The average Aussie household throws away around $2,500 worth of food per year, significantly contributing to the growing problem of food waste fuelled CO2 emissions.
Whilst a lot of food waste happens between the farm and our plates, there’s lots we can do on a household level to reduce our food waste. One way is to get savvy with our scraps, and re-imagine the way we cook.
LEMONS: THE SUPERHERO OF ZERO-WASTE KITCHENS
There’s actually very little of most fresh ingredients that can’t be used in one way or another. We’re massive fans of ‘stacking functions’, which basically means everything in our home system has to perform at least 2-3 functions for us to consider it worthwhile including.
For example, lemons. There are over 20 things we can do with lemons which you can read here, but at the very least, we make sure to remove any zest before squeezing lemons.
This we either use to infuse in alcohol to create delicious liqueurs, or we dry it so it can be used as a powder in baking, fire cider, tea blends or spice blends.
The juice is used most often in our cooking, but if there happens to be left over after it’s squeezed, we’ll freeze this in ice cube trays for easy addition to a pot when we’re preserving.
The ‘frame’ or ‘carcass’ of the lemon isn’t thrown out either! We use them with vinegar to create a potent cleaning solution which we use all around the house. Once they’re done infusing, we’ll dry them in the sun before adding to the compost.
IDEAS FOR USING FOOD ‘SCRAPS’
Sure, lemons are like the superhero of the zero-waste kitchen, but there’s usually at least one extra thing you can do with your food ‘scraps’.
Consider some of the following:
Keep a container in the freezer and add all veggie peels and scraps to it. Once it’s full, chuck them all in a large pot, cover with water & simmer for a couple of hours to make delicious veggie stock. Strain and freeze in ice-cube trays, containers or even empty milk cartons (UHT ones can be used over and over). You can even go one further and dehydrate the pulp leftover after you strain the stock, then grind it to a powder – and you’ve made your own stock powder!
Make chicken stock by adding scraps, trimmings and bones from raw or cooked chook to your veggie scrap container in the freezer as for above. You can also add the hard rind of parmesan and herb stems for added flavour. You can make stock powder with this too, but it’s tricky pulling out all the tiny bones, and the result won’t last as long in the pantry as it’s got animal fats in it.
As pumpkin season hits its straps, you may like to try these two waste hacks for using the skin. If potatoes are more your thing, providing you wash your spuds before peeling, you can make quick & tasty crisps with them. Works well for sweet potato, carrot and parsnip too. Tomato skins are packed with flavour, so if you’re making chutney that requires toms to be skinned first, save and dry them to grind into a flavour-boosting powder. In fact, if you combine it with onion, garlic and herb powder, you can sprinkle it over cracker dough and make your own BBQ Shapes!
This is one of our winter favourites. Take any bits and pieces of veg you have laying around, chuck them into a big pot with some oil, garlic, herbs and stock, simmer for an hour or so and then blend it up. Lots of variations work, and if you chuck in a couple of apples as well, kids tend to love it! It can be done as a ‘set and forget’ roasting dish in the oven too, if that suits you better.
If you like a bit of spice in your life, try making our scraptastic version of traditional Korean kimchi. It works brilliantly with old broccoli stems, limp cauliflower leaves, squidgy radishes, bits of onion & spring onion, wibbly carrots, saggy celery… all sorts of things!
There are lots of ways to make the most of your spring onions. For starters, leave the roots on some of the white section at the base – about 5cm or so – then replant this bit. You’ll get multiple crops out of the same plant. If some of the green section is going limp, you can rub them with a bit of salt, let them ferment in their own brine for a few days, and then dehydrate them. What you’re left with is an umami-rich product that can be flaked or ground and added to all sorts of dishes to give them a depth of flavour. You can make seasoning blends with it and add it to baking as well. Oh, and if you do decide to use all of the spring onion in your cooking, you can either add the roots to your stock container in the freezer, or deep fry them for a crunchy topping to sprinkle over noodles and rice dishes!
If you use celery, the first waste hack is to stop buying it in plastic wrapping. It doesn’t need it! Celery keeps for upwards of a month in the fridge if you whack it in a vase or glass jar filled with water.
The second thing to do is to use ALL of that celery. The leaves make great salad greens, or can be added to smoothies, soups, stews, or curries to add flavour and nutrients. All parts of a shop-bought celery can be used: we’ve listed a few ways below. Oh! And be sure to have a go at Celery Salt at least once – it’s delicious!
Berries & Stone Fruit
Save up any berries that start looking a bit sad by keeping a jar in the freezer for them. Once full, stew them down with a bit of water & sweetener for a compote, or boil up with sugar to make jam. You could obviously add them to smoothies or baked goods as well.
