Food

8 Things to Do With Almost-Rotten Produce

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!)

Green Sauces
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.

Fruit Compote
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.

Chopped Salad
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?

P.S. Cinnamon-apple spelt muffins and 9 cooking steps you should feel free to skip.

  1. Lori says...

    Great ideas! I freeze all fruit, even those questionable bananas, and use them in smoothies.

  2. Emily says...

    I loved this so much, and you are a great writer Jenny! I also freeze veg scraps, like others mentioned and make veggie stock. I make mine in the instapot and freeze 4 cups of broth in each container. I use at least 2 containers a week for homemade soups, risotto, etc. My freezer is always stocked, and it makes me feel good about using waste on something I need. Most store bought veg stock has msg, and that’s a big no no for me and my migraines.

  3. Caitlin says...

    Veggie subs!! All the leftover veggies tossed with olive oil and spices, roasted at 400ish until tender, and served on toasted bread with french dressing. Perfection!!!

  4. Rachel says...

    These are all great suggestions, but I’m pretty sure this was a timely post about how the clock was ticking down on a different type of orange, almost-rotten pr– ah, produce…..

    Appreciated either way ;)

  5. Barbara says...

    Chop all vegetables and stir-fry. You can add leftover meat, shrimp, whatever. Add finely chopped ginger and garlic, then leftover rice. Sprinkle some soy sauce, spices if you like it hot and optional sesame oil and finish with creating a well in the skillet to fry scramble eggs to finally incorporate the eggs with all these elements in the frying pan. Voilà, you have everything but the kitchen sink fried rice.

  6. Okay I’ve always wanted to be someone who can make homemade vegetable stock, and everyone always says how easy it is, and then one year I tried it. So. Bad. What is the trick?? And I never have all of those leftover veggies at once. Like right now I have two green onions (really big, bulbous ones I get here in Italy), a bunch of wilting basil, and a carrot. I can buy the mushrooms but I know I’ll likely have more leftover veggies soon. Can I freeze the onion and carrot to wait it out? And once the stock is made, how do I store it?

    • Bea says...

      Of course you can freeze vegetables! I keep a bag of bits and ends of vegetables in the freezer (carrot – bottms, green parts of leeks…. zucchini, tomatoes, fennel fronds, anything really except cabbage and bell peppers) and when its full I use it for stock, vegetable or chicken.

    • Nicola says...

      The answer is to use LOTS of the veggies you mentioned (and others if you have them), plus an extremely generous amount of salt! (Like, a small palmful, not a pinch.) Usually a splash of acid (lemon juice, etc) will also give it a boost it just before eating.

  7. SP says...

    I have to ask…what is the tiktok tortilla?!

  8. Meghan says...

    I cook for one, so it can be daunting to use the whole bag of Kale/arugula/you name it before it goes bad. However, I’ve recently been keeping a note on my phone labeled “Things You Can Eat” and list all the things I know to cook and love to eat that can use up random bits and bobs I have in my fridge/pantry. I update it anytime inspiration strikes or food is devoured. Proud to say I went through my first whole bag of Kale, before it went bad, in probably a year+ last week. I’ve also started asking myself “Can you go one more day?” when deciding on grocery shopping to REALLY make use of what I have.

    • Sam says...

      I love these ideas!

  9. Jo says...

    Fried rice! Just stir fry whatever you have with chopped garlic, add overnight rice, season with your favourite seasoning (I use soy sauce, sesame oil and ketchup) and top with an egg! Clears all the sad odds and ends in your fridge!

  10. Kait says...

    Strongly agree with some of the other egg comments! I always love using up vegetables in a weekend frittata or quiche. Similar to making stock, we freeze vegetable scraps and almost bad veggies so that when we have a roast chicken or turkey, we can make a big batch of bone broth with the veggies and leftover bones.

