I grew up in a house with a mother who would save the last half a pancake and refrigerate a tablespoon of leftover tuna salad in a Tupperware container…
And when she wasn’t looking, my dad would throw all of those odds and ends away. I somehow inherited both of these instincts: The pull (neuroses?) to declutter, and the aversion to waste of any kind. Never is this more in play than when I clean out the vegetable drawer in anticipation of a new grocery shop and uncover, say, a bunch of half-liquefied cilantro, and over the years, I’ve come up with a few recipes that salvage the produce and redeem the person who (almost) forgot about them.
Before I get to that punch list, though, I’d like to make a case for the orphaned vegetable bin, something I’ve gotten into only over the last year. It sits on the most visible shelf of my refrigerator and even if I have only two layers of a red onion or a quarter of a small eggplant, I’ll toss it in there. It’s much less likely I’ll forget about a vegetable if it’s in my line of vision (and not hiding in a produce bag in the crisper) and when the bin is filled, so many gold-spinning opportunities present themselves. Such as…
Vegetable Stock or Consommé
Since I’ve amped up plant-based cooking in my house, homemade vegetable stock is by far my most favorite use for produce on its last legs. Add carrots, onions, celery, herbs (like thyme, parsley), and mushrooms to a soup pot, cover with water, add salt, pepper, and a few plugs of olive oil and simmer for an hour or up to 3 hours. I do find that adding mushrooms makes a huge difference here in terms of depth and I taste it when they’re missing. (If you have only mushrooms, clean them, then simmer in water on the stovetop for three hours to make the most delicious vegetarian consommé.)
Vegetable Hash with an Egg or in a Quesadilla
For a weekday hot lunch or a solo dinner, I sauté onions in olive oil with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, then add whatever wilted (or not wilted) veggies I’ve got. The lunch shown way up top is finely chopped bok choy, mushrooms, red cabbage, and graffiti eggplant. Once the hash is in the bowl, I drizzle in a little soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, top with a fried egg and some chili oil. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but those same vegetables can be spread out on a tortilla, sprinkled with cheese, and fried up for a quesadilla. (Or for one of those TikTok tortillas!)
If the produce in question involves leafy herbs — cilantro, parsley, basil, tarragon, dill — you can blitz them in a mini food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, capers (if you have them) and drizzle the resulting green sauce on top of roast meats or vegetables, or use like pesto and dollop into a homemade salad dressing.
Fruit Crisp or Galette
As outlined many times on this website, I almost look forward to discovering apples (or berries or stone fruits) with wrinkly skins so I can toss them with sugar and lemon juice, and either wrap them up in a pie dough or bake them with a sugary crumb top.
If you don’t have the bandwidth for a baking project, you can just as easily add that fruit (peeled and chopped if using apples or stone fruits) to a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice and simmer it into a fruit compote. Use it on top of Sunday morning’s pancakes, waffles or French toast.
Since this salad is all about the crunch factor, it’s a better solution for the problem: I have a little left of everything, what do I do with it? (Biting into a flaccid carrot is no one’s idea of fun or tasty.) The best vegetables for this: Bell peppers, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and cabbage. If you can, add a chopped avocado for a luscious-ness factor and toss with a simple, clean vinaigrette. To flesh out for dinner: Add a can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed) and let sit at least one hour to allow flavors to meld.
Roast Vegetable Dips
I learned this trick from Healthy-ish a few years ago: Roast almost any vegetable (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, beets) whirl it with tahini, yogurt, lemon juice and olive oil, and you’ll have spreads that are delicious enough to serve for company (when we’re allowed to have company again!) or spread on toast for a quick healthy lunch. (Shown above, Sweet Potato-Tahini, Cauliflower, Beets-Horseradish)
What are your favorite tricks for produce salvation?