How to make delicious dishes from found food

A bowl of oriental fried rice. Getty Images

A few years ago, my family rented a house in Jamaica, complete with a chef. One evening I saw him chopping parsley, including the spines and stems.

“Jamaica is a poor country,” he said, sprinkling the spines, stems and leaves into a delicious marinade.

I got the point. While Americans can afford to dispose of perfectly good food, Jamaicans consume everything that’s edible.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, in America between 30 percent and 40 percent of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.

How is this possible?

Think of garnishes, spilled food, forgotten leftovers that go bad in refrigerators, bruised fruits and vegetables no one eats, and mounds of food carelessly piled onto plates and never consumed.

Restaurants and markets toss a tremendous amount of food, too.

The experience in Jamaica changed my thinking. I began noticing scrumptious tidbits, which I never considered edible.

I call this found food.

I now turn soft fruit into compote and add wimpy lettuce to soups. I dice broccoli stems for salads and soups. I roast potato skins to a crackling crunch. I’ve found the ends of old bread make tasty croutons. It’s a shame to waste rice from Asian restaurants.

But the ultimate found food — Parmesan cheese rinds — are sensational when simmered with escarole and garlic and served over pasta. The new me thinks twice before dumping anything into the trash.

Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves 4 as a side dish

Don’t toss containers of rice anymore; repurpose them.

1 container of rice from an Asian restaurant, about 1½ cups
4 tablespoons sesame oil, preferably toasted sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 scallions, sliced thin and then chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled, diced and  then chopped
1 small zucchini, diced fine
½ small red pepper, diced fine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce

If the rice has hardened in the refrigerator, move it to a bowl. Crumble it completely, using your fingers. Reserve it at room temperature while assembling the ingredients.

In a wok or large skillet, heat the sesame oil on a medium flame until warm. Add the garlic, scallions and ginger. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the zucchini and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until sweating and slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir.

Drizzle in the soy sauce and stir until it’s well combined.

Serve immediately.  This tastes great with steak or lamb.

Escarole and Parmesan Rinds

Serves 4

After grating all the cheese possible from Parmesan rinds, store them in the refrigerator or freezer to get extra mileage from them.

1 tablespoon granulated salt
1 head of escarole lettuce
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
2 shallots, chopped fine
3-4 Parmesan cheese rinds
2½ cups of vegetable broth
⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound box of penne, prepared
according the package instructions

Fill a small sink or large bowl with cold water. Add the salt. Cut off the base of the escarole and discard it.

Separate the leaves and submerge them in the salt water. Move the leaves around briefly to release any sand and dirt. Rinse the leaves under cold water from the faucet to remove the salt. Place them on paper towels to drain. Chop them coarsely. Reserve.

In a large pot, warm the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. In bunches, add the escarole and stir until the leaves wilt slightly.

Place the Parmesan rinds in the pot, cheese side down and rind side up. Pour in the vegetable broth.

Sprinkle in the red pepper and stir briefly. Stir the ingredients and cover the pot.

Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce it to a fast simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the escarole is tender and the cheese on the rind is soft and melting off, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the rinds and cool them to warm. Cut off any cheese stuck to the rinds and return the cheese bits to the pot. Discard the rinds. Serve immediately with penne.

Crispy Broccoli Stems
Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish, or 6 as an hors d’oeuvre

When preparing a recipe calling for broccoli florets, do not throw out the stems.

4 broccoli stems, the parts resembling
tree trunks
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, or more
if needed
8 garlic cloves, skinned and cut in half
Kosher salt, to taste

Cut off the broccoli florets and use them for another purpose. Remove any small branches from the broccoli stems and discard. Rinse under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels.

With a vegetable peeler, scrape the stems until smooth. Cut the stems horizontally into thin circles.

In a large skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Distribute the broccoli circles and garlic evenly. Do not overlap them. (You may need a second skillet and more oil.) Sprinkle them with salt. Fry them on one side until the circles appear golden. With a spatula, turn over the circles and fry the other side until golden.

Drain the stems on paper towels. Discard the garlic. Serve immediately.

Roasted Potato Peels
Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre

When preparing a recipe calling for peeled potatoes, do not throw out the peels.

Nonstick vegetable spray
4 potatoes, scrubbed clean
Olive oil for drizzling, about 1 to 2
Kosher salt, to taste
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder

Coat a baking pan with nonstick spray. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Scrape the potato peels into long strips. (Use the potatoes for another purpose.) Place the peels on the prepared baking sheet. Do not overlap them. Drizzle them evenly with olive oil. Sprinkle on the salt and garlic powder.

Place them in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until the strips are crispy. Drain them on paper towels and serve immediately.

Linda Morel is a food writer in Philadelphia.

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