Edible Q&A: Garden Betty’s Linda Ly on the Art of No-Waste Cooking
Uniquely imperfect fruits and vegetables are continuing to have a moment. As the movement to reduce food waste grows so does our love for so-called ugly vegetables. Linda Ly, the voice behind GardenBetty.com and author of The CSA Cookbook, has always had an affinity for scarred produce and unconventional varieties. She embraced using every piece of a vegetable, from top to tail, long before any of us were talking about waste-free cooking.
This week on ediblefeast.com, Ly will be sharing recipes from the book that use a piece of produce previously relegated to the compost pile in an interesting way. We asked her to share the inspiration behind the art of using every bit of every vegetable in your CSA box, farmers' market haul or backyard bounty.
Edible: Your family was eco-friendly and waste-free in the kitchen long before it was a thing. How did your childhood help shape your cooking and the collection of recipes in The CSA Cookbook?
Ly: My family fed me everything! When you're Asian, that means balut one day and bittermelon the next. We valued food more than most because it was always fresh, homemade, a labor of love and a focal point of family gatherings. I was never a picky eater as a kid, and that allowed me to be more open to unusual flavors and food in general when I started cooking.
Using every bit of every vegetable is less wasteful but also makes for ingredients that are more interesting.
Edible: What are some of the most unexpected or unusual ingredients you used in the recipes for your book?
Ly: People are most surprised by the use of tomato leaves and pepper leaves in my recipes, because as nightshades, they're often mistaken to be poisonous (which is not the case). Same goes for sweet potato leaves, which are actually part of the morning glory family.
Edible: There are quite a few recipes for pesto in the book, made from things other than basil. What are some of your favorite odds and ends to use in a pesto?
Ly: Currently, I have masses of nasturtiums growing in my garden, so I love to turn a few handfuls of nasturtium leaves and nasturtium flowers into a naturally peppery pesto. My fava bean plants are highly prolific as well, and pesto is a great way to use up all those leaves once the pods have been picked.
Edible: Do you have a go-to recipe you love most in the book?
Ly: It depends on my mood and the season, but I'm a big fan of one-pot meals. When I have a busy week or a lazy night, I'll make some variation of the Zuppa Toscana (using whatever greens I have on hand) with plenty left over; it reheats very well and tastes even better the next day. My husband always asks me for the Oyakodon-Style Omelette with Spring Onions, an eggy comfort dish that we often eat for dinner. Last weekend I grilled a bunch of pizzas for a pool party using the dough recipe for my Beetza Beetza; it's my go-to crust for all my pizzas, calzones, and breadsticks.
Edible: What advice would you give cooks who generally want to get more creative with lesser-known parts of plants and vegetables?
Ly: Instead of viewing them as merely "parts," think of them as textures and flavors. Watermelon rind seems like a scrap, but take a bite and you'll realize it has a nice crispness with a hint of cucumber flavor crossed with melon. Most leaves taste just like the fruits off the plant, so bean leaves, pea shoots, and squash shoots can add the same flavor to a dish.
Edible: This week, you're sharing your best tips and inspiration for waste-free cooking with recipes ranging from Spring Bulgur Salad with Kale Buds to Fava Leaf Salad. What do you think is most surprising about each recipe? (Editor's note: Check back every day this week for one of the waste-free recipes below.)
Ly: The Spring Bulgur Salad highlights kale buds, one of my favorite "surprise crops." People might find it strange to eat a flower, but if you're a fan of broccoli raab or sprouting broccoli, that's essentially what you're eating.
My Broccoli Green and Baked Falafel Wrap is a new take on the more common collard wrap. If you grow broccoli (or cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other cole crops) at home, green wraps are a great way to use those large outer leaves while you're waiting for heads or sprouts to form (or even after they've formed — you can continue to harvest leaves from the plant until it's spent).
My Leek Green and Saucy Shrimp Stir-Fry uses the dark green ends of leeks that every recipe tells you to discard — and I have no idea why! They taste just like the white parts (a mild onion flavor) but retain a nice velvety texture after cooking. When I buy leeks, I'll often look for leeks that have equal parts white and green, as opposed to ones where the leaves are cut off.
Butter-Braised Radishes and Radish Greens with Farro featured cooked radishes, which many people don't think to do when it comes to spring radishes. But braising them mellows out their bite and turns them into a slightly sweet root vegetable.
The Fava Leaf Salad makes use of the abundant foliage from a fava bean plant. They have a lovely beany flavor just like the pods we know and love, and fava blossoms are a gorgeous addition to a salad.