Make Your Own Vegetable Broth

DIY vegetable stock from food scraps for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Hi, home cooks. You probably already know about making your own vegetable broth or stock, in which case you might think this post has nothing new to tell you. Maybe so. This is less of a post about how to make your own broth and more a post in defense of doing so, weekly, whether you've got soup on the meal plan or even a meal plan in sight.

Here's why: broth is so easy to make and so easy to use. Not making soup? Beans and grains are even better when cooked in broth instead of water. Sauces get a little added flavor when you stir in a third of a cup of broth instead of reaching for the faucet. I've tried making polenta with water and it's got nothing on polenta with that little bit of deep vegetable flavor that comes from stock instead. Once you have broth sitting in your fridge, you'll probably use it, and your meals will be better for it. Or at least, mine are.

This is easy enough to do because broth made from food scraps is essentially free. If you cook at home (which, if you don't, you don't need broth anyway), you likely already end up with vegetable scraps each week. Thyme stems, celery leaves, onion tops, carrot odds and ends, parsley stems, fennel fronds, rosemary bits, shallot skins, kale stems, lettuce cores: these can go in your compost, of course, but better yet if they can get used up in a pot first.

Make your own vegetable broth from kitchen scraps | Litterless

So, if you can make a habit to set those aside in a separate container in the fridge or freezer and then to upend said container into a pot of water each week, you'll have everything you need to make a simple vegetable broth. What should be saved: all herb bits, carrot and celery and onion bits, cruciferous and green bits, tomato cores, leek tops, mushroom stems. I don't add starchy things like potato or squash ends, though you might as well experiment with them if you get curious or are planning a squash risotto. I also don't save really strongly flavored things like radishes because that doesn't sound appealing; your intuition will tell you whether something is good for the soup pot or not.

Vegetable scraps should also be in fairly good condition when they go into the pot: remember, you're eating this. So, clean and scrubbed free of dirt, maybe a little yellow around the edges but not too yellowing, nothing that seems to be already gone bad. Just take your nice clean, fresh scraps, put them in a pot and bring it to a boil, and let simmer for no more than 45 minutes (otherwise it might go slightly bitter). Let it cool and strain it, then pour it into containers for the fridge or freezer. If you're planning to freeze it, take care to do so in straight-sided jars or containers; if the liquid is in a rounded Mason jar and tries to expand past the curved part, the jar will crack.

How to make your own homemade vegetable broth from food scraps | Litterless

There are also times when you find yourself with more vegetables than you can use in the allotted time: maybe you're headed on vacation, maybe you have a bumper crop from the garden or a sale at the farmers' market. In that case, you can get more specific and follow a recipe, one that calls for this amount of onions or that amount of celery, to make a well-balanced and chef-approved version. But I bet that if you make broth each week or even each month, you'll slowly learn a recipe of your own: what you like and what you don't.

Broth / stock tips for the rest of us? Meat eaters, want to chime in with your tips for chicken and fish stock?

Previously in Food & Drink: A balm for winter blues, and a plastic-free jar opener.

Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

These. An easy thing to buy frozen in a bag, but an easy thing to make at home, too. Have you ever tried making sweet potato fries? I often make them now, especially alongside homemade veggie burgers. The combination is one of my favorite at-home meals - it's casual but still totally decadent.

Cooking these up is simpler and quicker than it looks. I don't mess with a deep fryer or pan of oil; roasted in the oven instead, sweet potato fries are healthier and easier than their restaurant counterparts. They may not have as much of a deep, oily crunch, but I almost like them better this way.

So, the recipe, of sorts. Cut one large sweet potato per person into imperfect matchsticks, and lay them out on a cookie sheet doused in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, and garlic. Roast them at 450 degrees for twenty to thirty minutes, or until they're getting brown; flip them over halfway through. If you want to boost the crispiness of the fries, try this method of dusting them with cornstarch. It hasn't ever worked very well for me, but maybe you'll follow the directions more closely than I did. :)

That's all there is to it! So easy. And, if you'd like to see, take a look at more zero waste foods you can make at home, here.

Homemade Nut Milk

If I could wave a magic wand and make one thing appear in stores near me in bulk, I'd pick... package-free nut milk! (Also. Curious what you would use your bulk magic wand to conjur: spill, please?) Nondairy milk is one of the very few things I haven't been able to find package-free, and the one that I miss the most (other contenders: seaweed, tofu, miso, tortilla chips, and perfume/makeup/other cosmetics!). But though it seems daunting, making homemade nut milk is actually pretty quick and simple, and I'm trying to make it a priority so that I can enjoy it more often with tea and on granola.

