Use all parts of the vegetable? Called root-to-stem cooking (which gets its name from nose-to-tail meat butchery) is a emergent approach to cooking. Root-to-stem applies to using the skins, roots, or other parts of plants that you might usually throw away or put in the compost. Using the skins of carrots, the tops of turnips, chive flowers, and the roots of cilantro plants are examples of root-to-stem that are increasingly being used in the kitchen.
Community gardeners, chefs, and “foodies” are looking to use more parts of plants and vegetables – in an effort to make more waste, and also to experiment with what parts of the plant are good (or even sometimes better) to eat in terms of taste, texture, or nutrition.
Last summer on a visit to Blooming Patches CSA farm in Newberry, Ohio, I learned about eating the leaves of broccoli which are said to have more nutritional value than the flower part that we generally eat.
Eating dandelion flowers, dandelion leaves, and cornstalks (which can be chewed on and is sweet like sugar cane) are new trends that you might see at the farmers market.
If we reconsider what goes into the pot and what goes into the trash – what new flavors and dishes will emerge? Using the skins and roots is a practice that people used to practice, but with industrialized foods and awareness of pesticides changed our view of the skins, rinds, and roots as being dirty, unhealthy, and necessary to throw out.
Pre-industrial cooking included the practice of being thrifty and using everything that you had – so cooking fried green tomatoes or pickled watermelon rinds were foods that were preserved. My 85 year old neighbor Fannie used to use all parts of celery, carrots, and turnips in her soup – and once told me that it made soup taste better.
Eating the leaves on top of a radish, using fennel stalks as a “bed” for cooking fish, cooking the leaves that grow around the head of a cauliflower, using nasturtium leaves in a salad, and cooking the leaves and shoots of sweet potatoes are all examples of stem-to-root cooking.
It is possible to eat the thicker parts of vegetables like beets, chard, and other greens with the technique of braising, which is a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat – cooking at a high temperature, then simmering with some water.
On the blog of Kale Kitchenworks, called 2 minutes for Dinner, there are posts labeled “Otherwise Trash.” These are recipes and suggestions that include saving a cooking liquid – and using it later. Examples include using grain water for a soup base, or vegetable water for a mock stock. As the site says, “The strategy is to cook one thing, but take away two, the item you’re preparing and the liquid left over
Want to start stem-to-root cooking? Here’s some ways to get started:
CARROT, CELERY AND FENNEL LEAVES Mix small amounts, finely chopped, with parsley as a garnish or in salsa verde. Taste for bitterness when deciding how much to use.
CHARD OR COLLARD RIBS Simmer the thick stalks in white wine and water with a scrap of lemon peel until tender, then drain and dress with olive oil and coarse salt. Or bake them with cream, stock or both, under a blanket of cheese and buttery crumbs, for a gratin.
CITRUS PEEL Organic thin-skinned peels of tangerines or satsumas can be oven-dried at 200 degrees, then stored to season stews or tomato sauces.
CORN COBS Once the kernels are cut off, simmer the stripped cobs with onions and carrots for a simple stock. Or add them to the broth for corn or clam chowder.
MELON RINDS Cut off the hard outer peels and use crunchy rinds in place of cucumber in salads and cold soups.
POTATO PEELS Deep-fry large pieces of peel in 350-degree oil and sprinkle with salt and paprika. This works best with starchy potatoes like russets.
YOUNG ONION TOPS Wash well, coarsely chop and cook briefly in creamy soups or stews, or mix into hot mashed potatoes.
TOMATO LEAVES AND STEMS Steep for 10 minutes in hot soup or tomato sauces to add a pungent garden-scented depth of tomato flavor. Discard leaves after steeping.
TOMATO SCRAPS Place in a sieve set over a bowl, salt well and collect the pale red juices for use in gazpach or risotto.
TURNIP, CAULIFLOWER OR RADISH LEAVES Braise in the same way as (or along with) collards, chards, mustard greens or kale.
WATERMELON SEEDS Roast and salt like pumpkinseeds.