If meat’s become the big bad guy, maybe we ought to consider ways to elevate the humble vegetable. Why not head for the trash bin and pull out all the bits people usually throw out or compost? The peel has flavor, too, y’all.

Consider using tomato peels, parsley stems, or shrimp carcasses to flavor broths. Stuff tomato stems in bottles of oil the way you might with flavor oil with garlic, or stick spent pods of vanilla in your sugar bowl to add a subtle vanilla flavor to coffee or tea. The frilly tops of carrots, turnips, celery, and radishes are great sprinkled over salads. Stalks of stiff greens like chard can be cut away from the leaves, cooked for a few extra minutes, and then eaten. Salad a little too wilted for the bowl takes on another life — and another flavor — pureed in soup.

Ever seen Brussels sprouts on the stalk? They are maybe the coolest-looking plants ever. But all we ever use are the little knots that grow on the stem, when in fact the fan-like fronds above them can be shredded, blanched and sautéed in butter. Delicious.

Beetroot leaves and stalks; the green bits of leeks; fat and stringy spinach stalks; cauliflower leaves; fennel fronds — all overlooked, underestimated, underappreciated. The list is endless — if it’s naturally attached to something edible, it probably has culinary uses. Adding a dab of butter never hurts.

The most avant-garde chefs in the world are cooking carrots sous-vide in carroty broth, but to my mind the old tricks of domestic economy, ripe for rediscovery, underpin the best of these tendencies. Flavor lives everywhere, just waiting for us to wheedle it out.  

This article originally appeared in Plenty in February 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

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