In this day and age, we all do our best to look out for the planet. Whether by recycling our papers, plastics, and cans, using homemade facial products or cleaning solutions, investing in bikes or organizing carpools, or refilling our (BPA free) plastic water bottles, rather than purchasing disposable ones, most of us have incorporated small, eco-conscious efforts into our daily rhythms.
Here are two things we may not think about when we try to go green (or greener): first, that going green might be as personally economical as it is socially responsible. Making cleaning supplies from apple cider vinegar and water, for example, can be tremendously thrifty as well as eco-friendly and safe.
Second, we don't often consider that one of the biggest areas in which we can reduce waste, and thereby lead greener lives, is in the realm of food and cooking. By using up more of our produce and wasting less, we cut back on wasted grocery money. In finding innovative, simple food preparation methods that allow us to use up leftovers, we can reduce money we'd otherwise spend on packaged snack foods or entrees. The upshot? Green living can begin in your kitchen, with benefits for you, your wallet, and the planet.
We've all been there: you spend a tremendous amount of money on a grocery run and a lot of fine produce, only to find that quite a lot of it goes bad before you can use it. When this happens, we're often tempted to spend less of our weekly food budget on vegetables. But given that vegetables are healthy and planet-friendly, eating less of them should be the last thing we do. Rather than letting wilted produce get you down, learn how to keep veggies fresher, longer, and learn how to take fruits and vegetables that are on the cusp of perishing, and turn them into delicious food. It's possible.
First things first: the trick to keeping produce as crisp as can be? A damp paper cloth. When you first get a produce haul home, be sure to place a damp (but not drippy) paper cloth into each produce container (be it bag or plastic). The towel will keep everything, greens included, astonishingly crunchy!
And when you do see that you have vegetables or fruits that are going bad, try one of the following five recipes, all of which allow you to put leftover or aging produce to great use.
1. One of the best things to do with vegetable odds and ends -- you know, the bits leftover from recipes we've made -- is to use them to make fresh vegetable juice. If you have a juicer, however, you know that juicing gives us delicious elixir while also spitting out a lot of "pulp" (which is just the fiber and some of the flesh of the veggies we've used). This makes for good composting, but if you're so inclined, you can also use it to make tasty (and healthy) vegetable crackers.
For example, consider the following recipe for beet, carrot, celery, and apple juice, and then consider the tasty crackers that may come of it.
- 1 large beet, quartered
- 3 large carrots, ends trimmed off
- 2 large stalks celery
- 3 large stalks of kale
- 1 apple, cored and quartered
Juice all of the ingredients using your home juicer. Place a plastic bag in the container that collects the pulp, so that you can reuse it in the following crackers.
Lemon Thyme Juice Pulp Crackers
Makes about 24-30 crackers
- 1/2 cup almonds
- 1/2 cup flax meal, ground
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsps crushed thyme
- 1 1/2 tightly packed cups juice pulp (any veggies you like)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Black pepper to taste (Iím generous with it)
- 1/4-1/2 cup water
Blend the almonds, flax, salt, and thyme into a meal in a food processor. Add the pulp, lemon, and pepper. Add water in a thin stream till the mix is easy to spread, but still a bit sticky (the amount of water you'll need will vary based on how watery the pulp is).
Turn the "dough" out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and spread it evenly. Score into cracker shapes.
Bake crackers at 300 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, checking on them often to be sure they're not burning. Use your kitchen intuition!
2. If you don't have a juicer, but you do have a ton of vegetable odds and ends, never fear: making a simple, blended raw vegetable soup is also a great way to use them up. Try this simple concoction of blended veggies and avocado, ready in just minutes!
Creamy Chilled Zucchini and Cucumber Soup
- 1/2 zucchini, chopped
- 1 small cucumber, chopped
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 small avocado, chopped
- 1/2 clove garlic (optional)
- 2-4 tbsp fresh dill (depending on your taste)
- 1 cup water 1 tbsp oil
Blend all ingredients on high in a blender until smooth; drizzle in oil slowly. Serve with sprigs of dill for garnish!
3. We all know that we can use browning bananas in banana bread, right? But what happens if we're not in the mood to bake?
Banana soft serve happens. By blending up frozen bananas in a food processor, we can create a frozen, non-dairy ice cream that proves how extraordinary simple food can be. Simply freeze 2-3 very ripe bananas that have been peeled and cut into chunks. Place them in a food processor and let the motor run till the mixture is whipped and smooth. You'll be amazed at how deliciously indulgent and authentic the resulting "ice cream" is!
4. When you make any kind of whole grain -- rice, cous-cous, barley, or quinoa -- it's easy to overestimate, and end up with the odd cup or two that isn't enough to feed more than one person, but is a shame to put to waste, too. If you do find yourself in this situation, never fear: you can easily reuse your grains in the most delicious of ways! Heat them up with a touch of almond milk and some cinnamon and maple syrup for a sweet, hearty breakfast. Try the following recipe on for size:
Leftover Brown Rice Breakfast Pudding
Serves 2 (you can half the recipe if you like)
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Dash of salt
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp toasted or roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
- 3 tbsp raisins (optional)
Combine the rice, milk, cinnamon, and salt in a small saucepan. Cook on low heat, stirring often, till rice absorbs the liquid and is creamy (you can add more coconut milk as needed). Stir in the syrup, seeds, and raisins, if desired, and serve.
5. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of non-dairy milks on grocery shelves. This is great news for anyone with a lactose allergy, or who is choosing to follow a plant based diet for health or for the planet. If you'd like to try making your own almond milk from scratch (which is economical if you can get almonds in bulk -- not always economical if not), then give the following recipe a go. And after you do, you can use the almond that you strain away in a delicious, poor man's almond butter. Sounds weird, tastes great.
Vanilla Almond Milk
(yields 2-3 cups or so)
- 1 cup almonds, soaked 8-12 hours beforehand and rinsed of soak water
- 4 cups water
- 4 pitted dates
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or the contents of a vanilla bean)
Blend all ingredients in a blender set to the highest speed.
Fasten 2 layers of cheesecloth over a large container with a rubber band. Pour all the almond milk over the cheesecloth, so that it drips through the cloth and into the container below. Allow it to strain for an hour or two (or more), and then place the almond milk in a large storage container. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Meanwhile, you can season the leftover almond pulp with some cocoa powder, a touch of vanilla, and some sweetener (agave or maple syrup) for a poor man's "almond butter." It's economical, tasty, and unexpectedly good!
Waste not, want not. It's an old saying, but a wise one. with these easy tips for healthy, plant-based recipes and vegetable saving snacks, you'll have a greener kitchen in no time--and a heavier wallet!
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