Zero Waste Cooking: Winter Bounty
By Jovana Djak
Food is different things to different people-means of survival, culture, heritage, identity. But ultimately, what one eats is a reflection of their mentality.
Depending on the country, the nouveau riche usually go to extremes in terms of their eating habits (or behavior) to flaunt their newly acquired money. So, they replace their “normal” food, which was in most cases a naturally sustainable way of eating, with anything that could be described as “opulent” and “luxurious”. I am appalled at practices such as a two Michelin-starred
restaurant in North America serving king crab shipped in from Norway. At the same time, I’m glad there are outlets (including this blog) that focus on the best practices of people, organizations, and communities with a more positive impact on the environment, and a more fresh outlook on sustainability.
The purpose of my small Zero Waste Cooking series is not to present some groundbreaking ideas as they are certainly not so; instead, it’s a little showcase, to provide the readers with inspiration, what they can do with the food they eat at home to lower their food waste in a meaningful way.
I remember as a child watching mother cook, I would see broccoli stems cut off and thrown away; cauliflower, less so. To a young me, the green stems were understandable, since I thought it was scary and useless. The white ones, I didn’t like, so when I ate fried cauliflower, I would hold each piece by the stem, bite off the floret, then discard the stem. I see that memory
as a demonstration of how little I knew, and how linear a persons train of thought can be: things which aren’t pretty must be discarded. Decades later, as a grown-up I would not make the same mistake again, but pretty things are kept, ugly are discarded seems to be the common denominator when people go shopping to buy produce, and even when we do purchase nice
things, we tend to throw away leaves, stems, or tops. I like to keep these things simply because I believe it to be wrong to throw away food.
Once, I had a dish that was simply just steamed spinach stems seasoned with garlic, olive oil, and lemon. It was delicious; tasted like spinach, but maybe even better because of the crunch. In Southern Albania, I had a warm salad of sautéed dandelions, dressed in garlic, olive oil, and lemon, sprinkled with capers. It was the perfect compliment to the pungency of the leaves. I’ve
seen women in the mountainous villages of Albania and Montenegro make burek or pita (think phyllo dough pies) with any greens they could find, stems included. Oftentimes, these wild-growing herbs, considered weeds by some, especially in rural areas were used out of necessity. Not everyone had spinach readily available for mixing with cheese (or not) to make a spanakopita, so any green would do. The same can be said for Serbian, Bosnian, and Romanian pies similar to the infamous spanakopita, their Greek father, only in these parts,
nettle would be used. This is foraging at it’s finest. For most of us that shop in supermarkets or farmers’ markets, we don’t have the need or the opportunity to forage. Nevertheless, the idea behind what we eat and how, should be the same: eat everything, throw out nothing.
Broccoli stems, steamed, drizzled with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.
Not very far away from there, in the Northern Italian region of Liguria, various wild-growing greens are used as fillings in stuffed kinds of pasta. They are also used in omelettes and soups. They even have a word for it: preboggion, which describes a whole variety of spontaneous, perennial, and annual herbs which can be found along paths. That includes wild chicory, poppy,
and dandelion, as these plants aren't intentionally grown for people to eat them, yet if found, they are used for culinary purposes. This term is linked to the very tradition of this region; the term itself has meaning only in this part of Italy, and it encapsulates all of the wild edible herbs which are indigenous to the region. The food that stems from it is deeply rooted in the culinary heritage of the region as well.
Historically, foraging has been a means of survival. But if we look at it from the perspective of climate change, it is, in effect, a way of making our tiny, personal contribution. It may also be our last chance to taste something seasonal, since seasons, as we use to know them, are disappearing, and with it, so will all the wild herbs that are particular to a specific habitat. Soon, there may not be a “winter bounty”.
What you can do with broccoli and cauliflower:
When I buy a cauliflower I’m not able to use all of it for one meal unless it’s whole-roasted. I made cauliflower mash a few times, or first the mash for some croquettes. But on multiple occasions, I did not only use the florets for pickling or sautéing; I’ve made creamed cauliflower soup using the florets, and later asked myself why? The stems taste the same, so use the florets on your pursuit of pretty, and the stems for everything else. Why don’t I pickle the florets or roast them for pretty toasts, and use the “ugly” parts for a cream soup, mash, or croquettes? Also, in a minestrone-type of soup where everything is chopped up
in more or less uniform pieces, it really wouldn’t make that big of a difference. With cauliflower stems, you can do anything you can do with the florets, and if you aren’t sure, blanching and freezing is always an option, stored away for later use in soups or casseroles where you don’t have to impress anyone. In the end, reducing your food waste can be more satisfying than impressing someone with your plating skills. The same applies to broccoli: dips or mashes, chopped up after steaming for little cakes or croquettes, pickled stems, or cubed and thrown into soups. Here, I decided to celebrate the beauty of what I used to consider ugly growing up, just because it wasn’t perfect or symmetrical, the cactus-like stem of the beautiful brassica.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I come from an artistic background-I have a degree in film, but my passion lies in food. For over a decade, I have been researching food in terms of history and culture, from crops to recipes, and everything in between. I guess one could call me an amateur food historian. I’ve devoted most of my time to food research. With a hedonistic approach to healthy eating and an Epicurious approach to life, I am making sense of the world one meal at a time. I see food as the preservation of culture and in a way, art-a way of capturing a fleeting moment. Born in Belgrade, raised in Toronto, lived in Sarajevo, Washington DC, and Tirana, I am currently based in Dubai, from where I am involved in further research and writing about food. My writing is focused on how food affects culture and how history affects food. I’ve also dedicated a large part of my writing to food sustainability, in both an ecological and cultural sense. Sustainable food to me represents being humble, aware of ourselves and the world around us. Sustainability doesn't only translate to the environment-food and sustainability are (or should be) synonymous. I like to look at sustainability from a cultural perspective; preserving the past to maintain the present. I like to question things, and seek answers; to explore and make sense of it all-it’s in my nature.
Every month, I will present a series of posts titled Zero Waste Cooking here at The Preserve Journal Blog, which will hopefully inspire readers to reduce their own food waste. Until a feasible solution is available as to how the food sustainability issue can be addressed globally, I believe that it is the responsibility of each individual to make small changes that will positively transform their nutritional habits, lives, and the environment. Around that, I will also share pieces on food and culture, how migration influenced what we eat today, and how our food and cultures overlap.