It’s never been more important not to waste food than now. Here’s how to make the most (literally!) out of your favorite piece of produce. 

By Stacey Ballis
April 01, 2020
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Nobody should waste food. For one, there are the financial implications of food spoilage, especially when it can be avoided, not to mention the reminder of extraordinary privilege of having too much of something. I have touted the benefits of using up scraps of everything from cheese to fruit to herbs to leftover condiments to citrus peels. I have recently become the person who makes small batches of jam with fruit just past its prime. I save up my sourdough starter discard in a tub and use it to make crackers and pancakes and other fabulous baked goods.

But never have I felt more pressure not to waste food than right now. Fresh fruits and vegetables are harder and harder to come by, and with so many people doing without while we struggle through the coronavirus pandemic, I am focused more than ever on getting the most out of my produce. Whether it is putting my cucumber peels in water for a flavored refresher, or when lemons or limes get hard and too tough to zest, juicing them and storing the juice in the fridge for ease of making cocktails or other recipes, or re-growing scallions and celery from their bases, being consciously less wasteful makes me feel good.

Which brings me to my recent tomato no-waste extravaganza.

First Use: Roasted Tomato Soup

First, I wanted to make a large batch of roasted tomato soup. Enough for my household, and to have some to deliver to my family to perk them up during their isolation.

This versatile stuff is great for out-of-season tomatoes, since the slow roasting makes them sweet and juicy, and is incredible as a soup, the base for a stew or chili, or as a pizza or pasta sauce. I got a large flat of plum tomatoes from my local restaurant supply and set out to make my soup. Because the tops of the tomatoes have the cores, and are too tough for the soup, I lopped them off. Which left me with a giant pile of tomato tops. I could not bring myself to throw them away.

Second Use: Tomato Jam

Tomato jam to the rescue. I coarsely chopped the tomato tops, measured my amount and mixed them with an equal amount of sugar in a large heavy-bottomed pan. I threw in a cinnamon stick and a few cloves. A piece of old ginger starting to get soft got sliced and added to the pot. And I brought it to 220 degrees over medium heat and ended up with six jars of spicy tomato jam.

Third use: Togarashi

When the tomatoes in my oven were done roasting, I pulled off the peels to puree the roasted tomatoes, and then realized I had... lots of peels. What to do? I was about to tuck them in the freezer for stock-making at another time (not a bad idea!), when a friend mentioned tomato skin togarashi. This riff on a traditional Japanese seasoning blend combines dehydrated tomato skins, dehydrated orange zest, black and white toasted sesame seeds, Japanese red pepper flakes, and wakame seaweed flakes, for a crunchy, spicy, citrusy blend that is great on grilled meats and fish, steamed rice or vegetables, or as a garnish for soups. I dehydrated the skins and orange zest in my oven at 200 degrees to make them crisp and brittle, and the blend came together in no time!

One tomato, three recipes, not one bit of waste. Felt so good.

Whatever you are cooking these days, let it challenge you to get creative about minimizing waste. Whether it is frying up potato and root vegetable peels for snackable chips, making jams or pickling, or re-growing scraps into more food, nothing will make you feel more self sufficient than embracing a low-waste lifestyle. Who knows, you might just develop some habits that last beyond the current crisis.