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Root to Stem Cooking: How to Cook More Sustainably

Do you plan to throw away those fennel fronds or that watermelon rind? Before you do anything, remember that these are healthful and tasty ingredients. The scraps you thought you could trash can be turned into a healthy snack or a delicious sauce if you use a little creativity and imagination. Root to stem cooking can be a fun and earth friendly way to be creative in a mindful way in the kitchen. In this article, you will learn how you can get a lot more out of each plant when you cook and introduce sustainable cooking into your kitchen.


A good way to utilize your produce scraps is to make a stock for soups, sauces, and braises, which are full of flavor and nutrition. To make stock, save everything: corn cobs, garlic and onion peels, celery leaves, carrot tops, asparagus woody ends, and cauliflower cores. Putting together a decent-sized stock might take some time, so keep a gallon-size bag of "stock scraps" in your freezer and add to it every time you cook.

Various produce scraps Various produce scraps

The ratio of vegetables to water for a stock will depend on individual preferences, but as a rule of thumb, you need one quart (.9L) of water for every pound (453 g) of vegetables. Stew vegetables in water with your choice of seasonings for one hour, and then strain. Refrigerate for up to four days or pre-portion into four-cup portions and freeze flat for up to three months.


Ready to try something other than traditional basil in your next pesto? Fennel fronds, carrot tops, and beet greens, just to name a few, can be tossed in the blender or food processor with a little olive oil, salt, nuts, and parmesan cheese to make a delicious sauce for a pasta dish or to finish a soup.

Freshly made pesto in a jar Freshly made pesto in a jar

Pistou, the french version of pesto, which typically is made without nuts, can be prepared with non-traditional greens as well.

A drizzle of radish tops on your fish or crusty french bread adds a peppery twist to a classic. Similarly, chimichurri, an Argentinian condiment similar to pesto, is traditionally made with parsley or cilantro, but is also a great complement to meats and savoury dishes thanks to its bright, herbaceous flavor.


Don't throw away stems from greens, like those from radishes or fennel, when you make pesto. For some extra flavor, infuse them into the pasta water.


Organic fruits and vegetables tend to contain nutrient-rich skins and peels that are the most flavorful and nutrient-dense.

Making mashed potatoes? Roasting the skins after peeling makes an easy, salty snack or a tasty addition to a salad after brushing with oil and seasoning.

Vegetable peels Vegetable peels

Most of the pectin in apples is found in the skins and seeds, so they’re ideal for making jelly. You can serve the jelly with charcuterie and proteins such as pork or chicken.

Various citrus peels, including orange peel, lime peel, lemon peel, and grapefruit peel, can be candied as a sweet, fragrant garnish for cakes and pastries or blended into muffins or bread. Use them at cocktail hour or tea time as a garnish.

Also, do not toss those costly vanilla bean pods. Plant dried pods in the sugar jar to give it a delicate vanilla scent. Or spin the pods in your food chopper with some sugar to use in baked goods.


Have you grown a bumper crop of chilis, or did you use only half of the vegetables you purchased for the ratatouille? Consider pickling before letting that produce spoil. Pickling can add life to the taste of produce with bright, briny notes, and it can also add up to two months of shelf life to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Pickles from your refrigerator are great for garnishing cocktails, adding flavor to salads, or adding crunch to sandwiches and cheese plates.

Man making pickled vegetables Man making pickled vegetables

Vinegar, water, kosher salt or sugar, and the seasoning of your choice are the basic ingredients of pickling. A basic pickling ratio is 3:2:1 – 3 parts vinegar, 2 parts water, and 1 part sugar. This is just a starting point for you to experiment with; add different types of sugar and vinegar or some pink peppercorns, some yellow mustard seeds, or even a handful of dill.


In addition to being edible, squashes and melons contain seeds that are nutrient-dense. The seeds of watermelon can be roasted and eaten as a healthy snack alternative. Don't forget those cucumber seeds. You can dry them, toss them with some olive oil, salt, and spices, and roast them for a crisp afternoon snack, or add them to baked goods for a little nutrition boost.

Roasted seeds with seasoning Roasted seeds with seasoning


Composting is always a good option for getting rid of produce scraps; however, be aware that too much citrus peel and onion in the compost bin can destroy worms and microbes that aid in decomposition. Remember to alternate between greens (nitrogen-rich) and browns (carbon-rich) to control the decomposition and smell of your compost.

Man composting Man composting