By Elif Selvili
Illustration by Bambi Edlund
When we think back to childhood, some of our favorite dishes—now often re-created with fanciful makeovers and served in trendy restaurants as “comfort food”—might simply have been innovative attempts to stretch the food budget, make use of leftovers and avoid the deadly sin of throwing away anything still edible.
In fact, in numerous cultures around the world, many recipes have evolved specifically to make use of the wilted vegetables, ends of carrots, tops of beets, stale breads, bruised fruits and anything else that’s been languishing. But over the years, the origins of many of these recipes have become fuzzy, and we’ve started making these dishes from fresh and desirable products rather than from the tips and nubs from whence the inspiration for the recipe was originally born.
Take, for example, French toast. This dish, aptly named pain perdu (lost or wasted bread), was once a way to salvage dry baguettes turned rigid as baseball bats. But nowadays, the dish is most often concocted out of soft, fresh slices of bread. Chilaquiles (originally from the Nahuatl words meaning chile water and edible plant) is a popular dish served in most authentic Mexican restaurants, but it was originally invented to use up stale and torn pieces of tortillas and leftover salsa. And stock—the once humble and utilitarian transformation of the bits and pieces of garbage-bound vegetables, fish, chicken and bones into something useful—is often referred to these days as culinary “liquid gold,” and if we’re not buying it in convenient little cartons, we’re often making it out of fresh vegetables and whole chickens. Seems the era and understanding of frugality in the kitchen has gone the way of cloth napkins and dinner conversation.
In a valiant attempt to bring this lost virtue back into our kitchens, let’s celebrate frugality and resourcefulness with a few recipes from around the world: first, a duo of complementary recipes from Turkey—one uses hollowed zucchinis filled with a meat and rice stuffing; the next makes tempting zucchini fritters with the leftover pulp; then, a delicate tisane from Colombia that takes advantage of fragrant fruit peels and finally, two stock recipes—both using foodstuffs that are often discarded.