How to eat every part of a vegetable
Ever eaten a cake and thrown away the icing or devoured a sandwich but binned the filling? Wasteful madness, right? Yet, every day many of us relegate perfectly delicious parts of vegetables to the compost caddy or, worse still, to the dustbin without a second thought. In fact, rather than offering us just one edible part, many of our favourite home grown vegetables deliver a buy-one-get-one-free option with roots, leaves and stems all offering tasty possibilities.
Leaves much to be desired
While many root vegetables are valued for their underground bulbs, some have luscious leaves that provide a tasty addition to the salad bowl or wok too. The bulbous purple roots of beetroot are wonderful for pickles and roasts, for example, but the red/green leaves can also be used like chard or spinach in a frittata or blitzed into a smoothie. They taste very much like spinach but don’t turn as mushy when cooked. In spring, the young leaves can go straight into a salad.
Carrot frizz is a worthy replacement for parsley (use sparingly as the leaves can be bitter) and turnip tops can be added to pasta, however, you must avoid parsnip leaf, as this is highly toxic. If you pick the leaves of your roots, you will also find the roots will be smaller so you may want to grow two rows – one for leaves and one for roots!
Onions and leeks are beloved for their slender white stalks and fragrant bulbs, but we often discard the green stems for little other reason than their colour. Simply julienne the leaf tops and add to stir fries, or snip into scrambled eggs like chives.
Getting to your roots…and stems
The fragrant leaves of parsley can be used for everything from hummus to tabbouleh, but did you know you could also dig up the root? Like parsnip in appearance, it tastes more like carrot with a hint of celeriac. Dig up mature plants in September and roast or grate raw into stir-fries. Consider using coriander root too, which is used a lot in Thai cookery.
The stalks of Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli are just as tasty as the rest of the plant, and yet we chop them off like useless limbs. While the skin might resemble that of a reptile, peeling it off will reveal a tasty spear. Think of it as a poor man’s asparagus! Shred into slaw, stir-fries and pickles, or blitz into a pesto.
Flowers and foliage
Equally, the tops of Brussels sprouts are often overlooked but they are just as tasty as the buttons. They also help to fill the ‘hunger gap’ – the name used to describe the time in the vegetable garden when winter crops are diminishing but spring crops haven’t ripened yet. Use instead of cabbage by shredding into bubble and squeak or frying in oil and garlic. They are sweet and tender with just a hint of sprout.
Later in the year, allium flowers can be deep-fried and courgette flowers stuffed. If you’re anything like me, I often have a few onions or garlic bulbs that go to seed i.e. send up a flower shoot, and if this happens, don’t throw them on the heap. Nip off small, unopened flowers and dip in tempura batter or stir into mashed potato. The flowers on hard neck garlic, also known as ‘scapes’, are fantastic roasted whole and used for dipping. By taking off the flower you are also diverting energy back into the bulb, which allows it to swell.
Finally, if you really want to flex your frugal muscles, keep hold of your young pea pods. They’re excellent in a stock for soup, simmered for 15-20 minutes, or blanched and blitzed for a pea pod puree for pasta or to spread on toast. And next time you’re thinking of binning that stalk or stem, pause and contemplate all those lovely meals you could be missing!
Thanks Alice! We’re looking forward to seeing more ‘How to Garden‘ videos from your very productive allotment.
Alice Whitehead is a third generation allotmenteer that likes to grow, eat and get muddy – then write about it! She has two urban allotment plots, an award-winning school garden club and a green-fingered nine year old son to help.
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