"Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can." - Arthur Ashe
When you prep your vegetables, do you usually discard the tops? Most people do, but you might soon change your mind. These Vegetable Tops and Leaves You Didn't Know Were Edible are actually delicious and packed with nutrition.
Leafy greens are great sources of antioxidants, Vitamin K, Magnesium, B Vitamins, Calcium, and other essential vitamins. These nutrients aid cell function and slow aging, helping us look and feel more youthful. So why are we throwing away edible vegetable tops and leaves that hold all these wonderful benefits?
Cutting Food Waste In Your Kitchen
The problem isn’t so much that we are wasteful. We just don’t recognize that more parts of these vegetables are edible. Though there has been a shift in recent years, you still rarely come across radish tops or cauliflower leaves in recipes.
We’ve been conditioned to discard these parts of the plant. You might just assume they are too bitter, too tough, or toxic. In reality, most are quite safe in moderation and add unique flavors to your dishes. In fact, using up these discarded bits is perhaps the most enjoyable way to reduce kitchen waste and become better stewards of the resources you already have.
Author and food sustainability expert Tristram Stuart put it best when he said, "Cutting food waste is a delicious way of saving money, helping to feed the world and protecting the planet." With that in mind, here are some of the tastiest vegetable tops and leaves you've probably been throwing in your compost bin.
Edible Vegetable Tops and Leaves
Radish Tops: These crisp and peppery tops add delightful flavor to raw salads. They can also be sautéed like spinach or blended into a delightfully spicy pesto.
Leek Tops: The tops of leeks are just as flavorful as the white part. These tender, succulent leaves can be cooked in oil over medium heat until they soften, just like onions.
Broccoli or Cauliflower Leaves: The leaves surrounding a head of broccoli or cauliflower have a pleasantly mild flavor. Cook them as you would kale or add them to soup or stir-fry.
Sweet Potato Leaves: Abundant throughout summer, sweet potato leaves and stems are tender and silky. They cook down just like spinach, but with a slightly sweet, less bitter flavor.
Turnip Tops: Similar to mustard greens, the tops of turnips have a nice spicy flavor. They can be chopped fine and added to salad or cooked just like collards – with a bit of salt and lemon or vinegar to break down the fibers.
Squash Leaves: Like squash blossoms, the vines and leaves have an earthy flavor—slightly sweet, and very reminiscent of squash. Choose the tender new growth and remove the stringier tendrils before using them in place of chard.
Cucumber Leaves: These leaves are light and fresh tasting, perfect for raw salads. Cucumber seeds can also be sown in a little soil for kitchen-counter microgreens or nutrient-packed sprouts.
Garlic shoots: Once unheard of, garlic shoots or scapes are becoming a coveted delicacy. These have the crunchy, hearty texture of green beans or asparagus along with a mild garlic flavor. Garlic shoots can be cooked, pickled, or eaten raw.
Carrot Tops: Carrot stems can be steamed or sautéed, but the leaves are best chopped fine and used in place of parsley. Sprinkle them over rice, pasta, and hearty soups for a unique umami experience.
Experimenting With Vegetable Trimmings
Next time you are about to discard a pile of trimmings, stop and research whether they could be used another way. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Tip: When you do start using every part of a vegetable, it is especially important to choose organic. In addition to having more nutrients, organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Nonetheless, be sure to wash vegetable tops and leaves well before using them in your favorite dishes.
Experiment with a variety of edible vegetable tops and leaves to reduce waste in your kitchen; discover new flavors; and unlock health-boosting nutrition.
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What To Remember:
The tops and leaves of vegetables hide delicious flavors and essential nutrients.
Using these parts of the plant reduce waste and improve sustainability.
Being more mindful may lead to better use of produce trimmings.
Bonnie Grant. (May, 2021). Leafy Garden Greens: Different Types Of Garden Greens. GareningKnowHow.com: www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/greens/leafy-garden-greens.htm
Dudez Perez. (September, 2020). 10 Practical Tips for Zero Waste Gardening. EcoWarriorPrincess.net: ecowarriorprincess.net/2020/09/10-practical-tips-for-zero-waste-gardening
Lawrence Robinson; Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.; & Robert Segal, M.A. (September, 2020). Organic Foods: What You Need to Know. HelpGuide.org: helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/organic-foods.htm
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