Make Garbage Soup + 9 More Ways to Stop Wasting Food
Turn vegetable scraps into broth for a no-fuss, homecooked meal any day of the week.
I’ve never had a problem eating my vegetables. I spent a good chunk of my childhood peeping into the kitchen as my parents chopped up piles of onion, peppers, celery, carrots and anything else they brought home from the store that day. My skills are so honed that on a recent visit, I stormed through their kitchen, trying to locate a blend of onions and celery I could smell but couldn’t see. (They were in a bowl, underneath a heap of warm potatoes – potato salad in the making, a personal favorite.)
Most evenings go like this: I come home, put on some music, ignore the ever-growing pile of laundry and work through a pile of vegetables instead.
Garbage soup doesn’t have a recipe. I borrowed the name from a friend, who used it to describe a pasta dish I made with leftover veggies. Its purpose is dual: to make soup broth out of vegetable scraps normally tossed in the trash, and to reduce the amount of times I finish cooking and am already full from snacking on said scraps.
The next time you prep dinner, set up a gallon-sized freezer bag next to your cutting board. As you chop, toss the vegetable scraps in the bag. Go ahead and toss everything in: carrot tops, celery stalks, garlic and onion skins, wilted herbs and lettuce, wrinkly green beans, anything. This is garbage soup, there’s no need to be discerning. We’ll fix any flavor issues later.
Now toss the bag in the freezer. Repeat this process until your bag is full. Depending on each dish and how often you cook, it could take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to fill your bag.
When it’s full, pull out the slow cooker. You can use a stock pot on the stovetop, but I like to let my broth simmer away overnight or while I’m at work.
Dump in your frozen veggies, cover them with water and turn the dial to low. There’s no need to do any chopping, measuring, or seasoning aside from maybe a few shakes of kosher salt and some peppercorns.
Usually after four hours, the flavor transfer is complete and you can move onto the next step. But since my broth steeps while I’m at work or asleep, it often simmers away for upwards of 12 hours. I’ve never had a batch of broth turn out inedible no matter how long I cooked it, aside from maybe a bitter broth over the winter made up of mostly turnip green stalks. It’s all part of the journey.
The next step is to strain the broth. I place a colander inside a large stockpot, then carefully pour in the broth. Use the back end of a spoon to squeeze out any remaining broth from the vegetables. Work in batches if you need to.
A fine mesh strainer is always better here; I only own a small one, so I’ve found a colander is much faster and safer when handling the hot liquid. Strain it twice, or even three times if you want to remove any floating vegetable particles for a clearer stock. If you want a really, really clear stock, strain it through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. A heavy hand is your enemy here – pour too fast and the strainer will get clogged. Take it slow.
The “hard” part is over. When stored properly, vegetable broth will keep in the fridge for about a week and indefinitely in the freezer. Try freezing it in ice trays and pop the broth cubes into dishes when you need them.
If you’re ready to use it now, here’s how to make your own special batch of garbage soup:
Decide what kind of soup you’ll make. You can make chicken noodle, minestrone, blend up some tomato soup – use anything you have on hand. Be creative!
Return the broth to the crockpot, or heat it in a stock pot over medium-high heat. You can add more spices at this point. For an incredible flavor boost, toast whole spices in a small pan before adding them to the stock pot. My broth was made from a lot of cool-weather veggie scraps so I decided to add warm spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves – to try to balance out the flavor.
Tip: Use a piece of cheesecloth to create a spice satchet and you won’t have to fish out whole spices later or risk getting a mouth full of peppercorns.
While the broth heats up, prep any vegetables you’ll be adding. You can soften them in a pan with a little oil before adding them to the pot, but feel free to skip this step. If you’re adding a protein, prep it in another pan before adding it to the pot. You can also add grains here – I used egg noodles.
On the stovetop, bring the mixture to a low boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. In the crockpot, set the dial to low. Let your concoction simmer for about an hour, or until the veggies are soft and meat shreds easily.
Divide between bowls, add any garnishes and serve. Enjoy – everything tastes better when it's (almost) free.
Stale Bread Hacks
Even slightly stale rolls can be given new life in the form of sweet, cinnamon and brown sugar monkey bread. Mix in a few of your favorite dried berries for added color and a more complex blend of flavors.