11 Delicious Vegetable Parts You Should Stop Throwing Away
Here’s how to unlock the potential of onion skins, herb stems, corn cobs and more veggie parts you might be throwing in the trash.
Wait! Were you about to throw away the tops of those leeks? What about those broccoli stems? We often toss the tough roots, stems, and leaves of vegetables, which are not only totally edible, but they also offer nutrients—and sometimes better flavor. Just like some butchers use all parts of the animal, many cooks are now aiming to avoid food waste by making use of vegetable scraps. Here’s how to unlock the potential of onion skins, herb stems, corn cobs and more veggie parts you might be throwing in the trash.
The tender caps of shiitakes and porcinis make for elegant main dishes—from Wild Mushroom Pappardelle with Mascarpone to Mushroom Miso Pot Pie—but the woody stems aren’t useless. You can finely chop them to make duxelles—a delicious mix of sautéed mushrooms, herbs, and onions that makes a killer topping for crostini—pickle them for sandwiches, or simmer a big batch for an earthy vegetable stock.
Onion, Leek, and Scallion Extras
Onion skins and the dark green parts of leeks and scallions are gold when it comes to making stock. Onion skins will turn your broth a deep amber shade, a sign of its concentrated flavor. (Be sure any skins you save are unblemished.) The tops of leeks can be too sinewy to enjoy on their own, but they lend an almost buttery taste to simmered soups. While the dark green parts of scallions are perfectly edible, some recipes call for only the white parts. Save the green tops for garnishing salads and soups. One way to preserve all these trimmings is to transfer them to a freezer bag until you’ve amassed around 4 cups, then use them as the base for soup.
Celery Roots and Leaves
Celery roots and leaves are typically tossed without a second glance before they ever reach supermarkets. If you do see celery stalks with their leaves attached, snatch them up. The leaves look a lot like parsley, and you can use them the same way—as an herb to garnish any celery recipe—or as added roughage in a salad. You can also save the leaves for stock or sauté them with other aromatics, which works particularly well in French dishes. The celery root tastes like a mashup between celery and potato. You can julienne the root and turn it into a mayo-dressed slaw or cook and mash it. Read more about how to cook with the whole celery plant here.
Radish, Turnip, And Beet Greens
We turn to these vegetables for their crisp and healthy roots, but they also sprout greens, which you don’t want to miss. Radish greens possess the root’s typical spiciness, while turnip and beet greens are a bit more mild. Sauté all three as you would spinach or chard, in olive oil and garlic.
Most recipes call for you to pluck herbs from the stem, which we then toss. But the stems of cilantro, mint, and parsley are especially tender. Mince them and add to any recipe containing their leaves (usually when you’re cooking aromatics). Herb stems can be blended and turned into pesto, salsa verde, or compound herb butters. Woody rosemary and thyme stems won’t ever get that tender, but you can always throw them into stock.
When submerged into simmering water, corn cobs turn into a milky broth that’s an ideal base for corn chowder or any summer vegetable soup. Once you’ve stripped the cobs of their kernels, simply transfer the cobs to a pot, cover with water, and simmer until the broth tastes sweet.
Chard And Kale Stems
Recipes that call for melt-in-your-mouth chard leaves usually ignore the ruby-red crunchy stems, but save them to sauté on their own; they’re especially delicious prepared with Indian spices like cumin or brown mustard seeds. Or make the most of the stems’ crunch by pickling them in a brine of vinegar, sugar, and salt. The pickled stems make a tasty garnish or sandwich ingredient. Kale stems are a little harder to love because of their tougher texture. Try simmering them in a pot of water until they’re tender, then pulverize them with garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan for a bright-tasting pesto.
Broccoli And Cauliflower Stems
Broccoli and cauliflower stems sometimes offer a sweeter flavor than the florets. To use them, slice the stalks and peel the tougher skin near the bottoms. Try them in your stir fry or cook the stems in boiling water with a few garlic cloves and mash for a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes.
Ever ordered potato skins at a pub? You can make them at home, only with scraps. Before peeling potatoes (any variety, including sweet potato, works), scrub the skins well and remove any eyes or blemishes. Fry the shavings in a hot skillet greased with olive or coconut oil until crackly, then season generously with salt. You can serve skins alongside eggs as an alternative to hashbrowns or as a garnish on any potato dish, such as potato leek soup.
Fennel Roots, Stalks, And Fronds
Fennel is a prized plant in that every part is both edible and delicious. The needle-shaped fronds have a mild anise flavor, which makes them a perfect garnish for soups or addition to salads. As with celery, the root ends, outer leaves, and upper stalks of fennel will contribute body to soups and stews. Store fennel trimmings with those of leeks and onions in the freezer until you’re ready to cook them.
An American classic, crisp and tangy watermelon rinds complement almost any Southern dish. To prep them, remove the pink flesh and outer green skin, then submerge the remaining white rind in a brine of salt and sugar (dissolve salt and sugar in boiling water and vinegar, then add flavorings like cloves and whole peppercorns). Chill rinds for a few hours and up to a few weeks before serving.