Eating "Throw Away" Food

Maybe it's my frugal German heritage showing through, but I love learning about new ways to use food I used to think was only good for the compost bin or the chickens. And with food prices going up and up, who doesn't want to get more out of their grocery budget? Here are some recent ideas I've run across:

* Garbage Soup. Here's a very old idea that most Americans have lost track of: Keep your "throw away" bits of food and turn them into soup. Keep the ends and peelings (including the papery outer skin) of onions and garlic, vegetable and fruit peelings, broccoli and asparagus stems, scraps of meat, poultry and meat bones, and all that other kitchen "waste" you normally toss. Throw them in the freezer until you've accumulated enough to put them in a pot with some stock (or just water, if you've got poultry or meat bones). You'll need to use a wee bit of caution here. Just one or two small pieces of citrus peel is plenty; the same thing goes for pepper and leafy green scraps. If you prefer, you can strain this mixture and just use it as stock, sending the cooked up bits from plants (but not animals) to the compost bin.

* Brussels Sprout Leaves. The smaller (no more than a woman's palm size) leaves at the top of the plant are great sliced and sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic. And if you lop off and eat the crown of leaves at the top of the plant, small balls of leaves will grow that can be eaten any way you eat Brussels sprouts; they taste a bit more cabbage-y than Brussels sprouts do.

* Potato Peelings. I prefer to leave the peels on; they pack some good nutrition. I even leave them in place when I'm making mashed potatoes. But if you prefer to remove them, try deep frying them in 350 degree F. oil. Sprinkle with salt and maybe some paprika.

* Root Veggie Tops. The leafy tops of carrots can be used just like parsley. The leafy tops of beets are delicious sliced into thin strips and sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and a little salt. The leafy greens of radishes can be cooked the same way.

* Watermelon Rinds & Seeds. The jalapeno pickled watermelon rinds I've made are terrific for pickle lovers who like a bit of a twang. But there's also the traditional, sweeter version using spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. If you don't can, you can just store the pickles in the fridge. You can also remove the green part of the rind and use the whitish part just like you'd use cucumbers. I also hear you can roast watermelon seeds and eat them!

* All Things Nasturtium. All parts of nasturtiums above the ground are edible. The flowers and leaves are mostly used in salads. The seed pods can be pickled.

* Sweet Potato Leaves. Both the leaves and stems of sweet potatoes are great in soups, stews, and sauteed. Stick to smaller leaves - no larger than a woman's palm.

* Lettuce stems. If you grow leafy lettuce, you can harvest the thick center stem once the weather gets warm and the lettuce leaves turn bitter. It's a little bit of trouble to peel those stems, but then you can cook them (roasted or sauteed are my preferences). They are tender and yummy.

* Pea, Kohlrabi, Cauliflower Leaves. If you choose the younger leaves of peas, they taste just like the peas themselves, and make a great addition to salads. Kohlrabi and cauliflower leaves can be cooked just like collards or other dark greens.

* Celery & Fennel Leaves. Use in small quantities, minced, to perk up and season a dish.

* Chard & Collard Ribs. If you purchase older plants with thick ribs, or you just let them grow too long in your garden, you can cut away the ribs and simmer them in a little wine, water, or stock, then drain and drizzle a little oil and a wee bit of salt.

* Corn Cobs Milk. Remove any remaining kernels and simmer with onions and carrots for a vegetable stock.

* Tomato Leaves & Stems. Wrap them in some cheesecloth and place in the soup pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking. They add a unique scent. Remove the cheesecloth bag after 10 minutes and toss the whole in the compost bin.

* Cabbage Mini Heads. Once you cut off the main head of cabbage, consider leaving the plant in place. It will grow mini heads of cabbage. Cut them off when they are small, and eat them like Brussels sprouts. Or wait till they get a bit bigger and eat them like cabbage.

* Strawberry Leaves. Dehydrate them and use them to make herbal tea.

* Rose Hips. If you have roses that produce hips (seed pods) when they are done blooming, wait until they get bright red, then harvest them. The pods are great for stews, tea, and jelly. For complete information on harvesting and using rose hips, check out this post.

* Citrus Peels. Use a wee bit in soups, stocks, or stews. Or peel away the white pith, dehydrate, and use chopped finely or minced in baked goods.

* Leek Ends. Most recipes call for only the white part of the leek, but the tougher greens are great in soups.

* Bolted Collards. Snip off the bolted ends (the seed head) of collards as soon as they appear and you can keep eating the leaves for a while. Then eat the bolted head, too. They taste a lot like broccoli, raw or cooked.

* Garlic Stems (Scapes). The tough stems leading to the bud on garlic plants are quite edible - and cutting the stems off encourages plants to grow bigger bulbs. The really tough part of the stems is good for making stock or adding to soups, then discarding before serving. The less tough part - and the bulb - can be chopped or minced and cooked just like garlic cloves.

For more ideas on what parts of produce you may be throwing away but could be eating, check out last year's post "Did You Know You Can Eat That?"

And now it's your turn! What "throw away" foods do you eat?


  1. Great ideas! I already practice most of these tips, but look forward to trying the others. Thanks!

  2. I understand that tomato leaves and stems are toxic, I wouldn't put them in anything, that being said, Julia Child saved lots of veggie scraps in the freezer(celery tops, the tough outer layer of onions, carrot ends, etc.) for stock.
    We save the cut off ends of celery and plant them in the garden, some have done quite well!

  3. Adrienne, yes, it's commonly believed tomato leaves are toxic, but here's an article that explains that myth away: