Root to Stem Cooking: How to Best Utilize Food Scraps

Using food scraps means using every part of an ingredient. By doing so you're adding more nutrition and flavour to your meals and reducing the burden on our environment.

chopping board with food scraps

Co-authors: Charlyene Dsouza and Savlyene Dsouza

Long before the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent lockdown forced us all to rethink the way we look at and deal with food ingredients, food wastage has been on the top of the minds of many conscientious meal makers. Food ‘scraps’, those edible but unused parts of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and poultry do not have to find their way into the garbage bin. Putting them there is really a waste of some of the nutritive value of the food as well as tonnes of flavour. If used intelligently, these food scraps have the potential to be converted into great dishes, filled with nourishment. Top chefs from around the world, including the late Anthony Bourdain, have created inspiring dishes from food scraps that would have otherwise sadly gone to waste. Wasted! The Story of Food Waste has greatly inspired us and helped us take on the challenge of eliminating food waste and reducing our expenditure on various artificial nutraceuticals.

So what comes to mind when you see cauliflower stalks, coriander stems, melon seeds, celery roots, red pumpkin peels, the bones and skin of meat, fish and poultry lying around on your kitchen countertop, chopping board or sink? We hope it’s not the garbage bin. In current times, when produce is difficult to come by, not because of scarcity but because we are making fewer grocery rounds, reduction of food waste is very important. Understanding this and learning how to safely cook with food scraps prolongs the use of the different food groups and stretches to the maximum every rupee we spend on our food.

All the food waste that ends up in the garbage bin and subsequently in a landfill is damaging to our environment because of the greenhouse gases it produces. To prevent this from happening, we have listed some easy hacks for you to use up all those food scraps in your kitchen. This is ‘root-to-stem’ cooking at its simplest and best.

Easy hacks to use your food scraps


Seeds of white pumpkin, red pumpkin, cucumber, winter melon, musk melon, watermelon, sunflower, etc., can be washed, dried and roasted until crisp. They make for crunchy snacks and healthy additions to soups, salads, breakfast cereals, granola bars, muffins, seed butters and chikkis. Jackfruit seeds can be boiled and eaten plain or added to gravies, dals, kadhis and smoothies, or made into jackfruit-seed butter. Jackfruit seed flour can also be used in baking and for making rotis.

Roots and tops

Roots and tops of root vegetables such as yams, beets, turmeric, ginger, radishes, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips may not be the main parts of the vegetables but are still delicious, edible and high in nutritive value. Since these root vegetables grow under the soil, they absorb a large amount of nutrients from it. So you are wasting nutrients if you throw away the roots and tops. Collect them in a freezer bag or box, and use them in soups, sauces, juices, green smoothies and gravies. Beet greens are a perfect addition to Russian borscht. You can also blend them together and use them when you are making cutlets, kebabs, falafel and burgers. When cooked well, they also make a great addition to stuffed parathas, pulaos and chilas.

Stalks and stems

Stalks and stems of broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, mint, coriander, parsley and oregano should definitely not be discarded. Some of the stalks are tough and many stems can be bland or bitter. Just cook the tough stalks well and add them to the main dish or to a side dish, along with some crumbled cheese or paneer, lemon juice, vinegar, pepper, sea salt, olive oil, nuts and dried herbs. If you use only the whites of spring onions, please continue chopping the greens too, else you will have lost out on 50 per cent of its nutritive value. Leek tops can be chopped into bits and cooked until tender. We like to add them to omelettes, vegetable pulaos, stews and soups, or simply use them in place of onions. Broccoli and cauliflower stalks can be sliced and added to stir-fried vegetables, or grated and used to make fritters, frittatas and broccoli/cauliflower rice, or even spiralised just like you would courgettes, zucchini and carrots. The chopped-up stems of herbs and leafy vegetables will add so much more flavour to chutneys, raitas, pestos, hummus, sauces and dips. When used as garnish, they will provide that appealing look and satisfying crunch. When muddled, they will even uplift the flavour of your favourite cocktail and mocktail!


Leaves of broccoli and cauliflower are another source of good nutrients. Wash them well, tear them into smaller pieces, toss them in a little oil, along with some sea salt and chaat masala or cracked pepper, and place them in a hot oven. Move them around occasionally, and 30 minutes later, you will have a bowlful of crispy chips.

