When my dad was a kid, his family took an annual road trip to Las Vegas each summer. They'd leave L.A. extremely early in the morning to beat traffic, stopping at the halfway point for a big breakfast at their favorite diner. As soon as everyone finished eating, to my dad's embarrassment at the time, his mom would collect every piece of uneaten toast from their plates, schmear on a generous amount of butter and jam, and pack up leftover sandwiches for when the words "I'm hungry, mom!" would inevitably be spoken a few hours later. Growing up in the midst of the Depression, my grandma was raised to ensure that nothing ever go to waste, often inventing second or even third lives for old T-shirts, wrapping paper, and breakfast combo plates, among other things. She is an original zero-waste queen, a human manifestation of the classic Beatles line, "I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello."
Fast-forward to 2020, and this story (one my pre-teen self heard every time I groaned while packing leftovers), has never felt more pertinent. As I do my best to minimize trips to the market, I've become more mindful than ever of eating root to tip (that is, a raw ingredient in its entirety) and getting creative to make the most of leftovers. In the spirit of waste reduction, lessening virus exposure for hard-working grocery workers, saving our dollars for anti-racist organizations that need our continued support, epicurean pursuit, and, of course, The Magical Mystery Tour, consider perusing this list of possibilities the next time you're ready to dump your scraps in the trash:
Goodbye: Unwanted Carrot Tops, Beet Tops, Kale Stems, Old Soft Herbs
Tell Me More: The vast majority of my senior year Sunday mornings were spent rummaging through the fridge to make my "spring cleaning pesto." At the time, I was living with seven of my best friends and while 99% of it was pure bliss, fridge real estate (like all Bay Area real estate) was extremely limited. After a few weeks of watching our compost bin fill with bruised basil, unwanted kale stems, carrot tops, and slightly discolored arugula the moment anyone announced they were headed to the market, I decided it was time to find a better life for our "imperfect produce." From then on, each week I’d fill our blender with whatever greens were up for grabs (if you've ever smelled wilted kale, you'll know how pleased your friends will be to give it away), some garlic, olive oil, a healthy handful of nuts, a squeeze of citrus, and let it rip. Since the pesto was in a constant state of evolution, I’d taste as I went—adding more oil if it was too thick, more nuts if it was too grassy, and more garlic because if you can’t handle me with garlic breath, you don’t deserve me at my best! I think that's how that saying goes? The point is, you’ll be enjoying your saucy creation all week long thinned out as salad dressing, dolloped onto grain bowls, slathered on salmon, or with lots of parm in pasta. What more could you ever want?!
Goodbye: Scallion and Leek Roots
Hello: Regrow Your Own!
Tell Me More: Way back in March, the world changed forever (and not because of Miss Rona!) when David Chang shared on Instagram that your scallions and leeks will regrow if you place the white roots in a bit of water and let the sun do the rest! These are parts you likely aren't eating anyways, as most recipes call for the green section of the stalk. Bonus: This is the ideal project for anyone who isn't ready to commit to the sourdough shenanigans, but still wants to dip their toes in "growing" their own pet. Quarantine is getting weird, people.
Goodbye: Onion Skins, Avocado Pits, Beet Scraps, Wilted Spinach
Hello: Fabric Dye
Tell Me More: Unless you've been living under a rock (and if you are, wake the hell up!), you already know that tie-dye hasn't been this prolific since Woodstock. But, before you buy a Bezos-approved tie-dye kit online, did you know that a lot of your food scraps can be used as a natural fabric dye?! I didn't until our wonderful buyer, Lisa, experimented a few weeks ago with avocado pits (which produce a pastel pink color!) and onion skins (golden yellow) for a tie-dye project last weekend! Not fully convinced? Follow this article for all of the DIY deets you could ever need!
Goodbye: Chard Stalks
Hello: Great for pickling, grilling, and turning into hummus... honestly, great for everything!
Tell Me More: If you receive a CSA box (and if you don't, Suprmarkt offers an excellent one-for-one option here in LA), chances are that you've recently acquired more chard than you could ever imagine. But, like most heartier greens, many recipes only call for the actual leaf, leaving the gorgeously pigmented stems high and dry. But not today! You can either make like Leslie and blitz the stalks into a silky smooth hummus, pickle them for a colorful, crunchy addition to any dish, batter and fry them for a French fry substitute, or grill them up for a healthy side to your burgers.
Goodbye: Bruised Berries, Mealy Apples, and pretty much every other piece of fruit on its last breath
Hello: Jam! Jam! Jam!
