Last year, the New York Times ran a story on stem-to-root cooking. I was going to post about it but got caught up in my gardening morass and so didn't. However, now that my CSA is in full swing again, I'm thinking about the article. The concept is not a new one to me; however, I had never heard it called "stem-to-root," never realized the many ways to use up the last bits of vegetables, never knew that even corncobs had edible life to them, or that this was now kind of trendy.
I've always done a version of this with both meat and vegetables. My version of root-to-stem cooking was to use the edible parts I know about, boil the tougher parts for stock, and then compost them (with meat, I cook and eat or save the meat and use the bones for stock.) I also eat and enjoy the parts of the plant I know are edible (so, for example, I don't just eat the beets, I will steam the beet greens and eat them with a little cider vinegar).
Some things are already well-known (at least to older generations). Yes, you can pickle watermelon rind. Apparently my great-grandmother did that all the time, and it's supposed to be tasty. Yes, the broccoli stalk is edible--once you peel it, it's actually more tender and tasty than the florets. But the article has some good suggestions of what you can do with things that many people either don't eat or don't enjoy eating. (For example, I didn't know you could make a relish from the tough ends of asparagus--I use them for stock.)
Learning which parts of the plant are edible (because it's not just what you get in the supermarket) and the different ways you can prepare them can save you time, money, and stress. It's also kind of amazing--I didn't know that carrot tops were edible. (When do we ever eat carrot tops?) If you want to buy produce from a farmer's market, or you grow it, you can actually use the whole vegetable and not worry about needing to get more within a day or so. You don't have to buy a lot of vegetables, you can buy a few and use up every last part of them. You can eat the same plant but in varied ways--steam the cauliflower, and saute the outer leaves in some olive oil and garlic, for example. Out of garlic? Are you growing it? Use the scapes that are shooting out of the ground. You don't have to go to the store or market to get more food, you have plenty and can use what you have. And you can try something new.