Double the Bang For Your Produce Buck

Double the Bang For Your Produce Buck

by: Betsy Peirce, Produce Manager

In these lean economic times there is often a need for extra measures to ensure that we are getting the most out of what we purchase. This goes in the produce department as well as any other place where we spend our hard-earned dollars. Our own ancestors and grandparents certainly knew how to make their food stretch and we can learn to reincorporate some of the old ideas into our modern lifestyles. All we need is a few great ideas and some creativity. Here’s a secret: deals are lurking in the produce department everywhere you turn.   Here are a few tips to get you well on the way to being a food saver and maximizer.

Citrus and fresh ginger peels

You can buy dried citrus peels in the herb and spice section, but there is nothing like the flavor of a freshly zested orange, mandarin, tangerine, or lemon. The reason is that the oils in the citrus dissipate rapidly once zested. The best way to preserve that flavor is to zest them before you eat the meat and freeze the zest in a plastic bag. That way you always have it on hand, and you don’t have to buy a special piece of fruit to have zest for one dish. Remove it from the freezer when you want to add it to pies, cookies, cakes, frosting, stir-fry, marinades or even something as simple as oatmeal – mmm, orange zest cinnamon oatmeal is divine.  Also fresh ginger peelings make excellent tea because there is still a lot of ginger sticking to the peel. Save in the freezer, or on your counter if you drink a lot of tea. Simply steep in water, add sweetening to taste and you have a perfect health tonic.

Winter squash seeds

You can toast the seed of any winter squash (such as butternut or delicata).  They are a tasty snack high in good fats and fiber. Toss them with one tablespoon of oil per one cup of seed and some salt and bake at 250 degrees for roughly 90 minutes. If you want, add some seasoning (cumin, chili powder and garlic) and toast for five more minutes at 350.

Beet greens

Sure the green on the top of the beets tells you that they are fresh, but they are also quite edible.  You can use them like chard or spinach. However, be warned they will tint your dishes a pretty purple color.

Don’t discard the stems

Stems are an under used produce item, particularly broccoli. Think how many more phytochemicals you will consume if you eat the WHOLE head – including the stems.  You get twice as much broccoli for the money you spend.  Simply peel off the tough outer layer with a vegetable peeler and slice, chop, or julienne the remaining fleshy stem. Tip: they take a bit longer to cook than the florets. So cook them a few minutes before adding the florets when you are cooking them together. Also, chard stems are a colorful and crunchy addition to any dish. Slice and add as you would chopped onions.

Vegetable stock

A nice vegetable stock is simple to make, easy to use, and has more nutrients and flavor than plain water. Toss clean vegetable peels and trimmings into a plastic bag in your freezer after you do your chopping. Good things to include: onion peels, garlic ends, stems of leafy greens, carrot tops and greens, apple and pear cores, beet and turnip peelings, stems of fresh herbs. Avoid: bitter, waxy, or inedible plant parts, such as cucumber peels, stone fruit pits, or citrus peels, as well as anything moldy. Also skip uncooked potatoes which don’t freeze well.

Empty the contents into a stock pot and fill with water to cover.  Add any seasonings that you wish, such as, bay leaf, cloves, thyme, or garlic.  Simmer contents for roughly one hour.  Strain and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.  This stock is great as a base for soup or for added flavor for cooking grains and dry beans.

How do you stretch your produce?  Let us know.  Send your tips and tricks to nate@oneotacoop.com