  11. Erin says...

    So many useful and doable ideas! Thank you Jenny, you are my kitchen guru

  12. If in doubt add an egg! Make fritatas using leftover roast veggies and a few eggs, make quiche by putting the roast veggies into a a pie crust and topping with a mix of eggs, milk and grated cheese or make an impossible quiche by skipping the pie crust and adding a few tablespoons of flour which will then magically make a crust when baked. Make a veggie slice by grating up whatever veggies you have (carrot, zucchini, potato, sweet potato, onion) adding enough eggs to bind, a good dash of milk, salt and pepper, grated cheese, a few tablespoons of flour and maybe some bacon if you have it on hand. All it takes is a few eggs to transform leftovers into something better and yummier.

  13. Katie says...

    All great ideas. Egg dishes are a savior. My other kid friendly go tos are mix them into pasta of any kind, purée it and throw it in a pancake or muffin (veg and fruit!!) and of course, use it to top a pizza! Pizza Friday is my veg drawer clean out day. Doesn’t hurt to hide the more egregious kale under the cheese….

  14. Nicole says...

    For veggie stock- not just wilting veg but all that veg discard you normally toss. Stick it in a bag in the freezer- carrot peels, mushroom stems, ends of every veg you trim, the seedy part of the bell pepper, outer peels of onion, tired herbs, and chicken bones if you eat meat. Then once the bag is full, put it all in the crock pot with some water in the morning and when you get home- free stock!

  15. Caitlin says...

    With greens that are about to go bad I like to put them in a pot with broth (has to be better than bouillon vegetable paste!), Cook them down, add a spoon of sour cream or creme fraiche and blend until smooth. SO good. For my fruits that are old and look yucky I chop up and put in smoothies.

  16. Hannah says...

    8 Things to Do With Almost-Rotten Produce:
    #1) VOTE! THEM! OUT!

    Oh wait, this is actually a food-related post… ;)

    • Christian says...

      This made me laugh! Though a tad generous with the “almost”

  17. susana says...

    saute onion, whatever vegetable (zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, etc) . add the stock and leftover herbs. simmer for half an hour, then blitz with the immersion blender. great creamy winter soup

  18. Katie says...

    So many brilliant ideas here, but a reminder to help prevent the problem: meal planning! If every veggie you purchase has a purpose then you’ll know when to use it. Also, the way you arrange your fridge can make a big difference to using things up!

  19. Em says...

    We’ve rebranded “Almost rotten”to “ready for eating” at our house. It makes it sound like it’s the pick of the fridge instead of a long avoided resident. 😂

  20. Vero says...

    Almost-too-ripe bananas for banana bread of course,

    OR chop up and freeze your almost-too-ripe bananas, then add them to the blender with a can of coconut and some cacao… dairy-free refined-sugar-free decadent milkshake!

    • Vero says...

      Darn… typing too fast out of excitement for milkshakes… a can of coconut milk**

  21. Emily says...

    We’ve gotten really good at the old vegetables stir fry in the last year. It’s amazing how tasty it makes otherwise unattractive vegetables! I think the key is a good sauce and using just 3 or 4 veggies instead of the whole veg bin.

  22. Emma says...

    Pesto, roasted veg and soups are all my go-tos! Since I live alone, I usually just cook/prepare anything about to go bad, save a couple portions and freeze the rest, too.

  23. Thanks so much for this post! It’s worth remembering too that food waste is a major contributor to climate change. If food waste were a country it would be third in greenhouse gas emissions – a bigger emitter than India, and more than 3x the emitter that Brazil is! In cooking culture so often freshness is framed as the ideal (and in lots of cases this is very true – do not talk to me about panzanella in February), but I think it’s so important to normalize avoiding waste too, especially in the media! It’s what the climate needs, and it also makes cooking media feel more accessible to lower income folks, for whom the freshest ingredients aren’t always accessible. Bravo, Jenny and Cup of Jo!

    • Sarz says...

      👏 So well said. I work with mostly younger folks, and I’ve often tried to hook them on CoJ. There are so many reasons to read, but the dietary/sustainability ones are biggies, for sure!

