8 Recipes to Make With Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

iStock
iStock

Each year, Americans toss roughly one-fifth of the groceries they buy into the trash. Some of the waste is food that's been left to spoil, but a lot of it consists of ingredients that could be turned into wholesome meals with a little creativity. Next time you have fruit and vegetable scraps on your cutting board, set them aside. You'll need them to make these recipes.

1. STRAWBERRY TOP-INFUSED WATER

Strawberries in water.
iStock

If you want to squeeze every last drop of flavor out of your strawberries, save the leafy tops. You may not be able to eat them whole, but you can use them to brew a refreshingly sweet beverage. Just drop a handful or two of tops into a jar, fill it with water, and let it sit for about an hour. That’s enough time for the strawberry flavor to infuse into water, making it taste subtly sweet without a bunch of added sugar.

2. PICKLED WATERMELON RINDS

Pickled watermelon rinds in jars.
snickclunk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A little time and attention can turn a tough, inedible watermelon rind into a delectable salad or side. After eating or saving the flesh of a watermelon, Alton Brown says to peel the dark-green skin off the rind and slice it into 1-inch cubes. Bring a syrup of water, vinegar, sugar, and spices to a boil and pour the liquid over the rind pieces. After the mixture has had a chance to cool, add it to a jar and give it time to cool further at room temperature. The pickles will keep in your refrigerator long after watermelon season has ended.

3. BROCCOLI STALK FRIES

Broccoli stalk cut in half.
iStock

Most broccoli recipes focus on the pretty, dark-green florets on top of the plant, but the stalks can be just as tasty if you treat them right. Once you peel the tough outer layer off the stems you can use them in almost any recipe that calls for broccoli. The food blog What’s Cooking Good Looking recommends cutting them into spears to make broccoli stalk fries. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal, salt, and seasonings to give them a crunchy coating. Bake your fries in a 400°F oven for 30 minutes, or until golden-brown, and serve them with the dipping sauce of your choice.

4. CRISPY ROASTED POTATO PEELS

Crispy potato skins.
iStock

As is often the case with fruit and vegetable skins, the peel of a potato is packed with nutrients. It also lends itself well to crisping, making it the perfect snack food to prepare at home. After making a big batch of mashed potatoes, take your saved potato skins, toss them with oil and seasonings, and roast them in a 400°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The result tastes like French fries, but only the dark and crispy bits (a.k.a. the best parts).

5. VEGETABLE STOCK

Vegetable stock in pot.
iStock

Bone broth is all the rage, but you don’t need animal products to create a rich and flavorful stock. Save all the vegetable scraps you can’t repurpose into other dishes and simmer them in a pot of water for about an hour or so to make a stock you can use in all your vegan recipes. There are no rules here: Corn cobs, onion tops, asparagus ends, carrot peels, garlic skins, and parsley stems are all fair game.

6. CANDIED CITRUS PEELS

Candied orange peel in jar.
iStock

If you have a sweet tooth, save up your lemon, orange, and grapefruit peels. According to this recipe from Martha Stewart, some sugar is all you need to make these colorful scraps into fruit candy. After slicing the peels into strips, boil them for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and allow them to dry on a wire rack. Create your syrup by boiling one cup of water with one cup of sugar and add in your peels, letting them stew for eight to 10 minutes. Remove the strips from the liquid and let them dry fully before tossing them in granulated sugar. The chewy, citrusy morsels taste great dipped in dark chocolate, baked into cookies, or eaten as they are.

7. CARROT TOP PESTO

Pesto in cup with bread and pasta.
iStock

You really can make pesto out of any leafy green—even carrot tops. If you know how to make traditional pesto, just swap out the basil for carrot scraps and proceed as usual. In a food processor, pulse together the tops, garlic, a nut like cashews, and an herb like parsley for brightness. Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, slowly drizzle olive oil into your processor while continuing to blend. Finish by mixing in parmesan and salt. You can slather your sauce onto sandwiches, stir it into pasta, or use it as a dip for the carrots the tops came from.

8. PUMPKIN SEED GRANOLA

Granola in a bowl.
iStock

Every Halloween season, countless families cut open pumpkins and hollow them out only to toss their guts in the garbage. Next time you carve a jack-o’-lantern, don’t forget about the seeds: They’re edible and can be used to add crunch to both sweet and savory dishes. For an especially pumpkin seed-forward recipe, try making this granola from the blog Little Vienna. Start by combining the seeds with chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk together honey and oil and toss this with the seed and nut mixture, and bake in a sheet pan at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the granola halfway through. Sprinkle on dried cranberries once it's out of the oven.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER