One Cook’s Trash is This Cook’s Treasure

Full pot

Editor’s Note: Doctoral Candidate. Nature lover. Newlywed. Borracho‘s sister-in-law. Procrastinator. Phish follower. Here’s EvoDiva and her discovery of simple stock-making.

I used to think that the garbage disposal was the best invention ever. For those of us city dwellers who desperately want a compost pile to feed our non-existent vegetable gardens, I thought this device could offer me less guilt. I realize that disposal of vegetables down the sink may not be any more eco-friendly than throwing food in the trash, but it just felt better.

That is, until I threw the feathery tops of fennel bulbs down there and catastrophically clogged our kitchen sink, thus rendering our dishwasher unusable as well. After a few stubborn weeks of plunging, using the baking soda/vinegar/boiling water method, and washing dishes in the bathtub (no, I’m not kidding), we finally called the plumber and never ate fennel again.

Then I heard the most brilliant idea from a fellow grad-student and friend: he saves the tops and bottoms of onions, carrots, and celery in freezer bags. He then combines with bird carcasses to make delicious stock.

You can make deliciousness out of trash!

This is incredibly appealing to people in my field. Well, we’ve gone pescatarian over in my house so no more mutilation of fowl but this was the perfect solution to my personal struggle with vegetable food waste. In fact, I previously used fowl carcasses to make delicious stock but hadn’t thought of it for veggies. (Note: if you’re in too much of a food coma after having bird for dinner, just throw the scraps in the freezer until you’re ready to make the stock.)

Since then, I’ve saved anything I think might work to make a delicious vegetable stock: not only the aforementioned mirepoix, but the tops and bottoms of green and purple onions, butternut squash, peels of these vegetables, pepper seeds and stems (haha), you name it. My favorite ingredient is wilting fresh herbs – you pay way too much to use them for a recipe or two, and then they start to die a horrible death in that bottom drawer of the fridge. Save them before they go too far! I’ve used cilantro, sage, thyme and parsley.

I don’t usually follow any rules. But what’s even more fun is that every batch is like reading a cooking journal of my recent meals; each stock will have a personality all its own.

Easy Vegetable Stock

Throw the collection of frozen vegetables and herbs into a stockpot, cover with water, and forget about it. Some folks first sauté the onions with garlic, and next time I might try that, including adding wine and bay leaves. (What do bay leaves really do anyway? “Add flavor?” Or are they just for good luck?)

The almighty strainer

Once you remember that you’re cooking something, usually when the house is filled with the aroma, after about an hour or so, the straining commences. This strainer (thanks Mom!) is the best thing I never knew I wanted – and I found it in my cupboard a few batches ago (after struggling with colanders, tongs, and slotted spoons). I mean this strainer has ARMS so that you don’t have to hold it over the bowl! Amazing.

Now divide your strained samples into single-use aliquots for easy soup usage. This is the latest soup recipe I’ve played with and – bonus book marker alert – here’s the best conversion calculator ever. I also use the stock for boiling rice and cooking down kale.

So if you’re in the kitchen this holiday, grab your ziplock bags and make a collection for something fun to look forward to in 2011. Be sure to tell us how your batch turns out and what you make with it.

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  • BS December 22, 2010  

    this is brilliant! I always have a full bag of scraps in my freezer ready to compost at the weekend farmers’ market, but recycling them myself is even better. never thought of this.

  • Borracho December 22, 2010  

    Sounds great and definitely love the idea of stocks each with their own character versus typical beef, chicken, veggie broths. Also love the wilted bouqet garni! I will be looking for some stock under the Christmas tree this year

  • erica December 22, 2010  

    or, you can have a small, non-stinky worm bin under your kitchen table (or yard, if you have one), for non-broth friendly ingredients like brassicas. if you do it right there’s no smell at all… my folks named their worms (they claim that whatever work you are holding is whatever name you are calling it at the time). yes, we are kind of weird.

  • EvoDiva December 22, 2010  

    @ Erica: I really tried to sell my husband on the worm thing but he got squeamish about it. I’m SO game.
    @ Borracho: Be careful what you wish for…

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