  24. Nicola says...

    To expand on the soup stock idea…I keep a ziploc bag in my freezer, and throw all those random veggies and bits in there: ends and peels of carrots, onion skins, mushroom stems, celery that’s no longer crisp, woody herbs, chicken bones…they all go in the freezer bag. Then when I want to make soup (or when the bag is full), I dump it in a pot with water and simmer all day. Makes the best soup stock!

  25. Emm says...

    As someone in the midst of morning sickness hell, the post title was terrifying. But I do love the ideas. We always seem to have random veggies dying a slow death in the fridge. Will definitely start an orphanage for them.

    • SK says...

      I’m with you (but for some reason getting evening sickness and not morning sickness). I keep “ambition buying” produce thinking I’ll want to eat it and then…nope! Hope you feel better soon!

  26. Karina says...

    The orphaned vegetable bin in the fridge.
    That is so simple and amazing. Why have I never thought of this?! No more shrivelled carrots at the bottom of the veggie drawer, no more single mushrooms in a brown paperback. Thank you xx

    • Karina says...

      Paper bag!!

  27. Anna says...

    Love the look of that egg-on-top dish! My go to for last little bits of veg is in breakfast scrambled eggs. Almost anything, seasoned or cooked or not, is good, and starting the day with vegetables makes me feel virtuous. For fruit, I freeze it and later defrost, mash, and bake into muffins. Then my children, who “won’t” eat the last bite of the banana, eat it anyway mwahaha.

  28. Amy says...

    Thanks Jenny! All great ideas. I often clean out the fridge with a weekly “Forgot-tuh-Fritata” with all the food scraps I forgot I had, such as wilted spinach, odd-end herbs, and whatever mushrooms, bell peppers and other veggies have managed to escape the week’s meal plan.

  29. Nathalie says...

    Tip 2 is happening tomorrow for lunch :-) Love your posts, Jenny!

  30. Amy says...

    For us, the last good day for some veggies = quiche for dinner! Sauté the veggies with some spices, beat up some eggs, add cheese if you want, pour them into a pie crust (I am NOT above using ready-made from the store!), bake and voila–a delicious dinner. I suppose you could do this for a weekend breakfast as well…

  31. Amy says...

    Overripe fruit makes for the best smoothies!

  32. Meghan says...

    My favorite trick is to put any lingering veggies + random cheese I have into a frittata! I often make one on a Saturday morning to clean out the fridge before the weekend’s grocery run.

  33. Sadie says...

    Does anyone else just eat the odds and ends as they stand at the fridge in a WFH daze?

    • Madeleine says...

      Yep, haha. Used to be at 5:30 when I got home but now it can be anytime! Especially after stressful Zooms

  34. Jessica Camerata says...

    So many great ideas! Need to try a crisp next time my fruit is looking sad, so smart! Perfect for a personal dessert in a ramekin!

    xo Jessica

  35. Kelly Drummond says...

    I love cheese and always have the smallest pieces around (especially after a charcuterie board!). Deb Perelman has the best recipe to use them all, just add wine, butter, and the cheese. It’s different every time, but always delicious!
    https://smittenkitchen.com/2012/12/fromage-fort/

  36. R says...

    Ice cold water perks up wilted veggies in a flash! I find all my sad friends from their hiding nooks at the bottom of the veggie drawer, and throw them in a big bowl with ice and water for a while. Regeneration!

    • Jill says...

      This is so true R!! It’s worth a try!
      And if something can’t be revived, it’s either time to use it or compost it.

  37. katie says...

    Last spring, I signed up for my first CSA. Pre-covid, I went to farmers market every Saturday. Because I didn’t know if they’d be open, I bought a weekly farm delivery. SO MANY GOOD VEGETABLES and I didn’t want anything to go to waste.

    One thing I learned, leafy green carrot tops make a great pesto to add to grain bowls. Also, wash and sauté beet greens or radish greens like you would other leafy greens.

    I can also attest that beet hummus and beet dip are delicious.

