It’s summertime, and the living’s easy. Family visits and little mini-vacations are sprinkled all through the calendar. The tomato plants in the hugelkultur are up to our chests. Every evening, there are drinks in the garden with the birds and the cats.
It’s a lovely, laid back season, with lots of fresh fruit and greens and summer vegetables. We’re about to have a huge tomato and pepper harvest and we’re looking forward to a big apple and pear harvest as long as we get to the fruit before the squirrels do.
BUT, keeping up with zero food waste commitments has its own difficulties in the summer. Summer fruit, fresh herbs and greens don’t keep long. That bumper tomato harvest won’t wait while we go canoeing.
The refrigerator is groaningly full during family visits and it’s all we can do to manage it all so it doesn’t go bad while we go visiting ourselves.
Keep those beautiful berries and summer BBQ extravaganzas from turning to mush in the fridge. When mush happens, it’s painful; full of regret and self-recrimination.
Instead, summertime is a good time to get back to zero waste basics; a couple of keystone habits and some summer zero waste master recipes.
If you’d like more low waste recipes and how to’s, I wrote this quick start guide and short email mini-course to go with this post. Get the workbook and guide here.
Zero waste food keystone habits
What is a keystone habit? A keystone habit is one that carries into other areas and creates benefits in a cascade of goodness. According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit”, keystone habits are “ small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives ”. In the summer I rely on two zero waste food habits to keep everything under control.
Zero food waste habit #1: Fridge Diver session
Once a week, take between an hour to an hour and a half to pull everything at-risk out of the refrigerator and do whatever needs to be done. That might be to prep green veggies to use during the week, make a soup, stick some tomatoes in the freezer or make sauce, or plan how you’ll use what you find throughout the week. Take a look at the bins and shelves and see if there are breads or fruit and vegetables that need to be moved to the refrigerator, frozen or used up.
Zero food waste habit #2: Daily zero waste meals
Armed with knowing what’s in your refrigerator, look for opportunities to use it up during every meal. For every meal, think of ways to bust your stash with zero waste master recipes. Leftover fruit salad? That goes in a smoothie. Leftover BBQ? That goes in a main dish salad. Maybe have a leftover night for dinner instead of making something new.
Summer zero waste recipes use up the abundance of the season and don’t heat up the house.
What are zero waste master recipes?
Most recipes are incredibly specific. Use ½ c of blueberries and ¼ c pineapple in your smoothie. Make pesto with 4 cups of basil. Add a tablespoon of sunflower seeds to your salad.
BUT, the more experienced you become as a cook, the less you start with and follow recipes and the more you start with ingredients first and then follow your own technique and sense of flavor.
In fact, in zero waste cooking there are only two rules: 1) Chemistry and 2) What Tastes Good. The chemistry rule means that there are cases where quantities matter, such as when you’re baking and need a certain amount of leavening for the rest of the mix. But other than those chemistry cases, what matters is what tastes good to you.
In the zero waste master recipes below, quantities are only specified if they matter from a chemistry standpoint. Other than that, you have freedom to use what you have within the different recommended categories of ingredients.
This is how we manage our overloaded summer refrigerator and garden harvest, by paying attention and using zero waste master recipes until everything is organized and under control again.
Need an example? Here are some summer zero waste master recipes to manage the perishable summer abundance even during your busy summer schedule.
Summer zero waste master recipes
In the summer, when it’s hot outside (so hot!), zero waste cooking focuses on easy, fresh food recipes that won’t heat up the house. Here are a few of my favorite stashbuster zero waste master recipes for summer.
Consider smoothies to use up leftover fruit salad, farmer’s market finds (bushel basket of seconds peaches anyone?), and bumper fruit tree harvests from your own trees or your neighbors.
Once you have made a couple of smoothies you will never need a recipe again. As long as the smoothie is thick enough to suit you and tastes good to you, it’s a good smoothie. The best smoothies are made with some care to be sure they’re attractive and to pay attention to balanced flavors.
- 1/4 cup Liquid: milk, juice, kombucha, water to the top of the blender blades
- 1 cup Fruit: bananas, leftover fruit salad, berries, mango, etc. or to taste
- 1 cup Leafy greens: kale, spinach, mint, etc.
