No one wants to see their best work end up in the trash, but that’s what happens to far too many vegetables. Their leaves and peels are often discarded instead of being an integral part of a nutritious meal.

Those old cartoons of Beetle Bailey being sentenced to peel a platoon’s worth of potatoes hit the mark: all that peeling really was just punishment, not a necessary part of kitchen duty. Thin-skinned potatoes like Yukon Gold or red new potatoes mash up just as well with the skins on. Even instant potato manufacturers have caught on, and now sell instant potatoes with bits of peel in the mix for a “home cooked” look.

Carrots have even less of a need for peeling. Once cooked, there is almost no difference in the taste of a peeled versus and unpeeled carrot, cutting ten or fifteen minutes off the time it takes to prep a pound of carrots for dinner. Roasting brings out the sweetness in carrots, and makes the outer skin just as melt-in-your-mouth tender as the rest of the root.

Beyond saving time, skipping the peeling process reduces food waste. No one likes throwing food away, but if the green leafy radish tops get tossed, that can be half of the bunch going straight into the garbage. Instead, they can be sautéed or form the base of a spicy pesto. In fact, almost any leafy green tops of root vegetables, from beets or turnips to the feathery fronds of carrots and fennel, can be used in pesto, and makes a great substitute in the colder months when basil isn’t growing quite so fast.

Finding a head of cauliflower dwarfed by the green outer leaves used to be annoying, because there was so much to be cut off and tossed away. Now, though, those heads nestled in green leaves are a great catch, because it turns out that, with a little olive oil and a hot oven, those leafy greens become a crispy “chip” for snacking or adding to salads. The leaves and ribs can also be chopped and added to stir-fry.

It’s not just the veggies that are wasted when we toss the peels and leaves. Those discarded bits had to be transported to the store along with the more desirable parts, so there’s also the environmental costs of fuel and packaging.

Since the main reasons given for peeling root vegetables are “we’ve always done it this way” and a fear of pesticides (and in the case of Beetle Bailey’s nemesis, Sarge, just grumpiness), it’s easy to turn over a new, ahem, leaf. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scrubbing root vegetables with a brush and rinsing with cold water should remove any dirt and foreign substances clinging to the vegetables.

For those who have the time and inclination to peel all their vegetables (or who are being punished by a cranky drill sergeant) there’s the option of using the peels and green tops later to make vegetable broth. Giving these ingredients a starring role in snacks or pesto, or a supporting role alongside the inner veggie, is both delicious and efficient.

Bernice Torregrossa: bernice92@aol.com.

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