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Rescuing vegetables and preventing food waste at home (e.g. by making leftover dinners) requires some creativity. It happens sometimes that I pick up discounted vegetables from a supermarket or market, but then don’t really know what to do with them. Looking for a recipe around these vegetables doesn’t always work, because it usually requires getting more ingredients than the ones you already have. 

But there is a way around it. Each world cuisine gets its unique flavors from the mix of spices and herbs. So when I feel like making a dish from a certain part of the world, I use the vegetables that are available in the Netherlands (no looking for exotic ingredients) and spice them up in a certain way. Remember that once you start practising these mixes it will become your second nature. And no recipes needed!

Italian

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

Base: Cook on the basis of olive oil and garlic. 

Best vegetables: Almost any vegetable will do for an Italian-style dish, for example tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, carrots, onions. 

Spices and Herbs: Use a mix of dry herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley, and thyme

Grains: Serve your Italian-style dish with pasta or short-grain rice like Aroborio

Top up: finish your dishes with fresh basil, cheese, and/or olives.


French

Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash

Base: Cook on the basis of olive oil or butter, garlic, and onions. If you’re making stew, use red wine and vegetable bouillon as liquids.. 

Best vegetables: celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, potatoes, eggplants, zucchini.

Spices and Herbs: Use fresh thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and ground nutmeg. 

Grains: Fresh bread.

Top up: Fresh thyme, rosemary, or parsley.


Greek

Photo by Dmitry Dreyer on Unsplash

Base: Cook on the base of olive oil, garlic, and onions. 

Best vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, olives, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, cucumbers, potatoes, 

Spices and Herbs: Dried oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, and paprika powder

Grains: Pita bread, rice, or orzo

Top up: Finish the dish with a squeeze of lemon juice, crumbled feta cheese, or serve with tzatziki sauce. 


Japanese

Photo by Cody Chan on Unsplash

Base: Cook on the base of sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. 

Best vegetables: Bok choy, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, radish, daikon, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, spring onion.

Spices and Herbs: Get the unique Japanese flavour by adding a few teaspoons of soy sauce, sake, and miso paste into your dish. You can also use them to prepare a salad dressing. Optionally, try adding some honey or sugar to sweeten the dish

Grains: Short-grain rice (e.g. sushi rice), rice noodles, ramen or udon noodles.

Top up: Finish your dish with toasted sesame seeds, nori or other seaweed. 


Indian 

Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash

Base: Cook the stews on ghee or coconut oil with ginger and garlic.

Best vegetables: Potatoes, spinach, legumes (lentils/split peas), broccoli, cauliflower, eggplants, leafy greens.

Spices and Herbs: Chili pepper, coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds. You can also use read-made curry paste (red, yellow, or green). To get the stew consistency, use canned tomatoes and/or coconut milk (add vegetable bouillon if needed).

Grains: Long grain rice (e.g. basmati) or Chapati bread.


Chinese

Photo by Ryan Kwok on Unsplash

Base: Cook on the base of peanut or sesame oil with garlic

Best vegetables: Bamboo, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, paprika, onion, cabbage, bok choy, leafy greens

Spices and Herbs: Fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, star anise. Use soy sauce, sesame oil and/or oyster sauce for dressings or sauces. 

Grains: Egg noodles or rice


Mexican

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

Base: Cook on vegetable oil or lard with chili pepper and garlic

Best vegetables: Tomato, black beans, avocados, potatoes, corn, onions, paprika.

Spices and Herbs: chili powder, cayenne pepper, coriander seeds, cumin, cinnamon 

Grains: Corn tortillas, wheat burritos, rice

Top up: Finish you dishes with a squeeze of lime juice and fresh  coriander leaves.


Middle Eastern

Photo by Kyle Brinker on Unsplash

Base: Cook on olive oil with garlic and onion.

Best Vegetables: Eggplants, tomatoes, onions, chickpeas.

Spices and Herbs: Cumin, sesame seeds, sumak, thyme, dried marjoram, 

Grains: Couscous, bulgur, rice, or flat bread.

Top up: Finish your dish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and fresh parsley or mint leaves. You can also serve your dish with hummus or grilled halloumi cheese. 


Thai 

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Base: Use red, green, or yellow curry paste as a base for cooking. Add coconut milk for stews. 

Best Vegetables: Paprika, eggplant, carrot, broccoli, leafy greens, green peas, spring onion.

Spices and Herbs: Ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, chili pepper (or use pre-made curry paste)

Grains: Jasmine rice or rice noodles

Top up: Finish your dish with few leaves of (Thai) basil or coriander, cashew nuts or peanuts, a squeeze of fresh lime juice. 