Here's how I do it:

1. Soak raw, unsalted nuts in water overnight. Almonds and cashews work best for this, but you can also try hazelnuts (for a Nutella-like flavor), pistachios, or another favorite nut.

2. Come morning (or, about eight hours after you started them soaking), drain the water from the nuts and stick them in your blender with a heaping helping of fresh water. If you'd like, you can search the web for precise nut-to-water ratios, but I find that keeping things simple and minimizing the steps involved helps ensure I'll actually make nut milk instead of just hoping to. Ergo, I eyeball it.

3. Blend the nuts until the water is milky and the nuts are chopped into small pieces. An immersion blender would also work here.

4. Strain the mixture. I strain mine through an organic cotton bag courtesy of Gaia Guy, which is the easiest way I know how - you can also use a cheesecloth set over a strainer, but that's a little more fiddly.

5. Totally optional (and therefore, in my kitchen, always totally skipped): add flavoring, like a little sweetener, vanilla, or even cocoa. Yum!

Two final tips:

-Save the remnants of the nuts for homemade granola, protein bars, dessert bites - it's essentially nut meal, which can be so useful.

-And, nut milk bags also work for making homemade coconut milk, soy milk, oat milk, green juice, and even cold brew coffee! So many beverage options, people.

Swingtop bottles washed and ready to be filled with homemade almond milk.

Homemade Tortillas

My office is firmly divided into two camps: one that believes that tacos should always, always be on corn tortillas, and one that just as staunchly believes in flour tortillas. I'm in the former - you may be in the latter. Or, you may be a compromising soul, an equal opportunity taco-ist who can admit both kinds into your heart and stomach.

Either way, I think most of us will admit the need for some type of tortilla in our lives. And, since they normally come packaged in plastic, a good way around that is to make your own! Making corn tortillas is easier than it sounds; you won't need to trot out tons of different ingredients or make it a big production. The steps are simple: make the dough, form the tortillas, and cook them. (And, I can't speak with any authority on making flour tortillas, except to say that it looks easy, too - Google a recipe and you're ready to go!).

How to make corn tortillas:

+Purchase a bag of masa harina corn flour from your grocery store (look for it in the international aisle). Though I'd rather purchase the flour from the bulk aisle without packaging, so far I haven't been able to find it package-free. Purchasing it packaged in a paper bag is a good recyclable alternative, and the bags are so large that the contents will last you for years.

+Follow the instructions on the bag to form the dough, and add a teaspoon of cornstarch whether it calls for it or not (this makes the tortillas more pliable - a definite plus). You can omit the salt and oil if you'd like to make the recipe even simpler, and just add water to the masa harina until the dough holds together very well without being too wet.

+Start warming your pan over medium low heat - use a long double-burner pancake griddle if you have one, or a normal cast iron skillet works too. Oil it very lightly with your favorite cooking oil.

+While your griddle is heating, form the dough into small balls, each about the size of one and a half golf balls. Then, you can either use a rolling pin to roll them out thinly like you would a pie crust, or just pat the dough flat using your hands (which is how I made the tortillas pictured above - this video demonstrates the technique well!). If you use the latter method, be prepared that your first few may be a little sad, a little lumpy (mine sure were), but it rapidly gets easier as you practice.

+Cook your tortillas over medium heat in your lightly oiled pan. Flip them over one or two times throughout the process, removing them when the dough looks fully cooked on both sides.

If you find that you need to store your tortillas for later, wrap them in a lightly dampened flour sack towel to prevent them from drying out. Top them with your favorite foods: I like quinoa, black beans, sweet potato, avocado, cilantro, and lime on mine, but of course part of the beauty of a taco is that it's delicious topped with almost anything.

So, tell me: are you team corn or team flour? Or both? Have you ever tried your hand at homemade tortillas? Would love to hear. (PS - Happy March!!!)

Using the Ends of Vegetables

This year, I've been working on getting more creative with my approach to the ingredients I purchase; in particular, I've been rethinking the ends of vegetables, experimenting with how I can work them in to dishes instead of piling them straight into the compost.

Though it's less popular than a kale leaf, a kale stem is still nutritionally loaded and edible. Same for chard stems, broccoli leaves, cauliflower cores, and so much more. I'm on a mission to cook them rather than pitch them; this means good things for both for my pocketbook and for the world (by some estimates, about 25 percent of America's food supply is thrown away each year). In case you're interested in the same mission, I've gathered up a few of my favorite ways to cook with these less beloved parts of vegetables:

Not-your-neighborhood-picnic's slaw.

