Ugly vegetables need love, too

Imperfect vegetables can be used in a number of recipes including salads and soups.

Do you ever look at the beautiful rows of perfect produce at the grocery store and wonder, “how do they get all those fruits and vegetables the same size, shape and color?”

Well, the truth is, they don’t always. Much of the imperfect looking but perfectly edible produce ends up as waste between the field and the grocery store. At the store level, even more is culled because of to simple cosmetic flaws that don’t affect taste, texture or nutritional value.

We have all seen the photos of wonky vegetables, like the pepper with a Jimmy Durante nose or the carrots that look like they are hugging each other. Some are cute, some are scary looking and others are even a bit suggestive (no, we won’t be showing those pictures). The one thing they all have in common is they need love, too.

Chop that pepper and carrot up and add them to your favorite recipe and no one will be the wiser.

According to the USDA, between 30-40 percent of all produce grown in the United States ends up as waste.

There now are companies, such as Misfit Market, which specialize in selling these ugly vegetables at considerable savings to the consumer. Many Kroger stores also have gotten on the bandwagon with Peculiar Picks produce brand, as part of Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste program launched in September 2017.

Many farmers’ markets will sell what they call “seconds,” saving you money and helping to eliminate waste.

Soup is of course the ultimate conduit for most of my refrigerator outcasts, but one of my favorite ways of using these, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” veggies is what I call Confetti Couscous. The beautiful (no pun intended) thing about this recipe is that you can use so many varieties of veggies, giving new life to vegetables that may have been destined for the trash or compost bin.

Every step in the food chain between the farm and our table has checks and balances to try to avoid food waste. Some farmers compost and plow under unused produce to help fertilize the soil, some goes to animal feed and some to packaging companies that will be making things like pickle relish, sauces, salsa or jams and jellies.

However, our need for visually pleasing and perfect fruits and vegetables contributes to the possibility of food waste.

Additionally, once we get them home, even the most perfect of specimens may not get used due to lack of planning on our part. We think we will use that 10-pound bag of potatoes only to wonder 3 months later where that awful smell is coming from.

If we follow these simple rules: buying only what we know we will use, taking advantage of the discounts found by buying the not so perfect produce by being mindful that ugly vegetable need love too, we can do our part in reducing food waste.

1½ cups dry whole-wheat couscous

2 cups boiling water (I used veggie stock)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 or 4 green onions, finely chopped, including tops

1 red, yellow or green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 carrot, grated

1 cup finely shredded red cabbage

1 cup chopped zucchini or yellow squash (or some of both)

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup raisins or any other dried fruit.

Juice of 2 lemons

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon curry powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon brown sugar

In a 6-quart pan, bring water or broth to a boil, stir in couscous. Let cook for 2 minutes, turn off heat, cover and let stand until all the water has been absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Add all the vegetables (the ones listed are just suggestions, use whatever you have). It’s a quick, easy way to add color and crunch as well as use up those veggies!

In a small bowl mix lemon juice, vinegar, oil and spices. Add to couscous and veggies, toss to mix. Serve at room temperature or chilled. You can add cucumber instead of red cabbage and use red onion instead of green or both if we have them.

Makes about eight 1-cup servings.

Kathy Nicarry is manager of Bernheim’s Isaac’s Cafe, where she combines her passion for cooking with her love of the natural world. She can be reached at khart@bernheim.org.

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