Three Easy Recipes to Make the Most of Common Food Scraps


Photo: Jeff Wasserman/Stocksy

I was 22 years old and running a catering side business in San Francisco. It was 5 p.m., and I had one hour until the first course (of many) hit the table of a very swanky 10-person private dining experience. Expectations were high, and the budget I had for the food was white truffle status.

I looked down at my mise en place and noticed my quail dish was very plain. No color on the plate, zero texture, I needed to think fast. I looked over and sitting there was the sandiest beet greens on earth, destined for the trash bin.

I filled up the sink, plunged the greens into the water, spun them dry and sautéed them with chili and Meyer lemon. I even quick pickled the beet stems for some acid and a pop of color. At the end of the meal, no one spoke of the succulent quail, perfectly ripe toy box tomatoes or even the butterscotch budino. The star of the show was the beet greens and stems. Not surprised, I smiled and pretended it was all planned.

All good chefs care about one thing and that’s garbage. Almost every single food business runs terrible margins. Every peel, bone and scrap thrown away are dollar bills being plucked from the owner’s pocket. Naturally, chefs are taught that your establishment will last longer the more you can stretch your spoiling ingredients.

About a decade ago, using every part of an ingredient started to became cool. Whole beast dinners sold for $200 a seat, and phrases like “nose to tail” became trendy. Just weeks ago, Stone Barn Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber held a pop up restaurant called WastED in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Barber invited some of the best chefs in the country from Mario Batali to Grant Achatz, to show off their talent by taking bruised produce and proteins and turning them into incredibly special meals.

Yet what about at home? Do we use every last scrap? Why aren’t potato peels, fennel tops and fish bones being repurposed in our kitchens?

As part of my job as senior resident chef at Sur La Table, I come across this issue a lot. I feel an obligation to not just teach people how to peel a tomato, but what to do with those tomato peels after the fact. When I mention saving the shrimp shells for shrimp stock or cauliflower leaves for stir-fry, and my students light up. From my perspective people at home are ready for new flavors, textures and ingredients. The reality is, they are already buying them.

Following are three simple recipes that will make use things you probably throw away: herb stems, leftover rice, and overripe bananas.

Photo: Jira Saki/Stocksy

Tender Herby Stem Salsa Verde

Parsley, cilantro, basil, and chervil are all given a hair cut and their gorgeous stems are almost always forgotten. Mince their stems and add them to marinades or beef up your salsas with them.

2 oil-packed anchovies, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley leaves and stems
1/3 cup finely chopped chervil leaves and stems
1/3 cup finely chopped basil leaves and stems
1 garlic clove
1 lemon zested
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Splash sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the anchovies, capers, herbs, garlic, and lemon zest. Add everything to a medium bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and season with vinegar, salt and pepper. Smother on pretty much any roasted spring vegetable or grilled fish.

Photo: Lumina/Stocksy

Leftover Rice Horchata

Any Chinese chef licks their chops over stale, crunchy, leftover rice. There is no question you can make the crispiest fried rice of your life by just sautéing your stale rice in some sesame oil in a hot wok. Want to take it a step further? You can make Mexican horchata, a ground rice and cinnamon drink that is actually better than a milkshake.

1 cup leftover rice
½ cup toasted almonds
½ tablespoon vanilla paste
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups water
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

In a blender puree the rice, almonds, vanilla paste, cinnamon, and water until very smooth, about two minutes. If the mixture is too thick feel free to add more water, ¼ cup at a time. Strain the mixture through a chinois or cheesecloth, and mix in the sweetened condensed milk. Pour over ice and enjoy!

Photo: Jelena Jojic/Stocksy

Overripe Banana “Ice Cream”

Let’s be honest, when we see a brown bruised banana, 9 out of 10 times we toss them. This is super healthy, approachable, sugar-free dessert that is all natural and makes those bruised bananas the star of the show!

4 overripe bananas
1/8 cup cocoa powder

Slice the overripe banana and freeze in a plastic container overnight. Next, pulse the frozen bananas in a food processor until the mixture looks smooth and airy. Add the coco powder and pulse a couple more times to incorporate. Scrape the whole banana mixture into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 1 ½ hours.