Whether you want to lower your food waste, or are looking to make some more environmentally-friendly diet choices, food activism starts in your shopping basket.

Statistics show that nearly a third of the groceries we buy end up in a landfill, with as much as five million kilos of food being thrown away annually in the Netherlands only. Even the food that does make it to our plates can have a costly effect on the environment, depending on the means of its production – some of it, research suggests, can account for up to twice as much CO2 emissions as car use.

The amount – and type of food you buy is therefore crucial for the development of a food market that is both less wasteful and more ecologically viable. Conscious and well thought-out grocery purchases can ensure that we aren’t generating an excess of food in our pantries, whilst also signalling a shift in marketing demand to food producers and supermarkets alike.

The key things to look out for when grocery shopping in a more ecologically-friendly way are the objective necessity you have of a certain food, the resources that went into producing it, and the likelihood that this item would otherwise end up wasted.

Check your fridge first
Before making a trip to the supermarket, inspect your fridge and see what products you already have available. Pay special attention to items that are about to expire soon, and try to come up with creative ways to use them. This initial step helps you avoid making redundant purchases, and makes sure you aren’t wasting any of the food you already have at home.

Make a list of what you really need and plan your meals ahead
Now that you know what items you need to use up, create a meal plan for the week, and base your shopping list around it. Planning ahead of time makes sure you are being efficient with both your shopping and your meal preparation, and helps you avoid a situation where you have nothing to eat, or (on the contrary) have purchased way too much food.

Check alternative food sources
Before hitting the shops, try to source your groceries in an alternative (and more environmentally-friendly) way – a good place to start might be food rescue markets. Using rescued produce is always preferable over buying products at the grocery store – that way, instead of risking the creation of additional food loss, you are decreasing food waste by using products that have already been discarded by the retailer (but that are still perfectly edible!). Additionally, you are usually able to get such food for free or by paying only a fraction of its original price (the TBYW Tuesday Food Markets offer you to make an optional donation in exchange for your purchases).

Resist marketing temptations
Supermarkets have a way of making us buy stuff we don’t really need – whether it’s “buy-one-get-one-free” deals or delicious chocolate in shiny wrapping, we often walk out of the store with far more food than we initially intended to get. Making unnecessary purchases like those increases our chance of wasting food, and supports the flourishing of excessive consumerism. Once you have your shopping list of necessary items, try to stick to it, and resist flashy advertising. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to an extra pack of cookies every now and again – just make sure it’s you who’s making the decision, not the supermarket marketing team.

© Taste Before You Waste

Shop local, shop seasonal
All food is not created equal when it comes to the amount of environmental resource that goes into its making. Fruits and vegetables that are out of season often have to be imported from the southern hemisphere, and thus require large amounts of fossil fuel to facilitate their transportation. Additionally, since it has to travel such a long distance, much of this imported produce goes bad before it’s even reached the supermarket shelves, therefore resulting in vast quantities of food loss. Fruits and vegetables that do not traditionally grow in a European climate (think mangos and avocados) have a similarly taxing effect on the environment. Of course, you don’t have to give up such items entirely, but try to prioritise local and seasonal produce instead – buy strawberries in the springtime, when they are in season, and try swapping out your tub of guacamole for some hummus or salsa next time you need a dip.

Go for the odd ones out
A lot of fresh produce gets left behind on supermarket shelves solely for its lack of aesthetic appeal – items like bruised apples and oddly-shaped potatoes are less likely to get bought, even though they share the same flavour and nutritional value as their prettier counterparts. Consequently, such fruits and vegetables are likely to be discarded by the retailer much before they have gone bad, simply because there’s no market for them. Buying this kind of “imperfect” produce makes sure that it doesn’t get wasted, and helps undermine the current unrealistic market ideal of perfectly-looking food.

Buy products that are close to their expiration date
If you know you’re going to use up an item relatively quickly, or are shopping for a ready-made meal, try going for products that are close to their sell-by date (most big supermarkets indicate them with a sticker) – this way, you are not only buying food that would otherwise be wasted, but will normally also get a discount on its price. Additionally, most products are good for at least a couple of days after their sell-by date (though this is highly dependent on the kind of food you’re buying – some items, like chocolate, can last for up to several months!), so you needn’t worry about consuming them straight away.

Making consistent, deliberate choices with the way we source our food gives us the power to create a fairer, more sustainable food market, and allows us to have a positive impact on the environment.

It also shows that food activism doesn’t always have to be about huge actions – sometimes, it can be about something as simple as the way we do our weekly groceries!