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Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food into Plenty Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
What the cookbook is not: A deep dive into ingredients or a singular, simple solution to food waste.
Who this book is best suited for: The conscientious, somewhat experienced, home cook.
Three words to sum it up: Lifestyle-altering and original.
I’m someone who reuses Ziploc bags, re-purposes old shirts for rags, and has about 100 cloth napkins, all in an attempt to reduce kitchen waste. When it comes to food, I have a ‘Stock Bag’ (also a reused Ziploc) of bones and veggie scraps in my freezer. As for my fridge’s content, I go by the sense test. Millions of years of evolution has gifted me a keen eye and a decent sniffer to tell whether something is okay to eat. Knock on wood, neither have steered me wrong yet.
Thinking I was somewhat ahead of the food-waste curve, I was eager to get Mads Rufslund’s and Tama Matsuoka Wong's cookbook, Scraps, Wilt and Weeds as an affirmation of what I’m doing right and to shed light on the opportunities to do better. As soon as I opened the book, I realized there was a world of opportunity in what Mads affectionately calls ‘trash cooking’. The vivid photographs of plated food are stunning. So are the photographs of ordinarily overlooked by-product like blood on a butcher's hands, overripe fruit, and mounds of food scraps and coffee grounds.
Mads states in his introduction, " 'Civilized cultures' decide what is luxury and what is rubbish." As I read about food not making it to market because it's deemed unworthy for its wrinkles, blemishes, or size, I couldn’t help but think about how these standards define beauty in America, not just in food.
Challenging that standard and perception is precisely what this cookbook does. You don’t need me to remind you that only one generation separates our time from one that relied heavily on using ‘the whole’ out of necessity, and that many cultures do still. So largely, this book sets out to change the way we Westerners see food, and to some extent how we live and eat, by taking us back to our roots. But in this case, roots are shriveled and then turned into chimchurri or dehydrated, ground into a powder and mixed into baked goods.
Mads mentions that the cycles of nature inspire him the most. Having grown up in Denmark, he says "We celebrate the beauty of food from nature...We can't grow food for many months of the year, so we are forced to rely on [fermentation, brining, drying, and curing] to survive well through the dark times." A small section about foraging and recipes for Pickled Wild Rose Petals and the Fallen Fruit Dessert are two of the many that pay homage to his homeland.
Not surprisingly, food waste facts introduce nearly every chapter. Though not preachy, the authors’ voices tend to be formal and factual which doesn’t particularly make for easy reading.
Most recipes have ten ingredients or less with easy-to-follow steps. At the center of these recipes are ‘imperfect’ ingredients, whether they be wilted greens, wrinkled root veggies, or fish heads. This is a bold move in a culture of perfection, but Mads manages to make the product beautiful. Each of the 4 chapters is divided into sections by ingredients. Some sections are meager with one or two cooking suggestions or recipes and some recipes have ingredients that may not be accessible in your neck of the woods (like kombu and pickled plum paste).
A note of admiration: Throughout the book, the authors encourage using substitutes and inexact amounts to relieve the reader of the excuse to buy a pound more when she's an ounce short, which only perpetuates the waste cycle because so often the fifteen remaining ounces go unused.
I tested the Seared Romaine Lettuce Bottoms with Wilted Romaine Cream Sauce and Thyme Scraps Oil and it was truly a test of substitutes. I didn't have heavy cream for the sauce (I used a combination of half-and-half and butter) nor did I have fresh thyme (only dried) for the Thyme Scraps Oil. So I improvised. And the dish was well-balance and delicious. The seared romaine wasn't anything to write home about because it tasted like any other heated/grilled romaine.
But the cream sauce, oh my word. I ate it from the blender with a spoon. It had a creamy, lightly whipped quality to it and the romaine and lemon juice gave it the perfect fresh pop. The recipe made a lot; I've already got plans to use what's leftover as sauce on a pizza.
As a whole, Scraps, Wilts, and Weeds does what it sets out to do. I know this because after sitting down and getting to know it, I found myself storing scraps, that I’d otherwise toss in the trash or compost pile, in reused Ziploc bags and working those scraps into my cooking. I don’t know that it will be a cookbook I revisit time after time, but the concept within I undoubtedly will.
Disclosure: I received a copy in advance of the official release date for the purposes of an honest review.
My disappointment: recipes with minimal description or none at all of what the result will taste like. There's a bran-infused rum, for instance, which sounds intriguing. But what does the bran do? What's the flavor? Why go to the trouble?
I was intrigued, too, by the use of bran for pickling. The bran is mixed with salt and spice and water, then kept in a dark space and allowed to ferment. We're told this mixture can be used after four days but will take six months to fully mature and can then be kept as one does a starter for bread or yogurt. But starters need to be maintained and there are also, presumably, health issues to be aware of. On this, the book is silent. So that's another disappointment.
The book is nonetheless rewarding and I'll keep reading. Will definitely try some of the recipes.