All of the recipes in my zero-waste menu series can be produced without generating trash—assuming you have access to farmer’s markets and bulk bins. This menu focuses on eliminating food waste in particular. It’s the use-it-all-up-now-before-it-goes-bad menu.
The dishes featured here call for typical ingredients that need to be consumed quickly in order to avoid wasting them:
- Stale bread
- Still perfectly edible vegetables languishing in the back of the refrigerator
- Leftover bits of this and that such as cooked rice or pasta
- The remnants of ingredients you bought for recipes that didn’t call for quite the entire amounts you purchased
- Discarded sourdough starter
- Other leftover dishes that you can easily transform into new ones
Sauerkraut or kimchi on the side
Sourdough crackers and dip
Breakfast: French toast
You say stale bread, I say delicious breakfast in minutes.
I sometimes buy my daughter bread from a store near me that sells it loose. I simply plop the loaf into a homemade cloth bag and bring it home—wasting neither paper nor plastic. The bread tastes delicious but unlike homemade sourdough bread, which keeps for up to a week, begins to dry out in one day. That makes it perfect for French toast.
I don’t measure anything for French toast and merely eyeball the amounts (however, I did provide measurements below). I whisk together an egg, some milk, a splash of vanilla and a dash of cinnamon in a pie plate (a shallow dish results in evenly coated bread), dip in the slices of stale bread one or two at a time to soak up some egg mixture, turn the slices over to saturate the other sides of the bread and fry until golden. I serve French toast with either maple syrup or powdered sugar and lemon juice.
- 10 lemons
- 6 tablespoons sea salt
- spices if desired: bay leaf, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks
- Cut lemons into quarters but don't cut all the way through. Leave about 1/2 inch at the bottom intact to keep the lemon pieces attached.
- Stuff about 1 tablespoon of salt into a cut lemon and stuff the lemon into a clean 1-liter jar.
- Once you have filled the jar with lemons, juice the additional lemons and pour juice into the jar until you have completely covered the lemons.
- Close the jar and set it on a plate to catch any lemon juice that may soon begin gurgle out of the jar when fermentation begins. Burp the jar (i.e., open it) every day for first several days to release any gases building up inside. Set the jar aside for from a month to up to six months.
- The lemons are ready when the skins have softened completely. Scrape away the pulp, rinse off the salt (if necessary) and add the rinds to your dish.
Follow these same instructions for preserved limes. If you use limes that are much smaller than lemons, reduce the amount of salt accordingly. You'll need extra limes to render enough juice to cover the limes in the jar.
Lunch: Minestrone soup
I make lots of soup. Soup not only serves as an efficient vegetable-delivery vehicle, it also enables you to use up lots of food at once: vegetables that you must eat as soon as possible, random mystery beans in the pantry, leftover pasta and rice, and bits of meat and cheese if you eat meat and cheese.
Dinner: Clear-out-the-fridge frittata
With this entire menu focusing on using up food on hand, by the time you start dinner, you may actually have run out of food to use up. I’m merely trying to give you ideas. You can find more ideas in menu no 1, menu no 2 and menu no 3.
Here is my recipe for frittata. If like my teenager you believe frittata is simply quiche without the best part—the crust—make a crust. Serve this with sauerkraut or kimchi on the side and get your daily does of probiotics.
Vegans, sorry, I can’t think of a vegan alternative to this. Without the eggs, this dish is roasted vegetables, more of a side dish than an entrée.
About my eggs: I buy pastured eggs either from the farmers I live with or at the farmer’s market. Those hens roam around and eat what hens were meant to eat. Speaking of which, I’m in Canada as I type this and helped look after my sister’s chickens this morning. They live in a chicken palace.
Snack: Sourdough crackers and dip
Some of my other recipes that call for discard (like the sourdough pizza, which I haven’t written up yet, and the soft sourdough pretzels, which I have) work best with fairly young discard—a couple of days old maximum. These crackers work well with old starter. The older, the cheesier (the crackers taste cheesy but contain no cheese). So think of them as your go-to use-up-your-discard-don’t-throw-it-out recipe. You can find the recipe here.
Dips are also a great way to rescue food. Last week I had both hummus and homemade salsa in the refrigerator that I felt we better gobble up quickly (the hummus was over a week old). I combined the two and the result tasted so delicious, I scarfed down the entire dish all by myself—no food wasted (or shared…oops…). I bought some beets before I left and will have to cook them when I return. I’ll toss them in my pressure cooker (cooks beets to perfection in about 10 minutes, longer if they are larger) and throw them into a new large batch of hummus. If you made the pesto from menu no 3 and have a bit left, that makes a tasty dip too.