Waste not, enjoy more

Sacramento chefs and farmers share tips on how to use every last bit of those summer vegetables

Jon Clemons, executive chef at The Porch Restaurant and Bar, slices, dices and chops typically discarded veggie bits to add flavor and create new dishes.

Jon Clemons, executive chef at The Porch Restaurant and Bar, slices, dices and chops typically discarded veggie bits to add flavor and create new dishes.

photos by lisa baetz

Farmers markets are popular with just about anyone looking for fresh, locally grown produce. So fresh, in fact, that many times the fruits and vegetables displayed in mounds at merchant tents are often picked from the field the previous day.

Weekends especially thrive with a variety of pop-up veggie shops, such as Midtown’s more artisanal-focused market with its specialty salsas and a fair share of crafters, or the smaller Oak Park market at McClatchy Park. And then there’s the cornucopia of locally grown abundance, the Sunday farmers market at 8th and W streets.

Visit any of these locations and witness as swarms of shoppers fill canvas bags with bunches of leafy greens, cherry red vine-ripened tomatoes, and baskets of freshly picked berries. Still, no matter how good it feels to stock the fridge full of healthy eats, the pressure builds when crisp vegetables become bendy and what was once a plump piece of fruit develops wrinkles.

Even though many farmers market fiends challenge themselves to cook what they bring home each week, too often stems, leaves and rinds end up in the garbage. Chefs and farmers alike, however, say these overlooked pieces have tasty nutritional value.

Executive chef Jon Clemons at The Porch Restaurant and Bar says he likes to think about creative ways to use the entire vegetable. He and his staff use a variety of techniques to transform rinds, cobs and even buckets of green tomato odds and ends into delicious fare.

“We do a lot of scratch cooking, so nothing really goes to waste,” Clemons says.

A corn cob, for example, might be rendered into broth that’s then used to cook a batch of grits.

“It gives grits an added flavor,” he says. “You can also actually roast [the kernels] off ahead of time to give them a darker color and a richer flavor.”

The Porch is known for its Southern flare of comfort-style cooking, so it’s no surprise that Clemons uses many vegetables and even some fruits for pickling.

“Pickled watermelon rinds are pretty popular in the South,” he says. “If you do it right, it’s really good, but it’s a lot of work.”

Clemons’ method for preserving rinds involves separating the sweet, red fruit from the white flesh attached to the rind. Next, he partially cooks the rind and lets it cool in an ice bath. Then, he shaves off the green part of the rind and saves the leftover fruit for pickling.

Another southern favorite of Clemons’ is fried green tomatoes. It’s a Porch favorite, too, he says. The volume of orders the kitchen receives on a nightly basis fills buckets with green tomato tops and bottoms—all of which are repurposed.

Green tomatoes contain a naturally high amount of pectin, which is great for adding thickness to house-made jams, Clemons says, and green tomato’s neutral flavor adds to the jam’s texture without altering its sweet taste.

In addition to sweet jams like strawberry, Clemons also makes green tomato jam.

Raphael Kendall, executive chef at Capitol Garage, credits his vegan diet for his philosophy and creativity in the kitchen.

“We save all the tops and bottoms from when we slice them for frying and we’ll make green tomato jam and serve it with our cornbread. It’s a unique, southern thing.”

The Sacramento Valley’s copious harvests of potatoes, scallions and squash, and its assortment of berries, melons and stone fruit provides a year-round assortment of healthy eats.

Heavy Dirt Farm owner Sarah McCamman, who sets up shop every Saturday at the Oak Park farmers market from 9 a.m. to noon, says she looks forward to the seasonal role her two-acre farm provides for its community.

When the farmers market season ends in October, McCamman delivers Community Supported Agriculture boxes from her farm to two locations year-round, one in Davis at 8th and L streets, and one in Midtown at 19th and F streets.

As a farmer, McCamman plants and harvests shishito peppers, eggplants, apricots, strawberries and a variety of herbs like cilantro, dill and summer savory. She says she feels it’s her responsibility to not only help her customers keep their wares fresh for as long as possible, but to also point to what’s ripe and delicious that week.

Bunches of chunky carrots or deep purple beets are two seasonal root-vegetable options McCamman recommends during the summer.

“With beets and carrots, when you buy a bunch with all their greens attached, go ahead and separate the greens from the roots,” she explains. “They’ll last longer. Attached to the roots, they’ll continue to suck moisture out of the roots as if the plant were still in the soil. You can keep these both for a really long time. If you separate them, they can last a couple weeks.”

Once the greens are separated from the carrots, McCamman says carrot greens make a great pesto in lieu of basil.

Another Sacramento chef who backs vegetables agrees greens are to be eaten.

With nine years logged at Capitol Garage, executive chef Raphael Kendall’s experience in the kitchen likes to turn broccoli stems, beet greens and even veggie pulp into delectable eats instead of discarded scraps.

“If you take the peel off the tough stems of broccoli, the inside is actually pretty enjoyable,” says Kendall. “You can use it raw to make a slaw if you slice it up into matchsticks, or even just sauté it.”

His recipe for broccoli slaw includes jalapeños, cashews, shredded carrots, cilantro, and just a little bit of rice vinegar and a pinch of salt.

Kendall says his vegan diet contributes to his creativity in the kitchen. For him, vegetable pieces that are traditionally thrown away are his inspiration.

“I have used a lot of veggie scraps for veggie burgers because if you cook them up, roast them and puree them, it acts like a good binder,” says Kendall. “Or, for the tops of beets and turnips, we use them like greens and cook them down. We’ll take the tops off, chop them up, sauté them with a little garlic, salt and pepper and let them cook in their juices like you would mustard or collard greens.”

Serve the sautéed beet or turnip greens with any style of protein, beans or mashed potatoes, or as Kendall prefers, roasted winter squash and tofu cutlets.

“We really try to minimize vegetable waste because we take pride in our ingredients and our dishes,” says Kendall. “Honoring the vegetable … especially working so closely with the farmers, I want to utilize all the work that’s been put into it. We want to show our appreciation and give back when creating any dish.”