Reduce food waste with these cooking tips and leaf-to-root recipes that use the whole vegetable, including broccoli stems, carrots tops, kale ribs, beet greens and more.

Breana Lai, M.P.H., R.D.

The average American household wastes about $2,000 worth of food a year. Fighting food waste sounds smart, right? What it doesn't sound: delicious. That's where this use-the-whole-veg, root-to-leaf cooking approach comes in. Here are some smart ways to make the most of your vegetable bounty. 100% outrageously good food. Zero waste.

Related: How to Grow Fruits & Vegetables from Food Scraps

1. Broccoli Stems

Pictured: Use-All-the-Broccoli Stir-Fry

Broccoli florets usually take center stage, but the hard stems cook up to be delicious and tender, too, perfect as a side or a base for your dish. Here, spiralized broccoli stems transform into tender "noodles" in this lo mein–inspired dish. If you don't have a spiralizer, use a vegetable peeler to make long strips.

You can also eat broccoli stems:

  • Mashed with butter
  • Sautéed with garlic
  • Shredded into slaw
  • Stir-fried with oyster sauce

2. Carrot Tops

Pictured: Roasted Carrot Tart with Carrot-Green Pesto

Yes! You can eat carrot tops. Use them just as you would any herb. Pro tip: When you buy untrimmed carrots, cut off the tops and store separately or they'll draw moisture from the carrots.

You can also eat carrot tops:

  • Added to green sauces, such as chimichurri
  • Fried to make crisp garnishes
  • Added to salads
  • Chopped into tabbouleh
  • Tossed with parsley, oranges and red onion

3. Leek Tops

Pictured: Coriander-Crusted Cod with Leeks Two Ways

Recipes usually tell you to discard the dark green leek tops. Show them some love! Cooking them a bit longer makes them meltingly delicious. They're also high in fructans, a type of prebiotic fiber that contributes to good gut health.

You can also try leek tops:

  • Sautéed with sesame oil and peanuts
  • Roasted under a chicken
  • Caramelized into onion jam
  • Stir-fried with celery, pork and cashews
  • Added with other onions to French onion soup

4. Kale Ribs

Pictured: Farro, Kale & Squash Salad

Think kale ribs are too tough to eat? Think again. After a good charring in the skillet, kale stems add a tender-crisp bite and touch of smokiness.

Try kale ribs:

  • Roasted with balsamic vinegar and tossed with Parmesan cheese
  • Wrapped with prosciutto and baked
  • Baked into a quiche
  • On top of a pizza

5. Cauliflower Stems

Pictured: Cauliflower Steaks with Parmesan Cauliflower Rice & Romesco

Love cauliflower rice? Get the most out of your head. Dice the ribs and cut the greens into slivers and throw them in. Because they're thicker, the ribs take a little more time, so cook in oil for 2 to 3 minutes before you add in the rest of your "rice" and the leaves.

Other ways to enjoy cauliflower stems:

  • Pureed with leeks to make a creamy soup
  • Steamed and pureed with roasted garlic
  • Roasted with olive oil and rosemary
  • Spiralized and roasted, served with aioli

6. Collard Stalks

Pictured: Chicken & Collard Green Spring Rolls

Woody collard stalks just need a little extra prep to show their softer side. For instance, a quick pickling turns collard stems from trash to a treasure, adding a pleasant tang to these leaf-wrapped spring rolls.

Some more ways to enjoy collard stalks:

  • Sautéed with bacon and cider vinegar
  • Stir-fried with fish sauce and lime juice
  • Braised with white wine and herbs
  • Added to an omelet
  • Added to split pea soup

7. Beet Greens

Pictured: Roasted Beet Crostini

The entire beet plant-roots, stems and greens-is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. In this stunning appetizer, the beets are roasted then pureed with goat cheese for a creamy ruby-red spread. The greens and stems are sautéed with olive oil and garlic for the topping.

Some more ways to enjoy beet greens:

  • Tossed in a salad with cooked beets
  • Sliced up for a veggie slaw
  • Sautéed with olive oil and garlic
  • Added to borscht

Related:

The Best Way to Store Fruits and Veggies So They Last Longer
5 Ways to Stop Wasting Food & Start Saving Money on Food

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