Vegetable peels

Peels of citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons have natural essential oils, and a citrusy flavour and aroma. When you are done with extracting citrus fruit juice, you can zest the peels and use this in a variety of salads and bakery products. After that, you can try to incorporate bits of the peel into cold-pressed oils or vinegars to make amazing salad dressings and vinaigrettes that will provide a flavoursome punch to simple vegetables, steamed quinoa, thuli, lapsi or couscous. Else you can use the citrus peels along with the fruit pulp in marmalade, murabbas, compotes, sherbets, pickles and chutneys. Peels of apples and pears can be placed on a baking tray and allowed to oven-dry. Adding some oil or butter will ensure that they do not burn. They make a crisp, crunchy addition to stodgy oatmeal. Apple and pear peels can also be boiled in water to make delicious caffeine-free fruit teas. Candied citrus orange and lemon peels placed in a cup of hot water right before you place your tea bag will give you an amazing infusion to clean blocked sinusoids. Overripe fruits can be pureed and frozen to save them from ending up in the garbage bin. A scoopful of this puree can then be added to a pancake mix, cake/muffin batter or even to your morning smoothie.

Lemon peels to the rescue

If you put lemon peels in a bowl of water, along with your kitchen dusters, sponges and scourers and scrub pads, and bring this to a boil on the stovetop or in the oven, not only will they get sanitised and disinfected, but your oven as well as your entire kitchen will smell divine!

The inner whitish portions of watermelon peels can be grated and made into a yummy side dish when tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Else discard the outer dark-green skin, grate the whitish rind and make a sweet pickle, much like mango chunda. Or cut the rind into small pieces, place in a clean glass jar along with some cloves of garlic, sea salt, green chillies and oregano, top with water and allow the fermentation process to occur over the next few days. The tangy, spicy pickle that results should be kept in the refrigerator to retard further fermentation. Do try it for its probiotic benefits. Your gut will thank you for it.

Vegetable peels are another excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Nearly half the nutritive value of the foods is in the layer just beneath the peel. So if you are sure that your produce is not laden with pesticide residues, please go ahead and use the peels. If not, you can immerse food produce in salt water or a baking soda solution or a vinegar solution. Grated and, in some cases, subsequently steamed peels are a great addition to raitas, kachumbers, halwas, sheeras and phirnis. Beetroots, potatoes and sweet potatoes should ideally be cooked with their peels, provided that they are scrubbed well to ensure that they are free of soil. If, however, you must peel them, save the peels. Spread these in single, even layers over a lightly oiled baking tray. Add a drizzle of vegetable oil, some sea salt, herbs, chilli flakes and/or pepper and bake until crisp in a hot oven. These homemade crisps/chips are a healthy alternative to ready-made preservative- and additive-laden snacks.

Lentil and rice water

Lentil, rice and vegetable waters should also never be discarded. Use them to make the gravies of the main dish, add them to knead the dough for chapatis, rotis and parathas, or incorporate them in soups, broths and shorbas. Aquafaba is the viscous water in which chickpeas have been cooked. Save this water in a clean container and keep it in the refrigerator. Aquafaba can be used as an egg-white replacement in dishes such as meringues, mousses, macaroons, brownies, pavlovas and marshmallows. The viscous aquafaba mimics the functional and stabilising properties of egg whites.

If you love eating pickled gherkins, dill, green peppers and cucumbers preserved in brine, what do you do with the fermented brine? We encourage you to save it to add flavour to soups, liven up a bland hummus or salad, marinate meat or poultry or even drink a shot of it daily to improve the health of your gut. When meat is grilled over very high heat, a number of cancer-causing/carcinogenic compounds called HCAs are produced. Marinating meat in this fermented brine for a few hours before grilling it will reduce the amount of HCAs produced.

About the co-authors
Charlyene Dsouza has studied naturopathy and has a diploma in nutrition and health education. She has also done a course in culinary nutrition from George Brown – College, Toronto.
Savlyene Dsouza has studied sports nutrition and is a certified yoga instructor. She has a diploma in nutrition and health education as well as in food and nutrition.
Adapted from The Good Health Always Cookbook by Charmaine, Charlyene and Savlyene D’souza, published by Penguin Ebury Press. Used with permission.

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