  38. Natasha says...

    Great post!!! We keep our herbs like cilantro in a glass of water in the fridge- promotes freshness, makes them last way longer, and upon opening the fridge, you cannot miss the gorgeous bouquet of fresh green! This serves as a reminder to use it all the time. And then, if it needs to get used- guacamole! Also, we started doing the same with scallions, but we keep them on our patio (we live in Fl). My scallions keep growing in water, and they have been around since Christmas! Still fresh and tasty, and we just clip whenever we need them in our food.

    I like to do fridge clean out dinners. I have three growing boys and they eat A LOT. One example of this type of meal is all revolving around a Mexican theme. Two platters of nachos- using up scraps of cheese, some chicken breast, added some Cajun seasoning, topped with the scallions. Quesadillas using leftover ground turkey meat. Cut them into pretty triangles, let the kids have at it. Homemade guac, using all leftover herbs and good cados. Two random tomatoes became a quick pico de gallo, also a great reason to add fresh, raw garlic into the meal (immune booster!). Some zucchini was also found, sliced it, quickly put it on the grill pan with salt and pepper, topped with the clean-out herbs, a little parmesan, and a douse of olive oil. Everything was cleared, plates and the produce bin. Lots of nutrients taken in. Success!

    • ARC says...

      Yes! Doing the same with my family. I get all the little leftover bits and pieces prepared for a tapas style dinner, some raw veggies, some sauteed or roasted, stuff them in a taco with some cheese and leftover chicken, perfect and healthy meal (and there is something for everyone, no kid can complain they don’t like it). Another option is making a creamy soup with broccoli or caulflower, fennel, leeks that are borderline – roast or just boil them in veggie broth. Together with a grilled cheese, a perfect lunch or dinner.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I do that, too!

  39. Sera says...

    This year, I started saving the greens from beets, tips of carrots, cores of cabbage, etc. in the freezer until I accumulate enough to fill the stock pot. It’s my favorite way to feel like a pioneer. But I still feel guilty throwing away all those boiled down veggie scraps. Anyone else?

    • Abby says...

      We do this too!!! I freeze all our onion ends, slightly withered mushrooms, celery cores, etc and make into stock once the bag is full. The used-up scraps then get composted. At least you know they went to good use!

    • Amy says...

      I think this is where we get to level up in our pioneer lifestyles: chickens and/or compost piles! ;) If you live in an apartment, maybe a worm composter for the patio, or offering them to a community garden nearby?

    • jane says...

      “boiled down veggie scraps” = worm bin
      Compost worms love cooked/steamed veggies and you get luscious soil and compost tea for spring plants. I have a large bin outside but I would think even a small kitchen can use a compost/worm bin if you keep it as clean as you do your kitchen. If you add bokashi there’s literally no smell.

  40. Amanda says...

    Since fresh herbs go wilty and squishy quick, we avoid wasting ours by saving a small amount for fresh herb recipes, but then blending the rest with some oil and water, maybe even some garlic and chilli if you have it. Once it’s blended, it keeps in the fridge for much longer, and it becomes a lovely seasoning to add to pretty much everything. This is not my idea, my family (from Trinidad) has always done this and calls it “green seasoning.” I’m sure many other cultures do this as well.

    Otherwise, slightly soft veggies usually get roasted!

    • Amanda says...

      I just realized this is one of the suggestions haha I only read the ones that sounded new to me!

  41. Kate says...

    Great tips, as always! I’m not a very advanced cook but I’ve surprised myself with a couple hacks in the past year to cut down on food waste:

    1. Quick-pickling spare vegetables – I have recently done this with radishes and carrots. SO easy! Chop the veggies. In a saucepan bring to simmer 1 cup each of vinegar and water, 1 tsp each of salt and sugar (play around with this to your taste) then pour this over the veggies, put the lid on the jar and toss it in the fridge! When you serve it people will be like, “You MADE this?”

