Q&A

Learn Under-the-Radar Tips for How to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Cooking more doesn’t have to mean wasting more

A head of cauliflower next to small piles of cauliflower stems, florets, leaves, stalks, and ribs, respectively.
Photos courtesy of Belmond Mount Nelson

With pretty much everyone forced into the kitchen, food waste is on all of our minds, especially because many are trying to limit trips to the grocery store. We talked to Rudi Liebenberg, the executive chef of Belmond Mount Nelson in Capetown, South Africa, who focuses on limiting waste as much as feasible.

Heated: Since home cooks aren’t cooking on the scale of restaurants, I think a lot of us might be daunted over whether we should be saving the stems of our cilantro or putting our fish carcasses in the freezer until we have time to make stock later in the week. Can you offer some practical advice for setting up systems for a home cook who wants to cut down on food waste but is just starting to navigate how to do it?

Rudi Liebenberg: I think it is important to first understand how we shop. Food has become cheaper and we buy in excess. We are given fantastic recipes and ideas from all platforms guiding us on how to entertain and cook. What we do not have is enough information on what to do with the stalks, bones, and wilted items. We consume as fast as possible, as much as possible. We cook in excess. Once we start looking at our shopping basket and fridges differently, we can also look at how we cook at home.

Rudi Liebenberg chopping vegetables in a professional kitchen.

I always use the unwanted first in our kitchen at the hotel. We create recipes that use the typically unwanted parts first before pursuing the nice parts. In doing this, we create a demand for an item that would normally be thrown away.

One of the nicest stories I saw was a “YOYO meal,” meaning that once a week, you’re on your own for dinner, using whatever there is in the fridge to make a quick dinner.

It is also great to know what to do with items close to expiry, like milk. We can make ricotta or paneer. With the paneer, we can make a vegetable curry, and with the ricotta, we make gnudi. The leftover whey is then used to soak grains or cook pasta, corn, rice, potatoes, or porridge. Also, yogurt can be used for labneh. It never hurts to have a little knowledge of food and recipes, especially with the great access we now all have.

Keep a container in the freezer for stock and produce. When you wash items, the offcuts can then be frozen in containers with onions skins, celery leaves, leek leaves, etc.

If you are not going to use the stalks for parsley or cilantro straight away, put in a container in the fridge. It lasts a long time until you need them in a tabbouleh salad or salsa. I even freeze cilantro if we have too much.

I also keep a container in the freezer for parmesan rinds. Once I fill the container, we use it to make broths, but it can also be added to dumplings or flavoring oils.

Banana skin can also be used for a number of dishes. I think I can write a book on just using the skin of bananas. It makes a great curry with chickpeas or peanuts. It is also good for a type of vegetarian dumpling with banana skin. It works well in stir-fries.

Banana skin can also be used for a number of dishes. I think I can write a book on just using the skin of bananas. It makes a great curry with chickpeas or peanuts. It is also good for a type of vegetarian dumpling with banana skin. It works well in stir-fries.

We also keep banana flesh close to being overripe in the freezer. If we have too much, we make ice cream with ideal milk and condense milk. Not really very healthy, but with some Amarula or Baileys, it is the best.

Skins from watermelon work well for preserves, pickles, and atchar. Peel the green part away and use the white flesh. It is a great carrier of other flavors.

We buy sourdough and we dry the leftover slices. Put these in a bag and use them as crumbs in a spaghetti pasta. It has so much flavor. If you are on your own, slice the sourdough and freeze slices. It makes great toast and the obvious croutons. We also make knodel or can use it in meatballs.

Eggshells are kept for the garden or can be ground to fine powder and used in other beverages like smoothies or added to bone broth.

This is my favorite party trick: Whenever we have leftover spaghetti or penne, we make the cooked pasta into a dough with a small addition of flour and egg. This is then used to make small ravioli parcels filled with meat and cheese and fried in a shallow pan.

Don’t toss your wilted iceberg leaves. These can be used in a quiche or frittata.

What’s the one ingredient that you’re seeing is most wasted — and how can we get the most out of it?

People do not waste meat as much as they do vegetables. This is partly because we value meat or fish more. All are equal and deserve the same respect.

People do not waste meat as much as they do vegetables. This is partly because we value meat or fish more. All are equal and deserve the same respect.

We adopted a rule in the kitchen that all waste is kept above the table so that we could monitor what was being thrown away or what was being trimmed. We need to respect the process. A farmer has prepared the land, looked after the soil, planted the seed, watered the seed and plant, harvested it carefully, and then shipped it. We, in turn, are so far removed that we will destroy it in less than five minutes, throwing half of it in the bin because there is not enough focus on what to do with the parts not as commonly used.

For example, a cauliflower, with all its green bits of leaf, stalk, and rib, has many uses. Slaw with the leaves and rib; pakora with leaf and rib; kimchi; pickles with stalk; to name a few. If you use a medium-sized cauliflower, it should yield enough to use in three different meals.

When I worked in restaurants in Europe, I was always shocked at the amount of fish that got thrown away. Skins that are salted and dried can be deep-fried and are so crispy. Fish can be used for so many filling and pates.

Do you have any off-the-grid or under-the-radar tips for reducing food waste when it comes to meats or vegetables?

Whenever I make a sauce, I always remove a quarter before serving and put it away in freezer. Could be a white sauce or a tomato sauce. This is an extra emergency meal when needed.

We mince chicken fat and use it the same way pork fat would have been rendered in potato dumplings.

One of my favorites is parsley stalks, chopped really fine in salsa.

The belly of a fish is great for smoking and using in pates or rillettes.

Even though you were mindful of using scraps, cooking nose-to-tail before the Wasted! dinners, what’s something that you learned from doing them recently?

Buy less and don’t be scared.

Our great-grandparents created recipes based on what was available. If you do not have a specific item, it is OK to substitute.

Be smart in planning. For example, if you are using a whole chicken, it can be used to make a broth. Once the meat has been removed (you will be surprised how much there is) use in a stir-fry, pasta filling, or a pie.

If a vegetable gets wilted in the fridge, like a lettuce leaf, it does not mean it is now useless. If cooked it can be used as part of a stir-fry. A couple of months ago, we were in the Winelands in Tulbagh staying in a cottage in one of our favorite wine farms. We had put the baby gem lettuce in the fridge, not realizing it was on the coldest possible setting, freezing the lettuce. I cut them in half in length and after washing, dressed them in a lemon chile and olive oil dressing and grilled them on the open fire. It was a hit.

Trim as little as possible; only discard that piece that is really not edible.

We have taken a positive approach in the way we handle and treat unwanted parts. The bin is not an option and neither is a soup. Buy sensibly and seasonally and only what you need.

Most importantly, and this is the most important for me as it cannot be taught, respect the food, the process, and the farmer.

We are blessed to able to work with food, and it does not give us the right to be disrespectful. If we understand that the farmer took time in preparation of soil, planting, growing, harvesting, packaging, and distributing — it’s a lengthy process that does not give us the right to be wasteful.

A typical menu we would serve at the hotel celebrating waste:

Skin and Bones
Rye melba, crisp fried leaves, beef tendons, crispy chicken skins, crispy fish skins, parmesan skins, potato skins served with butternut skin puree, whipped beef fat

All of it
Cauliflower and curry leaf panna cotta with masala roasted cauliflower, cauliflower pickle, cauliflower salad, cauliflower pakora

50%
Trout tartare and smoked trout collar in corn husks served with a lime atchar dressing

Spaghetti
Reconstituted spaghetti parcels filled with lamb fat and trimmings, braised baby gem leaves

Orange Mousse
Sourdough ice cream

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