Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't throw away the peels

As a champion for the world of fruits and vegetables it has occurred to me that a lot of us are throwing out valuable parts of our produce with nether a care.

So before you peel that carrot here are some produce part tips.

I can't remember the last time I peeled a carrot or a parsnip. The peel or outer layer of any fruit and vegetable has a concentration of antioxidants that protect the plant from disease. When we eat those outer layers we too get protection from disease. These naturally occurring defense mechanisms are called antioxidants and research unveils almost daily yet another reason why we need to eat our produce.

As long as you scrub this outer peel well there is no need to peel carrots, parsnips, new potatoes, or young sweet potatoes. Rutabagas are a different story - the outer peel has been waxed so off it comes.

I save the washed ends of carrots, parsnips, celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, or cauliflower, and any kind of onion in a freezer-safe container until I have enough to make a vegetable soup stock. I simply add all of the frozen bits and pieces to water, throw in some garlic and a bay leaf, and simmer covered for at least an hour. Voilá homemade stock.

Baking potatoes only need a scrub. I toss well scrubbed sweet potatoes and baking potatoes that are chopped into smaller pieces with canola oil and roast them in the oven. I even mash new potatoes with the peel on - mind you I have changed the name to Smashed Spring Potatoes to explain why the peel is on, but it gets rave reviews.

Beet tops are in my opinion the best part of the beet. When I was a kid my parents had a huge vegetable garden and beets were one of their favourite crops. The best part of those purple orbs was the deep leafy greens my mom steamed and served with a little bit of butter or vinegar.

The zest off an orange, lemon or lime is a bonus for home cooks. Wash citrus really well, dry and then using a zester remove the thin outer peel to add to your baking, pasta or rice dishes, or a bowl of yogurt. The zest really kicks up the flavour as well as the nutrient density of what you're eating. I love adding orange zest to my chocolate chip cookie recipe.

After you have squeezed the juice from a lemon throw them into a big jug of water for a hint of lemon flavour.

Have a small heel of cabbage left over? Shred it to a make an easy cole slaw. Add a diced apple and some red onion, dress with oil and vinegar and you have a side salad.

Leave the peel on a well washed English cucumber or a really tender cucumber. They peel is the most nutrient dense part.

Don't throw out the fluffy green ends of celery - they can go into a soup stock or can be diced and added to a rice pilaf.

I now eat peach peel. I just gently rub off the fuzzy stuff under running water.

Banana peels? Well I don't want you to eat them but my mother, who grew prize roses, swore that her roses were so amazing because she buried banana peels around each rose bush. They will compost, just bury them deep enough so the skunks and raccoons don't dig up your flowers.

And don't even think about peeling an apple, even for cooking. I have grated whole apples into pancakes, muffins and soups and no one knows the peel was even on it. And, yes, that is where most of the disease lowering antioxidants are. Just scrub well.

The general rule is if the peel is soft, thin, and tastes like the fruit or vegetable you can eat it. If the outer layer is hairy, warty, thick or bitter you can't eat it. Let common sense prevail.

Some people call this economical cooking. I like to call it nutrient dense cooking.

If you're concerned about pesticides then buy organic, but remember they still use pesticides albeit more environmentally friendly ones and you still need to wash or scrub all your produce before you start cooking or eating it.

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