If you’ve been worrying about what you’re going to eat in the coming weeks and months, some of Australia’s leading waste warriors have some reassuring advice.
“A really good place to start is looking to see what can be made out of what is already in your pantry and in your fridge. A lot of people don’t know how to put little bits and pieces together so they just chuck it out. Something can always be cobbled together,” says Jaimee Edwards, head fermenter and workshop co-ordinator at Sydney’s Cornersmith Café and Picklery, pioneers in the low-waste cooking arena.
Cornersmith’s #wastehackwednesdays on Instagram are a fantastic source of tasty ideas for using up the things that might otherwise go in the bin, sharing recipes for everything from black banana relish to watermelon rind pickle. And if you’d like to skill up, Cornersmith also offers online preserving courses.
By making the most of what we have in the pantry and fridge, instead of doing more shopping, we will not only save money, but help prevent a “tsunami of food waste” says Dr Steven Lapidge, Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre.
“The best estimate we have is that about 35 per cent of food that we purchase, we throw out. And so at a time where food is becoming much more precious … this is a time for people to really think about cutting down on that waste. One problem with the hoarding of fresh food, which people have been doing, that will go off, and we’ll probably see a tsunami of food waste starting to occur in a couple of weeks.
“We’re trying to encourage people to think about what they have in their pantry and what they have in their fridge, and getting a bit more innovative about what they do with what they have,” says Dr Lapidge, whose favourite zero-waste tip is turning potato peels into chips (scroll down to read more).
There are lots of easy ways to turn “bits and pieces” into good food, Edwards says.
“Put things under vinegar to preserve them. Put things in salt – if you put citrus scraps into salt you get kind of cheat preserved lemon. Or with a few extra stray herbs, rather than chucking them, put them in vinegar and you can very easily make flavoured vinegar. You can make compound butters with little bits of fruit that’s leftover.”
Soups, curries and sauces are also great ways to make meals out of what you’ve got.
“Today for lunch at the Picklery, we’re really big believers in using up the greens of leek tops, so I finely sliced leek top and we had a little bit of tarragon left, and I just sautéed that in butter, it was the most delicious thing on toast.”
Making the most of what you have isn’t just good for your budget and the planet. It can be good for the soul, too. “Cooking is fortifying. You’re soothed – you know you can look after yourself,” Edwards says. Just what we need in these uncertain times.
Here are some of our favourite tips and recipes for cutting your food waste, which you can grab and apply right now to save money, eat well and feel better.
Got leftover broccoli, cauliflower or kale stems from making other dishes? Or veg that’s started to look a bit tired? Quick pickling is a great way to use them up. It’s really easy to do – only about 15 minutes work, and you don’t need to worry about sterilising jars – and will last for several weeks in the fridge. This recipe can be made with almost any kind of vinegar (or you can use leftover brine from the bottom of other jars of pickles).
This recipe, from Low Tox Life author and podcaster Alexx Stuart, is another great way to use up any of those limp veg lurking in your fridge. Make it as a curry, or follow her tip to transform it into a soup after cooking.
These colourful crackers shared with us by Rebecca Sullivan can be made with the scraps from juicing, or by grating up veg – fresh or leftover bits. It’s a great one for those with a dehydrator but can also be done in an oven.
Potato peel chips
“If we’re peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes, then we turn the peels into chips. They’re great chips. And that’s where most of the nutrition is, in the potato skin, not so much in the flesh,” says Dr Lapidge. Toss the peels with a little oil (not too much, or they stay a bit soggy, he says) and salt – rosemary is good too – and bake in until crisp. (Over at 1millionwomen, they suggest another tasty variation, adding nutritional yeast to their recipe; we also like Food52’s tip to let the peel sit for at least 20 minutes, or pat them dry, so you get crispier chips.)
A great idea from Cornersmith’s #wastehackwednesdays, this sauce uses up wilting herbs and herb stems (use one type or a mix; you can also throw in celery leaves), and can also be turned into a dressing.
This Cornersmith recipe is a great way to use up citrus skins after juicing fruit, and the preserved fruit halves or strips can be used in recipes in place of preserved lemons or citrus peel.
If you love bananas, you might have thought that throwing all those skins away is a waste. You’re right. You can cook with them instead. Lindsay-Jean Hard, the author of Cooking with Scraps, writes that “when repurposing your peels, use brown-freckled ones from very ripe bananas … using peels from eating-ripe-but-not-really-ripe-bananas will work but you’ll get less of a pronounced banana flavour.” You can find Hard’s recipe here, and it’s also in her book, which is an excellent collection of recipes for everything from kale stem hummus to 'pumpkin guts' scones. And you can, of course, turn the bananas themselves into banana bread (check out our fave recipes here) - one of the enduring popular ways of using up something that's almost past eating.