When The Toddler takes one bite out of every apple in the bowl, don’t despair – make crumble or cake with the rest! Or, if you have a dehydrator, you could make delicious fruit leather with the flesh, and either apple scrap vinegar or apple skin caramel from the peel. You can also dehydrate any leftover slices of cut apple to use in tea blends.
We all know about freezing bananas whole and using them to make banana bread, but did you know you can not only make jam from brown bananas, but you can actually use the peels to make biscuits as well?? Essentially, you just boil up banana peels, smash them in a blender, add flour, sugar, eggs & margarine and bake! Or, if you want to be totally wowed by a scraptastic recipe, have a go at making vegan bacon or vegan pulled ‘pork’ with those peels instead. That’s right: vegan meat subs from banana skin!
Fruit Peels & cores/pips
Make cordial, wild sodas, vinaigrettes, shrubs or even aromatic bitters by using fruit peels to add flavour. A favourite is Mexican fermented soda called tepache made from pineapple peels, brown sugar and water. Or you could try mango peel cordial syrup – it’s delicious with sparkling water.
When the mandarin & orange glut hits in autumn, save those peels to dry and use in Chinese beef stews, or perhaps have a go at making candied peel (and if you’ve got chocolate leftover from baking, melt it and dip those babies in there!). You could also cut them into stars, dehydrate them and use them either as a pretty zero-waste festive garland or keep them in a jar to add to G&Ts.
If you’re a pot-set or Greek yoghurt kinda household (homemade or shop-bought), you may occasionally have a tub that’s been forgotten, and started to go quite sour. Rather than bin it, either use it to make quick jam cake, or strain it through a clean teatowel to make labneh.
Most people know you can make your own breadcrumbs by chucking stale pieces of bread into a low-heat oven until crispy-dry and then blitzing it in a blender, but did you know you can also make a simple beer-like drink called Kvass with burnt bits of toast?? It’s a great party trick, and seriously tasty stuff.
An easy way to use up the last scrapings of honey in a jar is to use it as the vessel for mixing marinades, sauces and dressings in. If the honey has gone firm, just dunk the jar in a saucepan of hot water for a minute, and then add olive oil, some lemon juice, spices and whatever else you need to make the liquid you’re after. Pop the lid on, give it a really good shake, and away you go! This is even more delicious if you’re using the last of your garlic fermented honey…
Another fun thing to do with your nearly-empty honey jar is to fill it with water, then toss in the cores, tops or stones of different fruits to make wild sodas. We like strawberry-top and apple core soda best. Once the ingredients are in the jar, close the lid and pop it on the bench. Give it a shake and a ‘burp’ every day for 2-3 days, then strain and enjoy as a sparkling, tangy-sweet drink. There’s more info on fermenting here if you’re interested.
WASTE-WARRIORS WORTH CHECKING OUT
We could talk forever about scraptastic, Use It Up recipes, but this should hopefully be enough to get you excited about it and start thinking of how else you can use the ‘leftovers’ in your kitchen!
We can’t talk about scraptastic cooking and kitchens without mentioning the fabulous Cornersmith duo Alex and James who have been making low-waste cooking cool for years. They share Waste Hack Tips on Wednesdays via their social media channels, and their book “Use It All” is a fantastic place to find inspiration and recipes.
Another brilliant book to get your hands on is Lindsay Miles’ latest: “The Less Waste, No Fuss Kitchen”. Full of down-to-earth guidance on how to reduce waste at home, this book is like a good friend helping you to do better. You can also follow Lindsay on social media for regular tips, recipes and encouragement in living a less wasteful life without having to overhaul everything.
And finally, our good mate, MasterChef champ Simon Toohey, is alllll about making vegan, low-waste and sustainable food accessible to everyone. His TV show Freshly Picked airs on Australian Channel 10 weekdays, and there are a bunch of his waste-hack recipes over on VegKit for you to check out. Oh, and follow him on socials too, cos he’s a genuine legend, and makes you feel confident and inspired to get into practical, punchy plant-based foods that taste delicious!
We’ve been compiling waste-hack recipes and ideas for a while over on our Pinterest profile, and you can find them here. We also publish regular Use It Up recipes on this website and on socials, so you should have plenty of resources to get you started serving up tasty, low-waste food!
Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and interact; 2: Catch and store energy; 3: Obtain a yield; 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback; 6: Produce no waste; 8: Integrate rather than segregate; 10: Use and value diversity; 11: Use edges and value the marginal; 12: Creatively use and respond to change.