Zero Food Waste: “Stem to Root” & Butternut Farro Salad

Good morning, anti-food-waste zealots. Having spent last year (mostly) conquering the worst of my food waste habits — overshopping, getting takeout instead of cooking what I already had — I’ll have to spend this year looking for slightly more arcane ways to save (a) the planet and (b) my wallet.

One thing I’m going to do is try to focus on the vegetable equivalent of “nose to tail” eating, which is the movement to use every part of an animal in cooking. Instead of just using boneless skinless chicken breasts, for example, we’d eat all the meat and use the bones, feet, and skin for broth. The really adventurous might even find something to do with the head? For vegetables, this is called “stem to root,” and it encourages you to use the whole plant.

So I’m interested in finding out how much I can use of common vegetable parts I typically throw away. I started this week by scooping the seeds out of my butternut squash — and then toasting them and having them as a snack. That’s a pretty typical salvage move. I’d like to see what other kinds of things I can come up with. Stay tuned!


I had limited time last weekend so I just hit up Whole Foods and otherwise was able to use stuff I already had.

Goat cheese, $4.99
Milk, $2.39
Yogurt, $3.69
Shallots, $2.35
Jewel yams, $2.45
Spelt berries (bulk bin), $2.67
Steelcut oats (bulk bin), $2.74
Whole wheat pastry flour (bulk bin), $3.16
Butternut squash, $2.55
Kale, $2.99
Coffee, $9.99
Thai red curry paste, $4.39
Cookies, $3.24
Broccoli, $1.71
Yukon gold potatoes, $1.67
Total with tax: $50.98

What I Made

A few of those supplies were for a dinner party I had: I used some of the shallots, the broccoli, and the potatoes along with eggs and goat cheese to make a frittata. We had an extremely simple salad (just lettuce with a viniagrette) using lettuce my housemate wasn’t going to use, and I made chocolate-ginger-apricot cookies using entirely pantry ingredients I already had (including the last of some dried apricots I bought for Christmas cookies.) It was a lovely dinner!

As for the rest of the week, I’m not tired of my raisin-toasted nut-blueberry-steel-cut-oats breakfast yet so I kept going with that. I ate a few dinners with my volunteer gig, one paid for by work, and a couple of very simple ones (an apple with some peanut butter, a few roasted potatoes.) Snacks — apples and some chocolate-covered espresso beans I got as a Christmas gift. Lunch was my main meal this week, and for that I made my own version of Heidi Swanson’s Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad. Longtime readers will know that I really like both Swanson’s cooking in general, and sturdy grain/vegetable salads in particular. I make them on the weekends, then pack them for lunch all week. I made this one more meal-like by adding tofu and kale to the original. She calls for farro, but when I was going to buy it I saw that spelt, in the bin right next to it, was less than half the price. They are pretty interchangeable when it comes to preparations like these, so I just got the cheaper one.

2-3 cups farro, spelt, or wheat berries, rinsed and drained
2 tsp sea salt
5-7 c water (if you use stock, decrease the salt)
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into 1/2″ dice
Butternut squash cut into 1/2″ dice
1 large red onion (or use several shallots, like I did, or regular onions), cut in 1/2″ wedges
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 c walnuts, chopped and deeply toasted
1/4 c (approx) crumbled goat cheese or feta
1 bundle of kale, stemmed and chopped into small pieces

Cook the farro/spelt/wheat berries in the water, with the salt, at a simmer until cooked (could take anywhere from 20 min to an hour depending on what you have and how fresh it is. Taste it to make sure it’s how you want it to be; should be chewy but not hard.) Drain if necessary and let cool.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375. Toss squash, tofu, onions, and thyme with the oil and vinegar, and with a couple pinches of salt. Spread them out on one or two baking sheets and roast until the squash is done — browned and soft when pierced with a fork. Let cool.

In a big bowl toss all ingredients except the goat cheese with a little more olive oil, or substitute toasted walnut oil. Add the goat cheese and toss more gently. I got a little fancy and kept the goat cheese out of the salad proper. Instead, when I wanted to eat a serving of this salad, I reheated it in the microwave for 30 seconds, just enough to take the chill off, and then mixed in some cheese (so it wouldn’t melt.)

10 thoughts on “Zero Food Waste: “Stem to Root” & Butternut Farro Salad

  1. Nick says:

    Butternut squash? Farro? Yum. Goat cheese? Marry me.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Heh, thanks, I think. I will say, if I ever do get married it’ll probably be to someone who likes cheese.

  2. I was thinking about food waste yesterday and how it’s changed my whole eating perspective.

    Now when I cook, I actively look for what I can use up. It’s changed how I shop and what I buy. Being aware of my food waste has been eye opening. Now if only I could compost my food scraps.

    Have you always been food waste oriented? If not, have you noticed a change in your habits around food as a result?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I think I’ve always been against food waste, but I didn’t start really seriously working on it until a year ago. And yeah, it’s caused a huge change in my shopping and cooking habits. I think the biggest wins have probably been in buying less and in my new inclination to suck it up and cook even on nights when I just don’t want to, because I really don’t want stuff to go to waste now.

  3. ARBM says:

    Oooooh, I like the idea of stem to root! I’m looking forward to learning what you find out. I’ve sort of been interested in that since our produce prices have skyrocketed. (Canadian dollar going down means that even the local produce prices have gone up, not sure why exactly…) I’ve got some books on gardening and vegetables that I want to read that should help me learn that as well. I was annoyed to find out that beet greens are actually really good, but when I bought my beets from the store, the greens were already taken off…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard about that. I think it has to do with most of your produce coming from outside the country (and if it’s grown locally, they’re probably getting supplies etc from elsewhere.)

      Re beet greens, I usually buy stuff like that from the farmer’s market. But you should let the managers at your grocery store know! Maybe they can do something about it. I bet others would be interested in beets with their greens. 🙂

  4. What a great attitude about food. We’ve been more conscious about waste, which we were terrible with before. I still struggle a little with cooking the right portions for two people when I’m using a recipe for six–not exactly exciting when dinner is the same three nights in a row. Ha!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Hee. I gave up on the idea that I’d eat something different every day a long time ago. Now I just make recipes that I am enthusiastic about eating for a week straight 🙂

  5. Yum – that salad sounds fabulous!!

    I love hte “stem to root” concept! I saw a carrot greens pesto recipe at Don’t Waste the Crumbs, which is along the same lines…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It was really good! Also, carrot greens pesto, very intriguing. I’ll check that out. I never know what to do with those!

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