Tell Me More: You know when you get to the bottom of a clamshell of berries only to find that they are all mushy, bruised, or even gooey? That’s just nature’s way of begging you to make jam, of course! Depending how much fruit you keep in the house at any given time (you’ll need at least a few cups worth), you may consider dedicating a "for jam" freezer bag as there is a point of no return when it comes to rotting fruit. From there, all you need is a bit of lemon juice (I also include a few teaspoons of zest because, well, because I like lemon!), some sugar (I prefer using coconut sugar or maple syrup but I’m not trying to backseat drive this journey), and about 20 minutes of your attention to make delicious, pectin-free goodness! Leftover chia seeds from that chia pet project you just completed (I’m only half joking)? Those would make for a great addition as well!
Goodbye: Brown, Soft Bananas
Hello: Smoothie Base, Banana Bread, Nice Cream
Tell Me More: I go back and forth with bananas. Freshman year of college I ate so many dining hall bananas I swore I could never eat them again. But the banana phone is a-ringing once again and I actually can't wait for them to ripen fast enough!! Like every other self-loving human, I often bake banana bread (this one for a healthy treat, and this one for a real treat) or chop them into "coins" and freeze for future smoothies or nice cream.
Goodbye: Citrus Rinds
Hello: All-Purpose Cleaner, Lemon Sugar, Citrus Vodka
Tell Me More: I find that I usually zest my citrus long before their rinds are of much use, but if that isn't you, the world is your actual oyster!! Infuse your booze for better flavored cocktails, toss a few rinds in your sugar container for a perfect pancake topping, or add to vinegar for a plastic free, homemade all-purpose cleaner.
Goodbye: Apple Cores
Hello: Zero-Waste Apple Juice
Tell Me More: My friends often make fun of me for approaching snack time like a pre-schooler might: I could eat apple sauce all day long, love a good string cheese, and think graham crackers with a chilled juice box rivals any wine and cheese pairing out there. One such friend recently sent me this apple juice recipe—which utilizes apple scraps and only a 1/2 cup of sugar total!—and I'm proud to announce that I am now a sophisticated, mature adult who now makes her own apple juice for snack time! My parents are so proud.
Goodbye: Mint, Rosemary, Basil
Hello: Herbal Simple Syrup
Tell Me More: It's called simple syrup for a reason people; it's as easy as 1+1=damn good drinks! Math for the masses! While you could follow a recipe to guide you through the basic process, you essentially combine one part sugar to one part water, toss in your herbs of choice, and simmer for about a minute (though, come to think of it, rosemary caramel sounds delightful!) before carefully straining and storing. Your flavored syrups will be a great addition to your happy hour à la Jess, but I also enjoy using them to sweeten my iced tea and morning coffee drinks!
Goodbye: All the Herbs I've Ever Loved Before!
Hello: Dried Herbs, Homemade Za'atar
Tell Me More: Though I tend to prefer using fresh herbs to their dried descendants, drying them out is a great way to turn these perishables into pantry staples. There are about a million different ways to effectively dry out and utilize your herbs (conveniently outlined here), but I am a particularly big fan of using my oven-dried thyme to replenish my always shrinking stash of za'atar. I shower it over bowls of hummus or labneh (and on literally every other dip in between), mix it into salad dressing, and sprinkle it everywhere else Reem Kassis tells me to.
Goodbye: All the Herbs I've Ever Loved, The Sequel! (cut thyme, rosemary, sage, and basil work best)
Hello: Herb Infused Oil (which also happens to be the BEST edible gift of all)
Tell Me More: If there is anything I love more than bread and butter, it is bread and good olive oil. The olive oil and vinegar maker at my local farmer's market, who generously lets me talk his ear off about how much I adore his grapefruit balsamic, thinks I'm certifiably nuts! Making your own flavored oil is surprisingly easy, though, and makes for a beautiful gift for your next care package!
Goodbye: Leftover Egg Wash
Hello: Scrambled Eggs That Don't Suck
Tell Me More: I've said it before and I'll say it again, most scrambled eggs are just not very good. But yours can be an exception! Instead of tossing the excess egg wash used for giving your pie crust that glow up, store in your fridge to slow cook in butter and lots of black pepper the next morning! If you added cream to the egg wash—even better!