The beauty of a slaw is that when things are chopped that finely, they become hidden and disguised, no longer castoff vegetable parts but instead now one, cohesive, composite thing. Julienned broccoli and cauliflower cores, very thinly chopped kale, chard, or collard stems, and too-fibrous green onion tops are all softened and muted with mixed with a good amount of oil and vinegar. Fresh herbs, like cilantro, and a handful of nuts or sesame seeds improve this mightily.

Try your hand at regrowing them.

Amazingly, some vegetables can regrow themselves from the bottom up, using only water, air, and sunlight. After you've used the tops of the vegetables, set the intact bottom of a celery bundle, lettuce head, or bunch of green onion bulks in a sunny windowsill in a glass dish containing an inch or so of water. Change the water daily, and watch new vegetables grow from the old, just like magic.

Keep the green tops that are sold with vegetables.

For the most part, they're not only edible but are also tasty and nutrition-packed. If you use them instead of discarding them, you'll be buying two ingredients for the price of one. Beet, turnip, radish, and kohlrabi leaves function like any other dark leafy green - well washed and roughly chopped, they can be sauteed, stir fried, blanched, or added to anything else that calls for greens (the stems work well here, too!). If the leaves re really tough, they'll soften up in soups, beans, and other recipes with long, slow simmering times. Green leafy carrot fronds can be made into a pesto the same way you would make one with basil, which can then eaten on tomatoes, pasta, pizza, or crostini. The only exception that I can think of are rhubarb tops, which are poisonous and shouldn't be brought into your kitchen.

Anything can be soup.

Your family might shudder if you plopped a platter of collard green stems on the table, but once the chopped stems are softened and hidden in a thick vegetable soup, they'll never even know to complain. When you find yourself with many such odds and ends, make a hearty vegetable soup. If I start with a mirepoix (finely chopped onions, carrots, celery, and garlic) and add beans, grains, broth, chopped vegetables, and salt and herbs to taste, I find I can wing vegetable soup from whatever I have on hand. It's always different, and always good. Things that particularly lend themselves to this treatment: stems of hardy greens, diced broccoli or cauliflower leaves or cores, the tops of green onions, beet greens, and finely chopped radicchio or cabbage centers.

Mash fading root vegetables.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas that are past their prime and fading into limp, rubbery, unappetizing things can be chopped, boiled, and then turned into mashed potatoes or a root vegetable mash. With salt, savory herbs like thyme and rosemary, fat (butter or olive oil work well), and maybe a dash of acid (like vinegar or lemon juice), they'll be perked up and delicious.

Stem, leaf, and core pesto.

The genius food writer Tamar Adler introduced me to this incredible recipe, which I make anytime I have neglected stems or cores lying around. You can find a more detailed breakdown in her book An Everlasting Meal, but here it is, in brief: Take two cups of a jumble of castoff stems, cores, or leaves (of kale, broccoli, chard, collards, cauliflower, spinach, leafy carrot fronds, or anything else that seems to suit). Boil them all until until they're soft and tender but still brightly, gorgeously colored, and then mash everything together with salt, garlic, and olive oil to taste (you can use a food processor to achieve a smoother consistency, but I find a big spoon works fine). Spread the finished product on crostini or garlic bread, and top it with grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts, tiny bacon pieces, small quickly pickled green onions, or anything else your heart desires.

Tasty additions to beans or grains.

Smaller ends of vegetables that have nowhere to go (half a clove of garlic, kale stems, broken-off fennel fronds, the last sweepings of your herb cuttings) can be added to pots of beans or grains to make the meal more flavorful. Think garlic rosemary quinoa, lemon fennel barley, a pot of black beans with chopped kale stems dotted here and there - all are much more interesting than their unvarnished counterparts of plain beans and grains. Chop your vegetables or herbs up into small pieces and mix them in during the last half of the cooking time.

Infused water.

A perfect use for cucumber peels, the last few herb leaves or stems (basil, mint, or rosemary are nice here), and citrus rinds. Add these to a carafe of water, and let it sit in your refrigerator or on your countertop for a few hours to make a lightly flavored, refreshing infused water. For even more variations, you can mix and match the produce you use, or even use sparkling water as the base. The flavor always tastes a little luxurious and spa-like to me - by making flavored water, you've taken a few moments to do something small and special for yourself, which can make an otherwise hectic day feel calmer and more intentional.

Make vegetable broth.