- Additions: yogurt, protein powder, chia seeds, flaxseed, cocoa, nut butters, sweeteners, spices, ice
- In the blender jar, add liquid to the top of the blender blades
- Chop and add fruit. Include 1 c. or more to taste of dark leafy greens. Avoid mixing copious greens with red fruits since red and green makes brown.
- Add additions to increase thickness, flavor and nutrition. Go easy on sweeteners if you are making a meal replacement and not a dessert.
- Blend until smooth and thick. Add liquid if the smoothie is too thick. Taste and add ingredients if needed to adjust flavor.
Green Main Dish Salad
Make a green main dish salad to use up leftover BBQ, roast chicken, cooked bits of vegetables, bits of cheese left from a cheese plate, and leftover grains or beans.
Green entree salads offer the perfect opportunity to include less common greens or fresh herbs, sliced and shredded vegetables, and other zero waste bits and bobs. Green salads can be delicate and subtle or hearty and robust. It all depends on what you have to use and what tastes good together.
Green main dish salad
- Greens: Salad mix, sturdy lettuce, spinach, arugula, foraged greens or to taste
- 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice; or yogurt, mayonnaise or other dressing
- Leftover barbeque, roasted chicken or beef, shrimp or tofu.
- Choice of: Chopped cooked vegetables, shredded cabbage or kale, lightly pickled zucchini or cucumber, diced pepper and tomato, sliced olives, beans, pasta, grain, shredded or crumbled cheese, diced fruit or berries, croutons from day old bread, minced onion and herbs.
- Wash and dry greens, tear into bite-sized pieces, arrange in a serving bowl
- Slice or dice meats, shrimp or tofu to taste
- Prepare the dressing: Combine 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice, or mix plain yogurt or mayonnaise with mustard and sweetener. Add minced garlic, salt and pepper and spices to taste.
- Toss greens with dressing or keep on the side. Arrange proteins and additions on the greens. For tender greens, choose additions that won't weigh down and crush the greens. Sturdier greens (romaine, butter lettuce) can take weightier additions. Choose what tastes good together to you.
- If the household has different preferences, keep controversial toppings and dressings separate and let people add what they like to their own serving.
Clear brothy soups
Make stock from vegetable trimmings and chicken or beef bones. I do this in a slow cooker, which can be kept on a covered porch or other place to avoid heating up the house. Once you have some stock, it’s easy to make a broth soup.
For any soup, start with what you have to use up and decide what flavor profile you are going for. Is it more like your mom’s chicken soup? Inspired by French, Italian, Latin or Asian or Middle Eastern flavors? Start with aromatics and a good quality stock or broth, homemade if you have it. The only rule is whether or not it tastes good.
Clear brothy soup
- Aromatics: Garlic & onions, ginger or turmeric
- Oil or fat for saute
- Fresh vegetables (e.g. carrots, peppers, potatoes, celery)
- Stock: Chicken, beef or vegetable, or use water.
- Pre-cooked carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, pasta, rice, beans)
- Cooked proteins (e.g. tofu, meat, poultry, seafood)
- Items to use up (cooked vegetables, leftover meat and poultry, bits of sauces, cooked greens)
- Salt and pepper
- Herbs and seasoning
- Brightener: Lemon juice, vinegar, wine
- Garnishes: herbs, sauce drizzle, cheese, crouton or roasted seeds
- Chop garlic and onion or other aromatics. Saute in oil in a stockpot until soft and caramelized.
- Add broth or stock or other flavorful cooking liquids. Add chopped vegetables and cook until tender
- Add bits and bobs to be used up (cooked vegetables, proteins, bits of sauce, grains, beans, leftover pasta). Cook to heat through.
- Add salt and pepper, seasoning and brightener to taste. Add garnishes to each serving.
Summer fun without the guilt
With these habits and recipes, I hope you feel free to host the family, fill up the refrigerator, go on travel, use up your farmer’s market finds and manage all of the busy ebbs and flows of summer, without guilt or waste, knowing you’ve got this.
I wish you and yours all the best this summer and hope you’re enjoying the summertime easy living too. If you have favorite summer zero waste recipes or dishes, I’d love to hear about them. Just comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s that zero food waste plan and email mini-course again. Hope to see you there!