Goodbye: Extra Whites
Hello: Meringues, Marshmallows, Angel Food Cake, French Macarons, Cocktail Frothy Goodness
Tell Me More: Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a very strange group of individuals who really didn't dig egg yolks and actually prefer the taste of scrambled egg whites!? And, to my chagrin, I call one of them my mom. Sorry, mom. But unless you really do enjoy snow-white scrambies, use your extra whites to make any of the delicious desserts mentioned above! Personally, I prefer reserving them to make a Pisco Sour, one of my favorite drinks that I don't enjoy nearly often enough. Any of that aforementioned herby simple syrup sitting on your bar cart? You bet I'm going to tell you to use it here, too!
Goodbye: Extra Yolks
Hello: Mayonnaise or Aioli, Pudding, Crème Brûlée, Homemade Pasta, Ice Cream, Hollandaise
Tell Me More: When it comes to leftover egg yolks, what you can make kinda depends on how many golden girls we're talking! Generally speaking though, yolks will add a silky richness to your homemade mayo, any number of custards (that can then be brulee'd, churned into ice cream, or eaten with a spoon!), or a decadent hollandaise sauce to make your weekend feel like one. That said, eggs freeze surprisingly well if you don't plan on using immediately.
Goodbye: Starter Discards
Hello: Starter Crackers
Tell Me More: Hi, it’s me talking about my starter again! If you are raising your starter child, you know all too well how sad it is to say goodbye to 80% of their hard work every day. Though I generally try to give my discards away to neighbors, I have also made (and gifted) a fair number of discard crackers throughout quarantine. Oh, and remember that za'atar I mentioned waaaayyy up there? I typically douse half of my batch with that good good, and toss the other half in a mixture of nutritional yeast, dried rosemary, and a pinch of paprika for fun!
Goodbye: Random Non-Wheat Flours (Buckwheat, Almond, Tapioca)
Hello: Buckwheat Pancakes, French Macarons, Breadcrumb Subs, Cornstarch Subs
Tell Me More: If you've ever spent an exorbitant amount on speciality flour for that one recipe you just had to make, only to have it sit in your pantry taunting you for the following months, this one is for you. I like using almond flour to supplement Panko when making Milanese and utilizing tapioca flour as a thickening agent for sauces. I have never been the proud owner of buckwheat flour, but if I were, I'd make these crepes and wash it down with this loaf cake.
Goodbye: Canned Chickpea Liquid, Packed Tofu Liquid, Canned Pea Liquid
Tell Me More: I can see your disgust from here and I get it...bean juice. There is probably nothing less sexy in the English language than the words "bean juice." But give it a chance! I was seriously impressed, though initially highly skeptical, when Leslie mentioned that aquafaba is a near perfect (and cheap!) vegan egg white alternative. Utilize your aquafaba just as you would egg whites to make the ultimate cage-free nougat, pavlova, and Yorkshire pudding, among so many others.
Goodbye: Almond Milk Pulp
Hello: Almond Meal/Flour
Tell Me More: Look, I enjoy slurping almond milk lattes as much as the next LA lady, but ever since this article came out discussing the grave implications of the almond industry on our bee populations (don't even say the words "murder hornets"...) and our state's water supply has me thinking twice. That said, if you're going to enjoy almond milk, consider making your own to reduce further environmental impact! And if you're going to make your own, consider getting as much mileage out of those almonds as humanly possible! Milk it, so to speak. This recipe for making almond meal from leftover pulp is as easy as it comes, and will make your wallet very happy the next time you get a French macaron itch.
Goodbye: Vegetable Scraps, Bones, Parmesan Rinds, Sprouting Garlic
Tell Me More: Phew, you made it to the end! And as a prize, here is the best tip of all: pretty much everything you'd otherwise send to the compost bin or utilize above could easily be thrown into a freezer bag for future stock. It is the ultimate lazy girl upcycling trick! Every time I make roasted chicken or turkey (I like eating Thanksgiving all year round, sue me!), I throw the carcass and drippings into a huge pot along with the contents of my freezer bag, cover with water, and let that baby simmer til she can't simmer no more! I'll freeze whatever stock I don't use immediately, and enjoy using it for making risotto, bolognese, and hearty soups! *Chef kiss*
P.S., This list is extensive, but certainly not exhaustive! If you have any genius food waste hacks, please please share them in the comments if you're comfortable doing so! We are all still learning and every addition helps!
Editors' Note: In case you missed the original announcement, Natalie ended her Editorial Internship last month to (virtually) begin her Teach for America training (but was gracious enough to come back for one final post!). We are so grateful for all of her contributions to cupcakes and cashmere—but particularly the ease with which she slid into superstar poses throughout our February Fitness month classes, her bravery in the face of challah and sourdough starter, and all of the many lessons and belly laughs she bestowed on our team! x