Root to Stem Cooking Is the Delicious Way to Maximize Nutrition—and Minimize Food Waste
Two words: potato skins.
We’re well aware that fruits and vegetables are essential to a balanced diet. And perhaps now more than ever, many of us are upping our intake of fresh produce and swapping in plant-based ingredients for meat or processed foods. (High five, folks.)
But have you ever considered how many vitamins and nutrients go to waste when we discard perfectly viable parts of produce during meal preparation? The USDA estimates that food waste in the United States makes up about 30 to 40 percent of our food supply, which is inexcusable. "Root-to-stem cooking—a fancy term for fully using a fruit or vegetable—is a great way to both minimize food waste and maximize nutrition and flavor," says Jennifer Patzkowsky, MS, RDN, LDN, Corporate Dietitian at Publix. Here are some simple ways we pulled together with Patzkowsky for incorporating all the parts of vegetables into your cooking routine. Your wallet, your arteries, and the planet will all thank you.
The notion of saving peels, stalks, tops, and skins to simmer in stock is nothing new, but it remains an excellent option for getting more out of your vegetables. Here’s how:
- Collect extra veggie pieces to store in the freezer, building up your supply for a savory stock.
- Save the often-discarded parts such as carrot tops, the green leaves of leeks, cores of cabbage and cauliflower, and more. Avoid beets, as they will redden the stock.
- The vegetable-to-water ratio for stock can vary, but in general you should use 1 quart of water per pound of vegetables.
- Simply combine vegetables, water, garlic, and herbs. Simmer for an hour and strain for a flavorful stock to use in soups and recipes.
Potato peels contain fiber and other beneficial nutrients—tossing them also tosses much of the nutritional value of your spuds. If your recipe calls for peeling potatoes, you have a few alternatives. You can either wash them well and leave the skin on to get the full nutritional value, or oven-bake the peels with olive oil and seasonings (these make for a deliciously crispy side or salad topper.)
RELATED: How Healthy Are Potatoes, Exactly?
Most of us are accustomed to eating broccoli and cauliflower florets, but the stalks are also edible (and delicious). To cook with them, simply remove the outer layer of broccoli or cauliflower stalks with a vegetable peeler, then cut them into small pieces and roast them with the florets, shave them into thin ribbons for a salad or slaw, or use your food processor to make homemade cauliflower or broccoli rice. The leaves are great stirred into in sautés and salads, too.
The stems on your greens—think Swiss chard, kale, and collards—are perfectly edible and filled with fiber. Simply chop and sauté them for an added crunch that offsets the texture of wilted leaves. Eat as is, stir into pasta, or serve over salmon (you can also add them to stock).
Roasting beet roots in the oven will bring out their natural sweetness.
Every part of celery is edible. Who knew? Chop and include all of the stalks (inner and outer) using a peeler. Or shave celery into ribbons to add beautiful pop of color to a fennel and citrus salad. Celery leaves are great in soups or as garnishes, too.
Pesto is a deliciously forgiving sauce, which makes it a great dish for dropping extra herbs, lettuces, radishes, cruciferous veggies, or leafy greens into. Same goes for vinaigrettes and other simple sauces, dressings, and marinades.
Everyone loves zucchini bread, carrot muffins, lemon poppy seed cake, apple sauce, and pumpkin pie. Before you toss a piece of produce that’s on its last legs, consider cooking it into a breakfast baked good, or puree it for future desserts. If you aren’t using it right away, the freezer is a great option.
While carrots with their greens still attached are not as common as they used to be (we get it), carrot tops on their own can add depth and character to dishes. They can also replace cilantro or parsley in a pinch. Since low-quality carrots may have sandy tops, we recommend buying them from a reputable grocery that offers organic carrots with tops. Also, be sure to separate the tops and bottoms and store them separately, as the carrot greens drain moisture from the roots.