Has this ever happened to you? The weekend arrives, you’re gearing up to make dinner, you open your crisper drawer and all that’s left to work with are vegetable odds and ends from the week prior — a half a head of broccoli, a few stalks of asparagus, a tiny bell pepper, maybe a handful of greens? While this scenario can lead many to resort to panic and/or an additional trip to the grocery store (believe me, I’ve done my share), there is a whole catalog of recipes that put these valuable vegetables to good use and avoid excess food waste, a massive environmental problem that is just beginning to get the attention it deserves. According to a report from The Guardian, about 50 percent of all produce is wasted annually, and the EPA has reported that of all items that end up in landfills (one of the leading contributors to rising global temperatures), food waste holds the majority. So do your part and don’t head back to the grocery store until you’ve emptied that fridge! Check out this lineup of recipes to find some inspiration for your next crisper clean-out dinner.
You’d be hard pressed to find a dish that can get more people to eat their vegetables than ramen. Put anything on top of a steamy bowl of a rich umami broth with noodles and they will flock, guaranteed. This variation from Well Vegan starts with a simple base made up of curry paste, coconut milk, and soy sauce. In addition to the noodles and crispy baked tofu, the final bowl can get topped with any vegetables you’d like. Bloggers Katie Koteen and Kate Kasbee recommend everything from baby bok choy to sugar snap peas, spinach, eggplant, green onion, and carrots. Take what you have around and make this dish your own. Get the recipe on Well Vegan.
In my household, if I have leftover vegetables on hand, nine times out of 10, I chop them up small, cook them down, and mix them with black beans. While perfectly delicious eaten on its own, this base can also be transformed into a soup, a burrito bowl, or in the case of this recipe from Cookie and Kate, veggie black bean enchiladas. The bean filling for these enchiladas includes a mix of red onion, red bell pepper, broccoli, and baby spinach as well as lots of Mexican seasonings. Once the filling has thoroughly simmered, it gets portioned out and wrapped in whole-wheat tortillas, doused with enchilada sauce, and sprinkled with Monterey Jack cheese before hitting the oven. A fantastic repurposed dish that holds up for days in the fridge and can even be kept unbaked in the freezer for months. Get the recipe on Cookie and Kate.
Bowls are one of the easiest ways to use up old vegetables and to pack a ton of your days’ nutrients into one meal. Pinch of Yum’s Rainbow Veggie Bowls can make even the pickiest of eaters get on the vegetable bandwagon. She starts out her bowl with a layer of farro and lentils and then layers on vegetables like sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber, snap peas, and avocado. No bowl is complete without a killer sauce though, and this recipe is no exception. Blogger Lindsay Ostrom riffs on the classic ranch dressing by swapping out buttermilk for Greek yogurt, adding in tons of fresh herbs like dill, parsley, and chives, and turning up the heat with a bit of chopped jalapeño. Colorful, balanced, and an ideal recipe candidate for lunch or dinner. Get the recipe on Pinch of Yum.
If I had to pick one cooking technique to use for the rest of my life, roasting would take the cake every time. High heat and a little bit of oil, salt, and pepper can magically transform even the saddest looking vegetables into sweet, caramelized, tender goodness. Brooklyn Supper’s Roasted Vegetable Salad features root vegetables like beets and carrots, plus colorful Swiss chard leaves for some extra body. After roasting away for 20-30 minutes, the vegetables get topped off with a generous sprinkling of toasted pepitas and a drizzle of creamy homemade garlic dressing. A great, versatile recipe that can be easily modified depending on your preferences. Get the recipe on Brooklyn Supper.
Risotto was the first dish I ever learned to cook on my own, and I haven’t stopped preparing it since. This humble rice dish has all the elements working in its favor with a creamy texture, slow-cooked flavor (even though it comes together in 20-30 minutes), and myriad potential add-ins and flavorings. Minimalist Baker goes the vegan route with her risotto, using vegetable broth in place of the traditional chicken broth and adding in lots of vegetables like bell pepper, shallot, asparagus, and broccolini. Be sure to top off with a generous portion of vegan or regular parmesan cheese to bring the whole dish together. Get the recipe on Minimalist Baker.
Frittatas are the kitchen’s answer to leftover vegetables and are a super fun way to get creative with ingredients still lingering in the fridge. I consider this dish more of a technique rather than a recipe as the process can be completely modified depending on what you have available. Eat Yourself Skinny’s recipe combines a mixture of finely chopped red and green bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and onion. The vegetables are first cooked down in a bit of olive oil until soft before getting covered in a seasoned egg mixture. After a brief stint on the stovetop to set the bottom of the frittata, the skillet takes a trip to the oven to finish cooking through. Fifteen minutes later, you have a hot, fluffy frittata ready to hit the table. Get the recipe on Eat Yourself Skinny.
Spring may have come and gone, but Pasta Primavera (the name translates to Spring Pasta in Italian) is still a must-try when it comes to utilizing summer produce. The Stay at Home Chef’s recipe features seasonal favorites like asparagus, peas, and cherry tomatoes (but you can sub any veggies you like), in addition to lots of freshly minced garlic and lemon juice. While the pasta is boiling away until al dente, the vegetables get sautéed in olive oil until the flavors have melded. The two are then combined and tied together with extra olive oil, lemon juice, and lots parmesan cheese. A sprinkling of chopped parsley finishes the dish with an extra burst of freshness. Get the recipe on The Stay At Home Chef.
Our new favorite way to help reduce food waste
Using up every last food scrap in your crisper is one important way you can do your part to reduce food waste, but if you want to do more, consider tackling waste on the front end by sourcing your produce from Imperfect Produce. Did you know that more than 20 percent of perfectly good American fruits and vegetables never even makes it from the farm to the grocery store because it doesn’t look “pretty” enough? Imperfect Produce is trying to change that by offering a produce subscription service that delivers this “ugly” produce to your door for 30-50 percent less than grocery store prices. Make It Better Editor in Chief Brooke McDonald tried it and gives it a rave review. “We received a huge box of fresh fruits and veggies for far less than what we’d spend at the grocery store. And the incredible part was that most of the produce looked (and tasted) perfect to me. In fact, my kids were disappointed it wasn’t ‘uglier’!”
More from Make It Better:
- 10 Perfect Summer Picnic Recipes
- 2018 Chicago Food Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss
- Chicago’s 15 Best Rooftops and Patios for Outdoor Eating and Drinking
Maddie LaKind is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers. Get in touch with Maddie at madonfood.com