Kitchen Hack: 12 Genius Ways to Cook With Peels, Stems, and Other Food Scraps

Last Update: February 25, 2023

I’m that annoying person who squeezes every last ounce of toothpaste from the tube, and refuses to throw away jeans until holes make them essentially unwearable.

And with food, I’m even worse. I have a Cup Noodles in the back of my pantry that I know I’ll never use, but can’t quite bring myself to toss. (What? Maybe one day I’ll get really hungry and eat it.) I just can’t get behind the idea of wasting any of that gorgeous bundle of rosemary or expensive wheel of parmesan.

That’s where these mind-blowingly simple tips come in. From dinner to dessert to drinks, we’ve rounded up 12 of the most ingenious ways to cook with the scraps that typically wind up in the trash can. Suddenly, that wilting parsley in the fridge has a lot more potential…

Use: Apple and potato peels

For: Roasted snacks

Once you’ve got your mashed potatoes or apple pie going, turn your attention to the peels. When roasted in the oven, they transform into delightfully crisp snacks—so much better than just throwing them on the compost pile.

For potato peels, toss them in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. For apple peels, toss them in melted butter or ghee, cinnamon, and sugar or coconut sugar, then roast in a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Use: Citrus peels

For: Candy or infused liquor

Serving fresh-squeezed orange juice or lemonade? Don’t toss the peels—candy them in sugar for an old-fashioned treat! After boiling the peels, cook them in a simple sugar syrup and toss them in granulated sugar, like this quick Martha Stewart recipe suggests. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, and the finished product makes a great gift.

If you’d pick a cocktail over dessert any day, turn lemon peels into limoncello (or make clementine-cello or grapefruit-cello). All you do is drop citrus peels in a sealed mason jar with 100-proof vodka and let it infuse. Four days later, you’ll have a tart liquor.

Use: Tomato scraps

For: Homemade sauce

Cooking with tomatoes almost inevitably results in some waste—the blemish where it attaches to the vine just won’t do in a caprese salad, and the pulpy insides get scooped out when making baked eggs in tomato cups.

From now on, throw any remnants in a ziplock bag in the freezer, and when you’ve collected enough, whip up a batch of homemade tomato sauce. It might take a little extra time, but even the toughest, most fibrous bits can transform into a velvety smooth sauce with the aid of the slow cooker.

Use: Herb stems

For: Infused oils and vinegars

Basil or cilantro leaves aren’t the only part of the plant with flavor—the stem tastes just as fresh and vibrant. Make the most out of every bunch by using stems to infuse oils and vinegars—simply drop them into a bottle of vinegar or oil, stop it up, and allow it to sit for a week or so. Just make sure to thoroughly dry the stems first to keep bacteria from forming—consult The Kitchn’s guide for the full step-by-step instructions.

Use: Leftover pulp from nut milk

For: Gluten-free baking

Fun fact—that expensive almond flour you buy at the co-op every week? It’s really just dehydrated almond pulp, aka the goop left over after you make almond milk. This technique works for other nuts, too—hazelnuts, walnuts, you name it.

Turn the oven to its lowest temperature, spread the pulp out thinly on a baking sheet, and bake for 2 hours. When the flour feels dry to the touch, it’s ready to use in anything from vegan oatmeal raisin cookies to blueberry-lemon poppyseed muffins.

Use: Carrot tops and beet and turnip greens

For: Salads

Just because you don’t typically see them bagged at the supermarket doesn’t mean you can’t eat them. Try mixing the greens of carrots, beets, or turnips into salads or wilting them in a pan with a little olive oil. Each has its own distinctive flavor: carrot tops are quite bitter, turnip greens are milder yet still on the bitter end of the spectrum, and beet greens have a detectable sweetness.

Use: Ginger skin

For: Tea

The skin on ginger root might be too tough to eat, but it still holds plenty of sweet-yet-peppery flavor. After peeling the root for juicing or cooking, boil the peel in hot water for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the peel, and you have a steaming cup of ginger tea.

Use: Bones and vegetable scraps

For: Broth

If you have a bunch of random food scraps, it’s the perfect time to make broth. Toss leftover chicken or beef bones, shrimp shells, veggies, and veggie scraps in a pot with water, and simmer away. In a few hours, you’ll have a supremely flavorful liquid you can eat on its own, use to make other soups, or add to risotto, sautéed vegetables, and casseroles to pump up the flavor.

Use: Parmesan rinds

For: Pasta sauce

When all you have time for is a quick pasta with pre-made marinara sauce for dinner, take it up a notch by simmering the sauce with a rind of hard cheese like parmesan or romano. It’ll infuse the pasta with the salty, umami notes of cheese, building a depth of flavor you don’t get from a jarred sauce.

Use: Day-old coffee

For: Hearty chilis and stews

Bitter and acidic with toasty notes, coffee naturally complements sweet, earthy, and nutty foods, so it’s the perfect addition to a beef stew, pot roast, or firehouse chili. Pour the dregs of your pot into any soup or stew with red meat—it’s as easy as that! (Warning: This tip does not apply to yesterday’s coffee grounds or skinny vanilla latte leftovers.)

Use: Leftover wine

For: Sauces

Whoops—you left a bottle of merlot open last night, and now it’s halfway to vinegar. Instead of pouring it down the drain, freeze it in an ice cube tray. Next time you cook spaghetti or a stew, you’ll have frozen wine cubes ready to dissolve into the sauce.

Use: Stale cookies

For: Pie crust

Even the most experienced home cooks struggle with perfecting a flaky, buttery pie crust. If you have some too-stale-to-eat cookies on hand, smash them up for a new take on a graham cracker crust. Mix the crumbs with enough butter to form a rough dough, then press into a pie pan and bake for 10 minutes. Wafers, shortbread, and other dry cookies work best.

Tips that help you save money, get creative in the kitchen, and reduce food waste? Does it get any better?

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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