Nose-to-tail eating has been a foodie buzzword for a while now, but isn’t it time we thought about leaf-to-stalk eating, too? While we’re happy to chow down on trotters and tripe, many of us are still tossing half our vegetables away without a second thought – and it’s an offal shame.
So minimise waste and maximise taste by discovering which parts of the vegetable you should be cooking up, not throwing away – just remember to wash all your veggies first.
It’s time to stop giving florets all the attention. Broccoli’s gnarly ‘tree trunk’ stalk is every bit as edible the top part.
How to eat them: peel the stem then the only limit is your imagination. Chop it and steam it along with the florets, slice it finely and add to a stir-fry, use it to make soup, or earn extra respect on the spiralising bandwagon by transforming it into noodles. Garlic and lemon ‘broodles’ anyone?
Spring onion tops
Why do we only eat the bottom half of spring onions? Suspicion? Deep-seated prejudice? An urban legend about the top bits being made out of ogres' ears?
Whatever the reason, we’re throwing away (probably) many metres of perfectly good onion every year for no reason at all. Let's put an end to this bias, because the darker green parts are just as good as the bulb.
How to eat them: anywhere you would usually use the lower part, provided you give the leaves a good wash first. Chop them finely and sprinkle on meals as a garnish, add them to broth and stock, stir-fry them … come on, you know the drill.
Our green-top discrimination extends to leeks too, and again nobody really knows why. Maybe we assume they’ll be tough and unpleasant, or maybe it’s something to do with a rogue caterpillar occasionally lurking in the layers. Whatever the reason, the leafy tops are just as tasty.
How to eat them: chop them into small pieces, sauté or stir-fry for a few minutes until tender, and mix in some cream or butter – because what doesn’t taste better with cream or butter? Nothing, that’s what – and add them to scrambled eggs or spoon onto the side of your Sunday roast. They’re also a champion stock ingredient, and lovely simmered in soups.
OK, yes, there aren’t going to be many people in the world who have ever looked at a plate of boiled brussels sprouts and said, "But how can I eat more of this exquisite nature’s bounty?" – especially not when there’s a stuffing sandwich and half a sherry trifle in the vicinity.
But if you’re a discerning veg-lover who has already conquered the sprout, you’ll be excited to know that the big, cabbage-like leaves that grow off the stalk are equally edible, and possibly even more delicious. They’re also reportedly vitamin-rich with the same levels of detoxifying nutrients as broccoli.
Photo: Nick Saltmarsh / CC BY-SA 2.0 / adapted / Flickr: nsalt
How to eat them: treat them as you would spring greens or cabbage. Unless you would also throw spring greens and cabbage in the bin, obviously.
Sprout tops are sweet and tender with the merest hint of sprouty flavour, and they’re lovely shredded and sautéed, steamed like spinach or added to your Boxing Day bubble and squeak. They’re also in season from October to March, so you can get your fill long after the Quality Street tin is empty.
Just when you thought our earthy purple pals had found their way into every dish imaginable (seriously, who saw beetroot brownies coming?), you discover that the leaves are a culinary marvel, too. A relative of rainbow chard, they’re less slimy than spinach, less bitter than kale and oh so much prettier on your plate.
How to eat them: spot the common theme! Beet greens are delicious sautéed in butter or fried gently in oil for a few minutes until the stalks are tender. Wash them a few times first. You can also add the greens to beetroot juice or green smoothies for an extra boost of smugness, or eat them raw in a nice leafy salad.
Anyone who has ever unwrapped a cauliflower to find it magically shrink to about 30% of its original size will be glad to know you can actually eat the leaves, too. Fresh and green (avoid if they’ve turned yellow), they have a distinctive flavour and thick, succulent stems that taste especially good roasted.
Pronounce it clearly though, because if anyone thinks you said ‘cauliflower cheese’ they’re in for a big disappointment.
How to eat them: chop off the very woody bits at the bottom, give them a wash and you’re good to go. You can use cauliflower leaves in the same recipes as kale, chard and other brassicas, but the nicest way is to roast them with oil, garlic and spices as in this recipe from The Kitchn.
Butternut squash seeds
Not as famous as their pumpkin-derived cousins, butternut squash seeds are more of a mouthful to say but just as tasty to eat. Next time you’re hacking up a squash, save all the slimy seeds and turn them into an appetiser while you’re waiting for the rest to cook.
You can also technically eat the stringy, pulpy part around the seeds, although there are some things that might be better left in the bin.
How to eat them: sprinkle the seeds with a little salt and olive oil, and roast them until crisp, or try a spicy recipe like this one from No Empty Chairs. Add to salads, sprinkle on curries or just keep them in a little tub to munch on the bus.
And the weirdest one of all …
No, but seriously. If avocados are the hippest foodstuff of the moment, then their stones are the underground beatnik hit that most of us haven’t even heard of yet.
Devotees believe that the big, pebble-like pits could be just as nutritious as the green flesh around it, with research from the Journal of Food Chemistry in 2004 finding that they’re a good source of antioxidants and soluble fibre. Though obviously they’re far less attractive on toast.
How to eat them: use a powerful food processor (NutriBullet strength) with a good strong blade to blitz the stone to a fine powder, which you can then add to smoothies, sauces and desserts. The natural flavour is fairly bitter, so only use a little at a time to stop your recipe tasting like, well, the pits.