What do Bloody Mary mix, carrot-top salsa, yogurt whey muffins, and roasted raspberry jam have in common? All these delicious recipes rely on ingredients that typically head straight for the compost or sink drain. In the Twice as Tasty workshop at last weekend’s Free the Seeds fair, I shared ways to eat from top to root. Here I share my notes from the workshop, which include ways to give trimmings a second life, ban “discard” from your kitchen, and ultimately look at what heads for your plate versus your compost bin in a new way.
Top to Root
Whether you grow your own produce or buy it, you inevitably end up with “waste.” It’s rare to find a recipe that doesn’t say or just imply you should throw out excess and even rarer for a recipe to use every part of a vegetable or fruit. Composting in your backyard or through community collection can handle much of that discard, but with some creative thinking, you can use most of your scraps instead of or even before composting them.
It doesn’t stop there. Many parts of plants never even make it from the garden to the kitchen, even though they are edible. From sprout to plant to seed, from top to root, you’ll find plenty of hidden culinary treasures in your garden.
Top-to-root eating is at the heart of Twice as Tasty. The recipe that inspired me to start a food blog, Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix, uses the tomato juice left from making grilled-tomato salsa. It takes the liquid I would normally pour in the compost—or let’s face it, down the sink drain—and turns it into a fabulous beverage that I could never make enough of to keep up with demand from family and friends.
It was also at the heart of this year’s Free the Seeds fair. Recovery is a key component of a resilient community food system. You practice “recovery” when you save and replant seeds, closing the seed gap. You also practice recovery when you reduce your food waste, reuse as many scraps as you can, and recycle what’s left by composting it and returning it to the soil.
Savoring It All
Collecting seeds for cooking is even easier than saving them for replanting, because you don’t have to worry about ensuring they’re dried and stored at ideal temperatures for regermination. You can gather and dry coriander, dill, fennel, and other seeds and then use them as whole spices or grind them in your kitchen for endless dishes. You can also collect larger seeds like pumpkin seeds, shell peas, shell beans, and nasturtium seeds to turn into snacks, sides, and meals. Here are just a few recipes that use saved seeds:
- Sweet Spice Mix
- Fermented Tea Pickles
- Definitely Dilly Beans
- Spicy German-Style Mustard
- Roasted Pumpkin Puree and Seeds
- Pickled Nasturtium Seeds
- Garden Risotto
- Vegetarian Baked Beans
Tops and Shoots
You likely grow and buy some fruits and vegetables intending to eat both their tops and roots: beetroot and beet greens immediately come to mind. For many others, you likely just think of using one part. But the tops of vegetables like carrots, garlic, radishes, and fennel are not only edible but also delicious. The shoots and leaves of plants typically grown for their stems, like chard and celery, or for their seeds and pods, like snap peas, carry flavor and nutrients that often go to waste. Here are just a few recipes that might inspire you to harvest tops and shoots:
Roots, Scraps, and Peels
Outside of root vegetables, we rarely think of cutting off the bottom end of a vegetable or fruit and putting it anywhere but the compost. But such roots, peels, and other trimming scraps can have just as much flavor and use as the main body of the fruit or vegetable (be sure to buy organic if you’re planning to cook or eat peels). Give some thought to reusing scraps like these before you recycle them:
- Strawberry tops and hulls: Save and dehydrate them to use in infusions, like tea, bitters, and alcohol.
- Citrus peels: Organic zest can be frozen, candied, or dried to use in seasonings.
- Root veg scraps: Tips and crowns from beets, as well as onions and turnips, work well in ferments; beet skins in particular can be turned into a fermented kvass-style beverage.
- Brassica cores: Shred the cores of cabbage, broccoli, and other brassicas for a salad or slaw.
- Red onion skins: Save the dried red skins to add color to Sweet Pepper Jelly.
- Herb stems: Many herbs, like cilantro and basil, have stems as flavorful as their leaves that can be blended into pesto or herb butter.
Solids versus Liquids
Like humans, fruits and even vegetables have a lot of liquid in their body. But recipes often need just the solids or just the liquids; the rest gets tossed out. That’s why I love to pair recipes that give you two creations from one batch of produce:
- Rhubarb–Orange–Ginger Marmalade and Rhubarb–Rosemary Syrup
- Apricot–Raspberry–Mint Jam and Roasted Raspberry Syrup
- Raw-Fruit Shrub and smoothie cubes
- Grilled Tomatillo Salsa and Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas
- Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa and Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix
- Grilled Tomato Pasta Sauce and Tomato Juice Soup
Other recipes can be adapted to use pulp left from juicing, such as Black Bean Veggie Burgers, carrot muffins and quick bread, and many soups and stews. Still other uses for leftover liquids and solids don’t even need their own recipe. Use the brine left from pickling fruit as an instant shrub or in a cocktail and savory pickle brine as a salad dressing or in dishes like Braised Breakfast Potatoes. Stir the foam created by making jam into homemade granola before you dry it or into your homemade yogurt when you eat it. If you have more solids than you can use, puree and freeze them in ice-cube trays to drop into smoothies, soups, and stews.
Nose to Tail
Your top-to-root eating can extend beyond fruits and vegetables, as seen in the growing trend of nose-to-tail eating. In my kitchen, this means fish and shellfish scraps and shells, as well as dairy products. If you make your own cheese and other dairy products, whey is a copious byproduct worthy of putting to a second use, such as in these recipes:
Going Too Far
As Danish chef Mads Refslund says in his fabulous book Scraps, Wilt, & Weeds, “Sometimes it is too much to use the whole.” I’ve found this to be true for dehydrating and then pulverizing stems and skins, such as of apple, asparagus, kale, and beets—although the powder can replace some of the flour in crepes or homemade pasta, I find I just don’t use it. I also haven’t played with making ciders, since I rarely drink them and would want to take them all the way to the hard-cider stage. You’ll need to decide where you draw your own line in top-to-root eating.
Twice as Tasty
If you’ve already thought about putting scraps to use, likely you started with stock. Next week, I’ll highlight my big 3 stock recipes and talk about how I use them to put scraps to use. This month, I’ll also explain how to create a stock solely from scraps. In the meantime, be sure to comment here with any ideas you have for ways to eat from top to root; even better, share your photos with the Twice as Tasty Community on Facebook or via Instagram. While you’re there, check out the posts about the latest Twice as Tasty project!
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get newsletters delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.
2 thoughts on “Top to Root: Savoring It All”
It sounds like you are finally putting all your ideas in one book. The book will fill a real need as many return to the basics and good nutrition. Your photography and recipes are a marriage made in fun, looking, reading and experimenting. Hail to the book in progress.
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Thanks! I’m already having so much fun with the project.
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