Strawberry tops

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are usually listed amongst the seven wonders of the ancient world – yet as far as gardens go, they were missing one thing that would have made them even better: strawberries, a fruit that would not land on the shores of the old world for another couple of thousand years. It was a sad berriless time in human history, unless you lived in the Americas.

I’m a huge fan of strawberries (maybe you guessed that), and, as a kid, I used to surgically remove their leaves (calyxes) to ensure that not one molecule of that sweet red flesh went to waste. I must confess, I’ve gotten sloppier as I’ve gotten older – but I don’t feel good about that. So, I recently started to wonder about strawberry tops, and what I could do with them.

It turns out that many people use them in smoothies, or to make tea. One word of caution, though: the leaves of strawberry plants release hydrogen cyanide gas as they decay – and that’s not so good for you. So, if you want to use strawberry leaves, you either need to use them before they start to wilt, or after they’ve had time to dry out.

After I made strawberry pancakes yesterday, I was left with a half dozen strawberry tops. Rather than waste them, I seeped them in hot water, and ended up with a light pink, fruity herbal tea.

And after I was done soaking all the goodness out of the strawberries, the worms in the composter got a delicious snack that would have been the envy of His Royal Highness, King Nebuchadnezzar II. They seemed happy.

Storing tofu

In Japan, we were spoiled. There was a tofu shop a short walk from our apartment, where the tofu was made daily. You had to go early to get what you wanted, because the shop closed once they’d sold what they made that day. And you had to get there particularly early to get the silken tofu, which was rich, creamy and velvety; with a little bit of soy and ginger, this stuff was decadent. It was best eaten fresh, and there were never any leftovers.

Japanese silken tofu

Outside of Japan (and that includes the rest of Asia), tofu is a completely different food; it’s good, but doesn’t feel like an indulgence. It’s also not a food that stands up on it’s own, so we tend to marinate it and mix it with other ingredients. For one meal, we only need half of a firm 12 oz block – which means that half needs to be stored. If I plan to use the other half in the next couple of days, I just keep it in the fridge, submerged in water. More often than not, though, I just freeze it.

Firm tofu holds up well to freezing – and I actually prefer the texture North American tofu has after having been frozen. It chewier. It’s also more porous, and absorbs other flavors well.

Before freezing their tofu, some people squeeze the water out. I don’t bother. I just pop it into the freezer (in a baggie) where it turns a lovely shade of yellow. I take it out of the freezer several hours before I plan on using it, and let it thaw in the fridge or on the counter. After it thaws, I squeeze the water out of it, crumble it, then get cooking.

For the dish below, I tossed the crumbled tofu in a bit of cooking oil, with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, some chipotle powder, salt and pepper. I sautéed it with onions, garlic and diced red jalapeño, then served it on a warmed tortilla over melted cheese, along with avocado (tossed in lime juice), sour cream, and a hot salsa. Quick, easy and satisfying.

Tofu taco

Tofu taco

Saag

Indian mealThere are few things I like more than a good Indian meal, and one of my favorite curries is saag. When you get it in North America, it’s usually made with spinach, but it can be made with any green or mix of greens – and it’s a great way to use edible greens that typically end up in the bin, like those of sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, beets and broccoli.

I made a small batch with carrot greens the other night, which I served with roasted carrots and red peppers, tandoori chicken, watermelon rind chutney and turmeric rice – a meal just overflowing with complex spices and aromas.

Carrot green saag (two small servings)

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 2½ oz onion, diced
  • 1 poblano chili, seeded and diced
  • 1½ tsp grated ginger
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • ⅛ tsp turmeric
  • 2½ oz carrot greens, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp yogurt (optional)
  • ⅛ tsp salt, or to taste
Directions
  • Sauté onions in oil over medium heat until they’re translucent.
  • Add in the chili, ginger, garlic, coriander and turmeric, and sauté until your kitchen smells good – about one minute.
  • Add in the carrot greens, and sauté for about 2 minutes.
  • Add enough water to cover the greens, and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, and let simmer until carrot greens are tender – about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, let cool (so you don’t blow the lid off of your blender with steam), and blend until homogenous.
  • Return to heat, and warm to serving temperature.
  • Stir in yogurt and salt.
I served roasted vegetables on top of this batch, but you can also stir in cooked potatoes, chicken, chickpeas, paneer (an Indian cheese) – or just about anything else.
Fun facts
Edible greens rescued from landfill per serving 1.25 oz
Number of servings needed to save 1 pound of edible greens from landfill 12.8
Cost of 1 pound of edible greens which would usually be tossed $0.00
Cost of spinach at yummy.com as of 1 minute ago $3.99 for 5 oz
Amount you can save by replacing 1 pound of baby spinach with free edible greens (assuming you shop at yummy.com) $12.77
Net impact on landfill if everyone in the US eats 1 pound of greens that would usually be tossed 155,000 short ton reduction
Total cost of that 155,000 short tons of green goodness $0.00

Watermelon rind is food too

Watermelon rind has it tough. It lives next to sweet, pink, refreshing fruit that can be eaten as is, or easily become the base of colorful drinks, salsas, granitas and soups. How many of us even acknowledge rind as food? How many of us stop eating when we reach the unsexy, white, flavorless stuff? How many rinds end their lives needlessly in landfill?

Too many to contemplate.

But watermelon rind is food too, and there’s no reason to throw it away, or even compost anything but the hard, dark green skin (less than a millimeter thick). Although the rind is not as flavorful as the rest of the fruit, it is slightly sweet and has a firm, crisp texture that holds up well to cooking. It can be incorporated into the aforementioned drinks, salsas, granitas and soups — but also does well on it’s own in both sweet and savory concoctions.

Watermelon rind chutney

Take that, sexy, pink, attention-grabbing watermelon flesh

I’ve been in the mood for Indian food lately, so when I found myself with 10 cups of watermelon rind earlier this week (harvested from a 7 pound watermelon), I decided to use it to make chutney. The recipe is below, and the result is a spicy, sweet, sour, aromatic condiment that makes a perfect accompaniment to Indian food, meat dishes or strong cheeses.

Watermelon Rind Chutney

Ingredients

Cubed watermelon rind

Cubed watermelon rind

  • 10 cups watermelon rind, diced in ¾ inch cubes with dark green skin removed
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 2 serrano peppers with seeds, minced
  • ½ cup ginger, skinned and coarsely chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 
½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ¼ tsp powdered cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 1½ cups sugar

Directions

  • Place watermelon rind, raisins, serrano peppers, ginger, garlic, red pepper, cinnamon powder, cardamom, ginger powder, powdered cloves, salt and half of the vinegar in a large pot.
  • Add enough water to just cover the fruit, and give everything a good stir.
  • Bring the liquid to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low.
  • Cook on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the rinds take on a translucent quality.
  • Add in the rest of the vinegar, the lime juice and the sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, and, stirring frequently, continue to boil until the liquid has the consistency of jam.
  • Put the chutney in a sterilized jar.

This chutney will stay fresh for several months in the refrigerator.

Fun facts
Reduction in food waste per batch of chutney 10 cups
… and if every household in the US makes 1 batch Over 9.6 million cubic feet
Volume of the Washington Monument About 1 million cubic feet