Waste Not, Eat Well

Unripe tomatoes still make delicious fried green tomatoes, even if all you have on hand is almond milk and Ritz crackers. To the right is a gumbo made from old tomatoes and chard.

 

There they were. A growing pile of green cauliflower plants piling up to the side of Mother Hubbard’s Butler Park garden. The huge leaves almost shimmered in the undying heat of this past summer. The plants were officially done producing heads of cauliflower, so we pulled them out of the ground to make room for more stunning and delicious vegetables.

And this is how my mad drive to save all vegetables began.

Now, in the Mother Hubbard’s gardens, nothing is ever wasted. Old plants are composted and turned into fluffy, nutrient-dense soil (see Jessica’s compost post below). Others (like some of the cauliflower leaves) are used as a mulch and help suppress weeds. However, as a thrifty college student and an incurable food experimenter, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if? So on that hot August day, I stuffed my little backpack full of huge cauliflower leaves, jumped on my bike, and set off to bake cauliflower leaf chips. Despite (or maybe due to) the jaw-numbing toughness of cauliflower leaves, when sprayed with oil and baked at 400, they made fantastically crunchy vegetable chips. And with all of the leaves I had taken from the garden, I was able to make batches of the chips for an entire two weeks after.

And it didn’t end there. I realized that tough cabbage leaves also make great chips, that bad tomatoes make a great sauce or gumbo (especially if you boil down some too-tough okra and add it in), that sweet potato greens can taste good if cooked and salted enough, and that thinned baby kale tastes heavenly, despite the dirt that clings to it. Other unwanted plants, like the weeds purslane and lamb’s quarter, make for nutrient-dense (and free!) salads. Luckily, the Banneker garden has a forest of lamb’s quarter that grows behind the compost bins, so stop by and sample the spinach-tasting green anytime. My favorite recipe though? Use damaged sweet potatoes and old apples by boiling the sweet potatoes, chopping the apples, and making muffins! Bonus health points if you mash up old bananas or avocados and use them instead of oil.

Where did this impulse to save all the plants come from? Partially it was nurturing the plants through such an intense summer and wanting to give them a chance in the taste bud spotlight. Partially it was the fact that utilizing almost-wasted food is economical. And partially it was my firm belief that all plants (like people) have potential. And it’s true. Somewhere deep in every rotten apple is a core that just might make a good applesauce.

-Sara Swan, Hub Garden Intern

Sweet potato greens in the frying pan.