• “Cooking with food that is wasted or discarded is all about looking at what you have, deciding what can be delicious and how ingredients can work together." (Westend61/Getty Images)
To some, food scraps are garbage. To others, they’re a culinary opportunity. Here’s how to make the most of often-discarded produce.
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By Yasmin Noone

17 Sep 2019 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 17 Sep 2019 - 11:41 AM

You may love to cook food at home. But each night, as you’re carefully chopping, dicing and slicing ingredients, consider how much valued food you're actually throwing away. 

According to Foodwise, Australian households spend up to $1,000 a year on the food that we just throw out.

Yet the pre-loved food scraps that end up in your garbage – stems, leaves, overripe fruit, stale bread – can actually be used to add flavour and bulk to a host of meals. The trick is to know how to cook them.

“Cooking with food that is wasted or discarded is all about looking at what you have, deciding what can be delicious and how ingredients can work together," says Sydney chef from Fred’s, Georgia Lahiff, who also leads Hidden Harvest’s Wasted Wednesdays kitchen.

Here are 9 ways to cook with food scraps.

“Rather than asking 'why you should use the green part of the leek', you should ask 'why wouldn’t you use that end of the leek?'”

1. Why wouldn’t you use the green part of the leek?

“Rather than asking 'why you should use the green part of the leek', you should ask 'why wouldn’t you use that end of the leek?'” Lahiff says.

The chef explains that, when cooked, the green section of the leek can be used instead of a brown or white onion, or in addition to an onion to create a more intense flavour.

“The green part of the leek has a different texture to the white part, so you will need to cook it for slightly longer. Add it to your dish whenever you would sauté an onion.”

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“At Wasted Wednesdays, the diners realise that the food they are eating would normally go in the bin. But when they taste the meals, they realise the food is delicious.”

2. Leek greens can also make a crunchy garnish or snack

You can also spruce up a salad or soup by using the raw, green leek stem for extra crunch.

“If you slice it really thinly and put it into iced water, it will curl up and become really crunchy so you can put that raw, into salads.”

3. Sauté your kale stalks

“Everyone mindlessly rips off the kale leaves and discards the stalk,” she says. “But there are so many uses for kale stalks.”

Cooks can use kale stalks in soups or pesto. Or, simply add them to a stir-fry. “If you want to use the kale stalk, add it slightly earlier in the recipe – maybe when you’re sautéing your onions. That way, by cooking the kale stalk down for longer, it will become soft and palatable.”

4. Don't forget the pumpkin skin

There’s no need to chop off and discard the skin of a pumpkin. “The skin is delicious once it’s roasted. It breaks down so you can eat it.”

The pumpkin flesh will cook long before the skin is cooked. So it might be wise to cook the skin and flesh separately, so you can cook the skin long enough to make it soft and delicate.

Alternatively, when roasting, leave pieces of pumpkin nice and large to increase skin cook-time. 

5. The wonders of broken rice

Broken or cracked long-grain rice shouldn’t be discarded. Lahiff explains that cooks can reap the low-GI benefits of using broken long-grain rice in recipes that require short-grain rice. “You can use it for a pilaf or in a salad instead of plain steamed rice.”

There are even Vietnamese dishes that are centred on the stuff.

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6. Use overripe fruit for extra flavour

Overripe fruit often carries a more intense flavour than fruit that’s within date as carbohydrates convert to fruit sugars. They are great to blend into ice creams, smoothies, as coulis and even fruit breads and cakes without adding extra sugar.

Preserves are also an ideal way to use fruit past it’s best by date. “If the fruit is already overripe, it will have so much pectin in it that you won’t need to add any pectin or sugar to it to make it into a jam. Just cook it for long enough and it will go ahead and do its thing," says Lahiff.

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7. How to use leftover juicing pulp

2040, A Handbook for the Regeneration, based on the documentary by the same name, also offers a few tips on how to use food waste products that usually end up in the bin. The author, Damon Gameau, recommends that you get creative by adding the pulp from juices (skin and seeds included) to meals.

“Layer fruit pulp on your favourite muesli and yoghurt in chilled glasses and serve as a breakfast parfait,” Gameau says in the book.

Leftover vegetable pulp can also be added to veggie and bean burger patties, and fruit and vegetable pulp can be frozen in ice cube trays and added to chilled water or baked into muffins, loaves and brownies. 

8. Have your herb stems handy

Gameau suggests using herb stems to prevent the being thrown into the garbage and going to landfill.

One way to do that is to make a herb stem dressing with your soft herbs (woody rosemary stems might not be so pleasant). To do so, mix white wine vinegar with avocado oil, Dijon mustard, a chopped red onion and the herb stems of your choice. Drizzle the dressing over warm and freshly roasted vegetables or on your favourite salad.

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