'Nose-to-tail' has long been a catchcry for sustainability advocates and gourmands alike who argue that we should use the whole animal in food preparation, leaving little to waste. In its footsteps followed 'fin-to-scale', seafood's version of no-waste cooking.
And now we have 'root-to-leaf', a philosophy that promotes cooking with the whole vegetable. It's the guiding principle of Garden Betty blogger Linda Ly's new cookbook, The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook, a collection of 105 recipes that transform vegetable scraps and offcuts into nourishing soups, salsas, and salads.
Ly tells SBS Food, "Being a gardener, I'm very aware of how food grows and what it takes to get a vegetable from the garden to the dinner table.
"It's always felt like such a waste of time, water, fertiliser, and other resources to discard these perfectly edible parts of the plants I spent months growing. I realised I could get much more out of my garden by using the shoots and leaves that grew so abundantly before the fruits, like peas and squash, or flower buds, like broccoli and cauliflower, ripened."
"It's always felt like such a waste of time, water, fertiliser, and other resources to discard these perfectly edible parts of the plants I spent months growing."
Ly's parents, who grew up in war-era Vietnam before emigrating to the US, instilled in their daughter a sense of resourcefulness and a disdain for waste when it came to cooking food.
"My parents grew up in a food culture that celebrated fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables in every meal," she says.
"Appetisers and desserts were often cut-up pieces of whatever fruits were in season. A plate was never complete without a garnish of fragrant herbs. And soups were always loaded with leafy green vegetables. Because meat – especially red meat – was considered a luxury in their home country, their cooking was usually heavy on produce and wasted very little of it."
Tips for root-to-leaf cooking
Ly's first piece of advice for waste-conscious home cooks is to be unafraid to cook vegetables that we typically eat raw. "Vegetables…like radishes and cucumbers take on a delicious new dimension when they're cooked," she says. "Radishes lose some of their bitterness when braised or roasted, and cucumbers turn silky and sweet."
Another tip she suggests is to "try to put the tops and tails back together again in your recipes." Thinly slice raw beetroot and toss it with tender beet greens in a salad, use baby zucchini with the blossoms still attached as a taco filling, or infuse tomato leaves in homemade tomato sauce.
It's the humble tomato that is her "hands down" favourite vegetable – or fruit, to be precise. "When they're grown at home, they take on so many different flavours, from light and tangy to rich and savoury," she says.
"Cooking brings out an even greater depth of flavour. I love how they're a vegetable but can almost be a dessert with their sweetness, and I use them in all kinds of recipes: sauces, chutneys, and ketchup – homemade is an entirely different experience from the store-bought stuff! – soups and stews, roasted, braised, and sautéed, and even pickled, fermented, or oven-dried."
One of the most versatile recipes for herbaceous odds and ends is pesto, a zingy blend of herbs or greens, grated hard cheese, toasted nuts or seeds, garlic, and oil. Ly's book features an array of pestos, including Fennel Frond and Ginger, Kale Stem, Bean Leaf, and Tomato Leaf versions. "If it's green, it can be turned into pesto," she jokes.
"Preparing your own pesto out of the odds and ends from your pantry and produce bin is simple once you know the formula."
Foraging on the farm
A pot of pesto is a regular fixture on the farm table at Misty Creek Agroforestry near Byron Bay in northern NSW. "At the moment we are loving chickweed," says Tom Bjorksten, who runs Misty Creek with his partner Nicole. "It is exploding all over our garden with the cooler weather. Our other fave for pesto is nasturtium."
Very few vegetable offcuts end up in the compost at Misty Creek, a syntropic agroforestry farm whose structure is intended to mimic a natural rainforest. "In both our farm and household, we aim to have as little waste as possible," says Bjorksten.
"We use any kind of green things for pestos, such as fennel fronds or carrot tops. Radish or beetroot greens are cooked like silverbeet, silverbeet and beetroot stems are stir-fried, [and] broccoli stem is cooked as per the florets after the bitter edge is sliced off."
Even the peel of organic bananas is given a second life, used to brew a "delicious" tea that is high in magnesium.
Like Ly, Bjorksten encourages home cooks to experiment with parts of plants that we usually toss out. "Our best advice for people is simply to Google how to use... before you put it in the compost,' he says. "It's …how we have stumbled upon most of our little tips and tricks."
The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook by Linda Ly is published by Murdoch Books.