FROM ROOT TO STEM
Have you ever looked in your bin half way through peeling and chopping your ingredients for dinner and thought “mmm, that looks delicious?” No, neither have I. But here’s why one fast spreading food trend of 2016 – “root to stem” cooking - is about to show us why we’re wrong.
Where does it all come from?
Last year we saw innovative chefs beginning to use what most people would consider sad, old vegetable scraps destined for the rubbish to create fresh, exciting and delicious plates of food. The idea behind this thrifty way of cooking developed from the popular and longstanding “nose to tail” approach to meat, which aims to use every part of an animal (hopefully not actually the nose though, because that sounds gross). Whilst taking that idea and applying it to fruits and vegetables came from a curiosity in the kitchen about flavours and textures, rather than a need to use scrappy bits up, it does have an undeniable effect on waste.
Food waste? Really?
Food waste is a major issue. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink a year, much of which we could probably have eaten. When we buy vegetables from supermarkets (rather than farmer’s markets) we’re buying something that’s been tidied up and trimmed down to make it easy to cook and easy to prepare. As supermarket’s pump out perfect carrot after perfect carrot we lose our awareness of what real vegetables look like and what to do with the whole vegetable. So if we are presented with a sprouty green carrot top we have no idea what to do with it, and straight in the bin it goes!
What is it all about?
Root to stem cooking is showing us that there’s still goodness and flavour in those odds and ends. The obvious option is to use the leftovers to make stock, but there’s only so many litres of vegetable stock my freezer can hold and in all honesty I’ll probably never defrost it and use it because I find defrosting things one of the most painful kitchen tasks known to man. With this in mind, I looked around to find some more exciting recipes using the skins, tops and any other left over bits of the veggies we usually have at home.
Some tips to cook?
You know that woody, knobbly bit on a broccoli? Turns out you can totally eat it and it’s yummy! It tastes much more delicate and subtle than it looks. Once you’ve sliced off the tough bits and outside skin, it works well sliced finely in to ribbons with a peeler and dressed with some olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan and pepper.
You could also try using fennel stalks as a bed for fish if you’re steaming or baking it in foil, which will fragrance it with a beautiful fennel flavour. Chuck in a few capers and you’re good to go! Or add the delicious, peppery raw leaves of a cauliflower to a salad to mix it up. If you’re not in to that you could also steam them lightly, as you would kale, and enjoy a big nutritious pile of them as a side dish.
You can even jazz up those boring potato skins by frying them in oil until crispy and serving with a sprinkle of salt and some flavoured hummus or a fresh guacamole for dipping.
Whilst we don’t all have to start pickling rinds and trying to make soup out of onion skins, simply using up a whole broccoli or cauliflower when we buy one would be a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping that this changing way we view our veg will filter down to the supermarkets and result in more “real” and natural looking food on the shelves!