in us the notion that there's almost never a need to throw away anything you use in the kitchen. Just be creative; repurpose your trash in a way you might not have thought of before.
For the most part, I believed him. He always served cuts of meat I didn’t recognize or parts of the vegetable I wouldn’t think to eat. The rest he composted. As a family, we were sustainable.
It wasn’t until I got my own kitchen and learned to cook on my own that I came to terms with the reality, the difficulty, of cooking like this, with as little waste as possible.
Years later, I would reach for the trash can holding a bushel of chewy green stems I had no idea what to do with, and feel my dad’s eyes behind me, widening with disapproval. I would turn around. He wouldn't be there (because he lives in Texas, and I moved out years ago). This would happen periodically. I would toss out chicken bones with a grimace and bury vegetable refuse under my roommates' garbage so I wouldn’t have to confront my own wasteful habits.
But slowly, eventually, I began to seek out ways to reduce my trash. I looked for recipes and techniques that would make my cooking more nose-to-tail/top-to-bottom/side-to-side. In other words, I wanted my garbage to get full a lot less. Between talking to coworkers, reaching out to my dad, and researching online, I can safely say that I’m a lot more resourceful now when it comes to cooking. A lot of what I learned could be considered supplementary—stuff you should teach yourself only after you feel comfortable in the kitchen. Which, to some extent, is true. However, learning to cook more mindfully, and with less waste, doesn’t have to be a supplementary lesson. Rather, it can be an ethos, a way of thinking that guides you through the kitchen sustainably.
Here are five things that used to be all too well acquainted with my garbage can.
Ever since I gave myself over to making my own chicken stock (which is nowhere near as daunting as it sounds, I promise!), I save every bone that comes my way. They lend a richness and nuance to stock that a store-bought box or cube just can't compete with. Not that there's anything wrong with a bouillon cube, but I must admit that I've become slightly obsessed with the hours-long Sunday-afternoon project of simmering all the bones and vegetable scraps I've collected over the weeks in the gallon Ziploc in my freezer. Sometimes I'll make chicken for dinner, excited only by the prospect of the bones I'll be able to collect afterwards. Is that weird?
We're no stranger to the goodness of a broccoli bushel. Those vibrant florets are just asking to be charred and roasted, brined and buttered, but what of their stems? Too often, it seems, those take a bitter backseat to the prettier parts. That shouldn't, however, always be the case. There's actually a lot of broccoli flavor stored in the trunk, it just takes a little extra work to access. If you take a vegetable peeler to remove the chewy exterior of the stalk, you're left with a vegetable core that packs all the broccoli flavor you love. Just slice that up and serve it raw in a salad, or sautéed in stir fries.
These waxy bits and bobs used to sit right at the top of my straight-to-the-garbage-can pipeline. Parmesan's great, but that chewy exterior? Not so much. That is, until I discovered parmesan broth. Truly, broth is waste's best friend—or is it waste's enemy? Either way, boiling what you might consider scraps, refuse, or otherwise useless ends, is actually the best way to make use of things you'd otherwise toss. Rinds, for example, boiled away in a giant pot of water, reveal themselves to be salty and rich vessels of cheesy goodness. Your broth, and your tastebuds, will thank you.
I'm tossing coffee grounds in my trash just about every day. No, I'm tossing coffee grounds in my trash literally every day. They're practically my garbage's best friend. That's a weird image, but it's true. That doesn't always have to be the case. There's plenty to do with those leftover grounds. I've mixed them with coconut oil and used that as a scrub or made a DIY deodorizer. As for any left over brewed coffee (which sometimes happens!!) there's plenty of second uses for that as well...
When you're staring at a beautiful beet or a sweet sweet carrot, its becomes oh so easy to disregard the bushel-y tops. But here's a piece of advice: DON'T! Sleeping on the marvel that is a beet or carrot stem is a real waste of time. Instead, fold them into pestos or even.....meatballs!
How do you conserve in the kitchen? Share your tips in the comments below.