    2. Keep some miso paste in the fridge (probably works with Better than Bouillon or broth powder as well) and if you have any leftover dinner heat up some water, stir in some miso paste and throw in your leftovers! Delicious, gourmet soup for lunch or snack! Great for those last few tablespoons of grains that normally get tossed out. Today I had a little bit of leftover farro, one roasted grape tomato and some chopped kale saved from last night’s falafel bowl and I warmed it up and stirred into miso soup with some garlic powder and one chopped pickled jalapeno for some extra kick!

  42. Abesha1 says...

    In line with this idea, we can all ask our municipalities to start composting services! Sometimes you just can’t use it up, or you didn’t know the orange was rotten when you bought it, and most of us don’t have a use for eggshells, lol! But composting prevents all that food waste from heading to a landfill.

    • Vero says...

      Yes! We have green bins where I live and it has cut down on landfill waste (where you food produces methane gas :( if taken to landfill) by I think about 30+% and makes it easier for those who aren’t interested/able to do their own composting. I hope to get chickens some day and feed the scraps to them but right now having all these scraps turned into healthy soils is A+ for the planet <3 It would be cool to have a resource for people for how best to get this implemented in their communities, apartment buildings, etc.

  43. Agnès says...

    That food must be kept safe for insomnia, 4am cold food barefoot in a cold kitchen.

  44. I save carrot tops, onion skins, celery hearts, onion skins, herb stems, etc. in a bag in my freezer and when the bag gets full I throw it all in a pot and cover with water. Makes great veggie stock! Or if I have leftover bones from a roast chicken I’ll add those too and make chicken stock.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      yes to this – I also save my parmesan rinds in the freezer and toss those into the stock pot as well.

  45. Serena says...

    Thanks Jenny! Can you please do another version of your “fast fall dinners” for winter?

  46. annie says...

    THANK YOU. I love the orphaned vegetable bin idea.

  47. Emily Crowder says...

    Will I ever forget the term “flaccid carrot”? Probably not.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha

    • Amy says...

      Yup, that one got me laughing at my kitchen-table-desk too! And then my husband put a bunch of carrot sticks on the table a few minutes later :D
      Thankfully they were crisp…

    • Sarah says...

      OMG I literally laughed out loud at that same phrase. Definitely keeping that one in my back pocket.

  48. Ashley says...

    Love all of this, and have a recommendation for anyone else who does too: The Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler. It changed the way I cook, especially with all my old vegetables, which now end up as pesto/spread on toast.

    • Julie says...

      I agree, it’s a great book! I have it with my cookbooks on my kitchen counter for inspiration.

    • Karyn says...

      Love this book too! Changed my cooking, changed my life!

    • Theresa C says...

      I was scrolling through the comments to see if someone recommended this book! Love it!

    • Alix says...

      I second this suggestion! Even though I don’t cook (my partner does all the cooking in our house), I have read this book twice because her writing is so lovely. Highly recommend it.

  49. Sofia says...

    Curry! works so well for odds and ends

  50. Lynea Wilson says...

    I love this list of ideas! What a helpful way to help combat food waste. Currently eyeing some shrivel-y sweet potatoes with thoughts of swp-tahini toast.

  51. b says...

    One of my favorite lunches is scrambled eggs (I cannot fry an egg to save my life) with a ton of veggies and a generous helping of shredded (or blue) cheese. Bonus points if I’ve got some deli ham for extra heft.

  52. Katie Weltner says...

    On the same page as the stock… I freeze all of my produce odds & ends (onion skins, potato peels, carrot tops, etc.), as well as any bones from meat we eat (usually chicken). Once the bag is full, I look around the kitchen, grab anything else, and and simmer it on the stove for a few hours to make stock! It’s so, so satisfying to me – turning garbage into an even tastier version of something that I used to buy.

    • DJ says...

      I do the same thing! And then a freeze the stock because I live alone and can’t go through it all in one sitting. It tastes so.much.better! than what you buy at the store and it’s essentially “free” because it was produce that I was trashing anyways (at least that’s how I think of it!). Use as a starter for soups, any recipe that calls for stock, risotto, etc.