February 29, 2024

IIf holiday meal prep leaves you with plates full of potato skins and cutting boards full of carrot sticks, you’re not alone. The US sees a 25% increase in waste during the holiday season – 21% of which comes from our kitchen tables. On Thanksgiving alone, Americans throw away a whopping 305 million pounds of food. And all these cheese rinds, apple cores, vegetable peels, and crusty week-old leftovers that make their way to landfills harm the planet by releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. According to one estimate by the UN Environment Programme, if food waste were its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Much of this so-called food waste is perfectly edible.

“People never – until very recently – threw away edible food,” says Tamar Adler, former professional cook and author of the Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers AZ and the cooking advice newsletter The kitchen is shrinking. “Using parts of everything is fundamental to human eating.”

Here, Adler and other chefs share their tips for guiding food scraps from the trash to your plate.

Potato peels

If you’re making mashed potatoes or latkes, chances are you’ll end up with a pile of potato skins. First things first: slice those skins very thin, then blanch them in boiling water and chill them over ice. From here you have a few different options. Adler suggested frying the skins immediately in the oven, with salt and olive oil. Topped with Gruyère and chips, you can serve these fancy potato chips to guests as a pre-meal snack.

Steven Goff, a sustainability-minded chef at Tastee Diner in Asheville, North Carolina, said he likes to make a similar, albeit more decadent, snack by frying skins and topping them with barbecue sauce and crème fraiche.

If you want to incorporate your potato skins into a main dish, Goff suggests frying them, grinding them in a food processor and sprinkling them on top of a casserole. You can even add extra turkey or chicken skin from your main roast, which, Goff said, lends the mix a strong umami flavor.

Carrot tops

Do your root trees always end up in the compost or garbage? There is another way. You can substitute herbs for carrots, whether in a sauce for meat or a pesto for pasta. Jamie Bissonnette, a James Beard Award-winning chef in Boston who has appeared on the food waste challenge cooking show Scraps, said that if your recipe calls for parsley or cilantro leaves or stems, you can swap out half of the cilantro or parsley for root vegetables. He also suggested finishing any holiday root dish with thinly sliced ​​beans and stems for added flavor.

If you’re serving a barbecue for your holiday dinner, Goff recommends turning baby carrots into chimichurri, which can serve as a delicious side sauce. Grind the carrots by hand or put them in a food processor, then combine them with olive oil, garlic and grated onion. “I like to do it the day before or a little earlier in the day to really let it marinate like a soup,” Goff said.

Stale bread

Most of the bread-based products you buy in the store, such as croutons or breadcrumbs, are easy to make at home. The simplest preparation, Adler said, is to turn stale or stale bread into breadcrumbs. Adler recommends grinding them in a food processor and discarding the large hard chunks. “You’ll end up with a few cups, certainly enough for mac and cheese or chicken cutlets,” she said. Goff added that you can also combine those breadcrumbs with lemon zest and pan drippings from turkey or barbecue and use them to spice up a casserole. If you already have enough breadcrumbs, you can also use stale bread for croutons or make your own filling.

For a bruschetta-like appetizer, Bissonnette suggested slicing the stale bread, toasting it, then rubbing a clove of raw garlic over the brown surface, tossing it with a juicy, salty-sweet fruit like tomato or persimmon cover and drizzle with olive oil. . “It becomes a quick, delicious snack,” he said.

If you’re tired of leftovers, you can make a whole new meal using stale bread: ribollita, an Italian soup that includes stale bread, beans, kale and other winter-time pantry staples, Adler said.

And don’t overlook the power of a bread pudding. It can be made as a dessert – Adler says you can make it from unwanted fruitcakes and other sweet breads – or it can be savory. Goff says brown and rye bread can make a delicious savory bread pudding, topped with caramelized onions or even bacon.

Apple core

Bissonnette recommends having a saucepan stand by while you chop up vegetables. When Bissonnette cooks at home, he throws all his vegetable scraps into that pot, and when he’s done, fills it with ice water, adds salt and simmers until he has stock, which he keeps in the freezer for soups and stews . Apple cores make a fruity addition. Bissonnette chops them up, removes the seeds and throws them in to add flavor.

Apple seeds can also be made into a spread or flavoring liquid. Adler recommends making an apple cider vinegar, which involves brining the apple cores with sugar for a few weeks, which will give you a fruity vinegar. Goff and Adler also both recommended soaking the apple cores either with sugar or with simple syrup and spices, which you can then use to flavor plain seltzer or make cocktails.

Goff also suggests cooking apple cores with brown sugar and spices and pureeing them to make apple butter.

More waste cooking

For many home cooks, figuring out what is food and what is food waste is often the most challenging part of waste cooking. But experts say to trust your instincts about what’s good to eat, even if expiration dates tell you otherwise.

“There is nothing wrong [with an ingredient] as long as it tastes good to you,” Goff said.

Adler added that our bodies long ago adapted to assess ingredients: generally, if you smell it and don’t recoil in disgust, it’s not going to hurt you.

While preserving scraps may seem like an added chore, Adler says it can save you time – and money – later.

“Because I’m saving things and constantly turning them into other meals, I’m spending less time, not more time, cooking,” Adler said, noting that she’s been making meals of her Thanksgiving food for weeks after the holiday. “I think it’s much easier to start with something than to start with nothing. Starting something is always easier.”

The most important prep step, Adler says, is to take a few minutes to chop or blanch and then store your scraps in clean, well-labeled containers so they look like ingredients. “Get them in a form where they’re attractive and quick to use and you’ve communicated to your future self how to use them. Lightens the cognitive load,” she said.

But cooking with leftovers isn’t for everyone at all times. And Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Manhattan’s Blue Hill, says that’s right. “Don’t be burdened with food waste over the holidays,” he said. “Be burdened with everything else.”

If the idea of ​​preserving food scraps in an already busy time feels insurmountable, Barber offered other ways to stay mindful of our food systems this time of year. If you live in a rural area, he suggested you find a local farm and promise to bring your scraps there to feed pigs for all of 2024. You can also ask your supermarket manager about buying imperfect foods, which are misshapen products that are often thrown away. Or, refrain from eating energy-intensive foods like meat and white flour for the weeks leading up to your holiday of choice, then indulge in a barbecue.

“That’s what celebrations are all about. That’s when we really have to indulge,” Barber said. “The rest of the year we have to think about how we should eat with the least footprint on the world.”

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