When in doubt, you can add the ends of vegetables to your largest pot and make vegetable broth. I save the scraps of vegetables that are past eating in a big bowl or jar in my fridge - onion skins, garlic peels, carrot tops, bell pepper cores, herb stems, the base of celery stalks, leek greens, the yellowing outer leaves of heads of lettuce and cabbage. Then, once my container can't hold any more, I add it all to boiling water and let it simmer down into rich, fragrant broth. Since it's so easy and inexpensive, I find myself using the broth in everything, not just as the start of soup - I'll use it in place of water to steam vegetables, to cook grains, as a base for cooking dried beans, which makes all of these dishes richer and more flavorful without any added cost or too much fuss.

Stride bravely into the unknown.

It happens to all of us - somehow, some way we find ourselves every so often with a new-to-us, intimidating ingredient. Whether a gift, an impulse purchase, an accident, I say: use the dang thing. Look up a recipe as soon as the vegetable enters your domain, work it into your meal plan for the week, and get started on it before you have a chance to procrastinate on cooking with it, lest you put it off until the vegetable is no longer at its peak. I've used this tactic for years (as a one-time kohlrabi, tomatillo, and radicchio newbie, for example), and simple though it sounds, it helps make sure those vegetables get eaten.

What are your favorite ways to use vegetable cast-offs? Any moments of particular inspiration? I'd love to hear. And, you can find more ideas for reducing your waste this year here, if you'd like.

Homemade Granola

For a good chunk of my life I avoided granola as much as possible, finding the store-bought stuff either bland and flavorless or overly flavored and cloying. In college, though, a friend passed along her versatile recipe for a good homemade batch. Now, I almost always keep some around, and have gotten family and friends hooked on this recipe, too.

The recipe is flexible enough to accommodate anything you have on hand; with so many different possible substitutions and combinations (such as ginger cardamom, citrus almond, honeyed pecan, or cinnamon raisin), it won't get boring. It takes only about 5 minutes of hands-on time to make a batch. I hope you like it!

Homemade Granola

Ingredients:

-5 cups rolled oats
-2 cups mixed nuts and seeds (anything you have on hand - try a combination of crushed pecans, walnut pieces, slivered almonds, pepitas, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds)
-A variety of spices (one or more of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cloves, or anything else you think would be good)
-1/3 cup oil (olive, canola, grapeseed, or another oil of your choice)
-2/3 cup liquid sweetener (molasses, applesauce, maple syrup, or honey - pick a combination that matches the ferocity your sweet tooth)
-Splash of vanilla extract
-1 cup dried fruit (optional)

Steps:

-Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.

-Combine oats, nuts, and seeds in a medium mixing bowl. Add spices until the mixture smells strongly fragrant when you bend close to the bowl. Mix.

-In a small bowl, vigorously mix the oil, sweetener, and vanilla to combine, and then immediately pour it into the dry goods. Stir wet and dry goods together until thoroughly mixed.

-Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until the mixture no longer feels wet. Add dried fruit, if you’d like. Once cool, pour into an airtight container to store.

These days, I'm eating mine with apples, pears, and almond milk. Though it works well as a filling, easy breakfast, I often turn to it for a late night treat as well. It might be a little irresistible, but hey, it's just granola! 

Do you have an all-time favorite granola? Or any stellar flavor combinations I should try?

Recipe: Curried Almonds

Recipe for homemade curried almonds, a zero waste snack idea | Litterless

Along with my efforts to go litterless, I've stopped eating most packaged foods (my body is probably super happy about this, but I do miss those yummy pretzel/hummus cups). Instead, I now keep snacks around that I can purchase without packing, utilizing the bulk bins at the grocery: nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, dates. Today I'm sharing my recipe for curried almonds, which are filling, savory, and delicious - as tasty as the snack foods you'd buy in the store (pretzels and hummus excepted, of course), but without any weird ingredients that make you feel vaguely guilty with every bite.

The recipe is based on one from the beautiful blog Sprouted Kitchen. I've made it many times over the years, slowly adapting it to be easier, healthier, and zero waste. I was able to purchase all of the ingredients in the bulk aisle of the grocery store, using my own packaging brought from home.

A recipe for homemade curried almonds, a zero waste snack idea | Litterless

Curry Roasted Almonds

(recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil, but you can use any type of cooking oil), 2 tablespoons sweet yellow curry powder, 3 cups raw almonds, 2 tablespoons sesame seed, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Steps:

-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

-Combine the oil and curry powder together in the bottom of a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the almonds and sesame seeds to coat. Add in salt and red pepper flakes to your liking.

-Bake the nut mixture in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet for 20-30 minutes, stirring at the 15 minute mark. These do burn, so check them every 5 minutes or so toward the end of the baking time.

-Let cool before you eat. Enjoy!