6 Ideas for Root-to-Stem Recipes to Maximize Your Produce (and Your Budget)

Cut down on food waste while cranking up the flavor with these savvy food-saving ideas.

on21-array of root vegetables including beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and shallots
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You've likely heard of "nose to tail" in terms of animal proteins — you know, when butchers and chefs aim to use lesser-known parts of the animal so less goes to waste.

The same concept works wonderfully for those following more of a plant-based diet, too. (Which is on the rise: About 28 percent of people surveyed by the International Food Information Council say they're eating more plant proteins than they did one year ago.) Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the largest sources of food waste.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that between 30 and 40 percent of the food available in the U.S. goes to waste. It may go uneaten at home or on restaurant plates, get tossed after it goes bad, or simply doesn't sell at all. Regardless, that's a lot of food that could be put to good use that's now going to waste.

This is less than ideal for our budgets and the environment. Food is the single largest category of materials in municipal landfills across the country. Once tossed, food emits methane, a greenhouse gas. This gas adds up fast; municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States (after agriculture and gas for energy), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

That's the bad news. But here's the good: It's easy to make a difference in the overall food waste landscape right in your own kitchen. The concept of root-to-stem cooking, or using as much of each piece of produce as possible, can help!

What Is Root-to-Stem Cooking, Exactly?

Root-to-stem cooking is essentially the same concept as the nose-to-tail movement, just for fruits and vegetables rather than meat. It refers to the idea of utilizing parts you might traditionally throw out or compost — broccoli stalks, carrot tops, potato peels — and putting them to delicious use in other recipes.

Not only does root-to-stem cooking help you trim down on food waste, but it also helps you save money and incorporate more nutrition and flavor into your menu.

It's a cinch to get started with this sustainable strategy. Simply try to use as much of the edible portion of fruits, vegetables and herbs as possible. Read on for a handful of ideas to get you started.

6 Root-to-Stem Recipe Ideas

While there are many tricks to eat every part of plants, we return to these root-to-stem recipes again and again thanks to their versatility and ability to use up a lot of produce at once in sweet and savory ways.

1. Take stock.

One of the most versatile root-to-stem recipes? Kitchen Scrap Vegetable Stock. Save vegetable tops, stalks, skins, cores, and scraps of all kinds to max out the edible materials.

To make vegetable stock on your own time (rather than hurrying to do so with each batch of fresh produce you buy or harvest), collect extra vegetable scraps in the freezer as you gather supplies for a stock. Once you're ready to simmer down, sauté the scraps in oil for 5 minutes. Add 1 quart of water for every 2 cups of vegetable pieces, then stir in garlic, herbs, and a splash of white wine if you have them. Strain after about an hour and use in soups, casseroles, and risottos.

2. Eat the skin.

From sweet potatoes to russets to fingerlings, the skin is actually the most nutritious part of any potato. So keep it on!

Whether you're baking the spuds, mashing them, roasting them or dicing them up for home fries, simply leave the skin on — it's where you find about 50 percent of the potato's fiber, plus a variety of vitamins.

3. Get saucy.

Beet greens and carrot tops can err on the bitter and earthy side, true. But cook them down or blitz them up with other aromatic ingredients, and they transform into a beautiful, far-better-than-store-bought sauce.

Replace some of the cilantro or basil in any sauce recipe with veggie tops, or blend them into a pesto. Try this Maple-Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto to ace the ratios and for step-by-step instructions. (By the way, a handful of celery leaves, carrot tops, or beet greens taste incredible in salads, too.)

4. Use the stems.

Just like those tops can be put to terrific use, so can the bottoms. "Rice" broccoli or cauliflower stalks into a low-carb starch swap. Or chop them (or the stems of kale, chard, or other greens) into ½-inch pieces and sauté in olive oil until tender, seasoning as desired. The sautéed stems taste amazing stirred into soups or tossed with pasta.

5. Make quick pickles.

Freezing isn't your only option to preserve produce before it goes past its prime. Next time you have too much of any of the vegetables and fruits below, toss them in brine. Follow this quick pickle recipe, and you'll have a tangy, tasty snack, or cocktail addition (seriously!) that will be good for about one month.

  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • onions
  • peppers
  • radishes
  • green beans
  • asparagus
  • summer squash
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • apples
  • cherries
  • peaches

6. Rethink your dessert routine.

Fresh fruit isn't the only garden goodies that can be incorporated into dessert. Shred extra carrots to use in cakes and bars, sneak zucchini into brownies and breads, simmer down applesauce to moisten up cake batter, or purée avocado into chocolate pudding.

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