How I Used 10 Pounds of Leftover Crudité: An Anti-Food Waste MemoirPhoto by Shraga Kopstein/Unsplash Food Features cooking
It’s Christmastime. I’m semi-crashing a friend of a friend’s fancy holiday party. There’s booze, firecracker shrimp, a singer hired to belt out her own version of Michael Bublé’s version of “Santa Baby,” and two large troughs of crudités. Heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrots and celery—which go almost entirely untouched for the whole night. As the restaurant staff clears the buffet, a wild idea occurs to me. “Can I get a trashbag?” I ask a busser.
With permission from the cleanup crew, I pile 20 pounds of raw veg into a trash bag. It sloshes with tomato juice on the Uber home. I’ve come away from the party with an awesome haul. Not awesome like radical; awesome like a biblically accurate angel. I am terrified by the scope of what I’ve brought home. The only question now is: What to do with it all?
I awake with a hangover both literal (why did I drink Fireball last night?) and figurative (why did I take a trashbag full of vegetables home last night?). Luckily, Los Angeles was blessed with community fridges across the city during the pandemic. Anyone can drop off or pick up food from them. I immediately haul 10 of my 20 pounds to the East Hollywood Community Fridge.
That leaves me with 10 pounds and maybe a week to figure out what to do with my assorted crudité. I scan my brain for recipes that use tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and celery. I think about fresh preparations for the early days and cooked versions for when nature is taking its course.
First off, I chop up six carrots and celery sticks each into mirepoix. I never have carrots or celery in the house, which means I never have the foundation of most French and some Italian dishes. I mince the crudités into oblivion and hide them in the back of my freezer. That’s about two ounces taken care of.
Next, I tackle a big chunk of tomato and cucumber. These wetter veggies are going to get soft and weird before the heartier carrots and celery, so I must execute them swiftly and with extreme prejudice. “I know!” I say to myself. “Late December is the perfect time for gazpacho! Surely, I will be in the mood for so, so much cold soup.” What a fool I was.
I pile chopped cucumber, tomato and a little of the celery into a food processor, along with lemon juice. Then, I add Tabasco, some leftover salsa verde from a taco night, olive oil, salt and herbes de Provence. The first bowl was wonderful. The second bowl was even better. The third, fourth, etc. bowls made me want to self-immolate. As it turns out, my partner hates all cold soups. Hubris, your name’s gazpacho.
To bang out a little more of the cucumber, I buy a handle of cheap vodka, pour out a few shots, and shove some cukes in there to infuse. The will stay in my freezer for a week or so until things get nice and cucumber-y in there.
I force myself to have gazpacho for breakfast. It’s fine! It sits cold and wet like a frog in my stomach, but it’s fine.
So, gazpacho was a bust, but who doesn’t like spaghetti? Nobody, that’s who. I decide to make a quick bolognese. A contradiction in terms, but still a good eat. It’s a variation on a recipe my mother-in-law taught me. I fry up some bacon and use the fat to sweat some onions. While the onions are going, I blitz carrots, celery and garlic in the food processor. I add that to the pan and let the mixture slightly caramelize. Deglazing the pan with red wine, I add in a big ol’ heap of the tomatoes, which I’ve halved. They soften in the sauce, and I smush them with my spoon. This mixture a lil’ pasta water = a 30-minute bolognese.
This is when I realize I really blew my wad on gazpacho and should have reserved more tomatoes for red sauce. Alas.
Last night, in a fit of pique, I went out for tacos instead of tackling more veggies. So now, I have leftover pico, spicy onions and avocado salsa along with the crudités moldering in my fridge. There are more veggies than ever before. I am Sisyphus.
To kill two birds with one stone, I make a quick feta salad. Cheese gets mixed with cucumber and spicy onions and is then served on toast. Lovely.
For dinner, it’s time to make a dent in the celery. Tuna salad, celery-heavy, I make into tuna melts with big slabs of cheddar melting into it. I am so over vegetables at this point, so it’s time to hide them amid mayo and cheese.
I mix the avocado salsa into the gazpacho, and it’s a decided improvement! We’re making progress.
For dinner, I make peanut butter ramen and dress the whole shebang up with the last of the cucumbers as well as some quick-pickled carrot slivers. Using a potato peeler, I shave down some carrot sticks into little slices. Then, I drown them in rice wine vinegar. While the carrots pickle (quickly), I cook some ramen. Ditching the flavor packet, I mix up a peanut sauce with crunchy PB, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha and sesame oil. My husband soft boils some eggs, and we have a fancy-ish noodle time.
In desperation, I try to make a Bloody Mary with the gazpacho and the cucumber vodka. It is not to my liking. Admitting defeat, I pour the last of my green cold soup down the garbage disposal.
The tomatoes, done. Cucumbers, conquered. But there yet remains a considerable pile of carrots and celery. Fuck it, we’re making stock.
Ever since I discovered stock is just tea made of old bones, I’ve been making my own. Throughout the year, we save all the bones from our meals (along with any vegetables that are verging on unusable and lobster shells if we have them) in a big freezer bag. Once it gets cold, we make stock. I take the Bone Bag™ out of the freezer and plop the whole frozen mass of bones into a stock pot. The last carrots and celery go in next. I add some red wine and water. Scattered on top are some bay leaves, peppercorns and—why not?—the ramen flavor packet I didn’t use last night.
This bone tea brews on my stove for almost an entire day. By nightfall, I have three jars of stock so rich with gelatin that they become solid when they cool. I have also bested the pile of vegetables I absconded with that drunken night so long ago. But it’s not the crudités I’ll remember, nor the ill-advised gazpacho. The real holiday magic was the friends we made along the way. Just kidding, it was the tuna melt. That was really good.