There’s plenty of nutrition lurking in your compost bin. Follow these expert tips on how to prepare the bits of veg you usually throw away
This article/content was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the ZENB and Guardian Labs Eat smarter campaign.
Carrot tops, veg peelings, tough stalks … while we occasionally toss these gnarly vegetable ends into a stock pot, more often than not they’re thrown away. But these overlooked scraps can in fact be full of goodness, so how do we save them from the bin and turn them into something delicious?
“At a time when we’re all trying to protect our immune systems and reduce waste, we should be considering using as much of our food as possible,” says nutritional therapist Catherine Faraday. “The more commonly discarded parts of veg, such as peels, pomace, rind and seeds, can be rich sources of fibre, beneficial oils, polyphenols, vitamins, carotenoids and enzymes. So it might be prudent to consider other uses for the parts of fruits and vegetables we tend to throw away.”
Here, we ask the experts to give us their take on how to transform those bits of veg that all too rarely find their way on to our plates.
Optimise your onion skins You might think there’s little worth in papery onion skins, but they actually contain their own goodness. “Instead of chucking them straight into the compost, use them to flavour rice,” says Thalia Pellegrini, AKA the Knackered Mums Nutritionist. “I use the peel and thick inner skin of red onions for this, throwing them into brown rice as it cooks.” The skin and peel from just half an onion can add flavour, she says. “The longer it steeps the better, so cook on a lower heat for longer, before discarding the skins. As well as adding taste, onion skins are a great source of antioxidants such as the flavonoid quercetin.”
Savour your sweet potato peelings We all know that potato skins can be tasty (especially when stuffed with cheese), so why not make use of your peelings, too? “Sweet potato skin is a source of fibre, manganese, potassium and vitamin C,” says Pellegrini. “After a thorough scrub, lightly coat the peelings in olive oil and add a pinch of sea salt and some parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, if you fancy. Cook them on a baking tray for around 7-8 minutes at 200C.”
Season your seeds The plant-based food brand ZENB, whose philosophy is about using as much of the whole vegetable as possible in its products, lists a number of tasty recipe suggestions on its website, including an inviting pumpkin seed snack. Scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin, wash them and preheat your oven to 150C. Place the seeds on a baking sheet and add oil, salt and seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes, and there you have it – a crunchy and tasty snack.
Make tomatoes more tantalising Unless you’re using tinned toms, it’s likely the skins and seeds go straight into your compost bin. But it’s worth trying to squeeze some extra nutrition from these super-healthy fruits.
Tomatoes are full of lycopene, a type of antioxidant that’s believed to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and that some studies suggest can help prevent certain cancers, says clinical nutritionist Nishtha Patel, who shares images of her healthy recipes on Instagram @thegutexpert_. “They’re also rich in vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K. Put the skins and seeds in water, and boil over a low heat, adding a pinch of salt, herbs and some garlic if you like. Once the mix is boiled, blend it, freeze in ice-cube trays, and use the cubes to enhance curries, pasta sauce or any other dishes requiring tomato sauce.”
Prioritise your pulp The pulp left over from using your juicer might seem like an unappetising mulch, but it’s packed with fibre, and can – believe it or not – actually be used in recipes. “I use this pulp to make a traditional dumpling dish from the western Indian region of Gujarat,” says Patel. “Juice some spinach, beetroot, carrots, cucumber, and add a fresh lemon or some ginger. Take three tablespoons of the pulp and add in three quarters of a cup of flour – I use different gluten-free flours, such as chickpea, finger millet and rice flour.” Then add one and a half tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, some crushed garlic, ginger and chilli, chopped coriander, half a grated courgette and salt to taste. “Mix everything together, roll into balls, and steam for 20 minutes. These dumplings are delicious with chilli sauce or yoghurt.”
Make tough stems soup-er All those stalky bits don’t have to be destined for the bin. Cabbage leaves, broccoli stems and kale stalks can all be cut into small pieces, cooked and blended, and used in soups, says Patel. “As well as being full of fibre, they’re all rich in sulphur and a compound called sulforaphane, which is important in helping the body to metabolise oestrogen. And broccoli stems actually contain slightly more calcium, iron and vitamin C per gram than the florets.” And while you’re making soup, Faraday recommends throwing in some carrot tops, too. “They contain twice the amount of vitamin A of the carrot itself,” she says.
ZENB’s philosophy involves using as much of the whole vegetable in its products and putting plant-based food at the centre of our everyday lives. Find out more about the yellow peas that form the basis of its new pasta range