The Chef's Take: Chris Barnett's Trash Vegetables from Stir Market

Stir Market's chef Christ Barnett believes in "nose-to-tail" vegetable cooking. He uses vegetables scraps to make surprisingly great (and healthy) eats!

There was a time when carrot skins, radish greens and beet tops used to go straight from the cutting board to the trash bin. Then came the compost movement and all those vegetable scraps were destined for a future as fantastic fertilizer. Now comes chef Chris Barnett of Los Angeles’ Stir Market — a boutique California take on the classic European food-hall experience — who's decided that one chef's trash is indeed another's treasure. Rather than toss his vegetable scraps in the garbage or compost bin, he uses them on his menu — think nose-to-tail cooking but with a carrot standing in for a pig.

Radish greens are incorporated into a green salad with preserved lemon, or blanched and shocked and then pureed and pulsed into housemade butter with roasted garlic and shallots. Freshly snipped carrot greens get fried and served as a garnish for a plate of roasted heirloom carrots, while beet tops show up in juice or make their way into salads like the one we feature here, with braised lentils and ricotta. Even celery leaves are saved and used to jazz up potato salad with pickled shallots.

"The eureka moment for me was that all this stuff looked so good, and I just could not throw it out," explained Barnett. "It also gives you an excuse to be creative, and on top of it you are making money on it."

Barnett makes all manner of chips from his scraps. He fries potato peels and gives them a good sprinkle of salt. "Why throw them away?" he asks. The same goes for the peelings of parsnips and carrots. These get washed and cleaned, then baked slow and low at 175 degrees F overnight. "Just dress them super lightly with a spray of nice olive oil and dust them with salt and you’ve got some awesome chips,” he says. "They’re healthy and tasty, and it costs you nothing, because you would have thrown them away."

Roasted Red Beet and Lentil Salad with Ricotta Salata

Serves 6
1 cup Beluga lentils
3  fresh bay leaves
5 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
3 medium sized red beets with their tops
4 ounces ricotta salata
3 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium stock pot, combine 5 cups water, lentils, fresh bay leaf, thyme sprigs and sherry vinegar and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils are tender but not starchy, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot, fill with a couple inches of water and bring to a boil. Remove beet tops, and set aside. Lightly rub beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the beets in foil along with fresh bay leaves and thyme sprigs, and roast until tender, about 1 hour for a medium size beet.  Remove beets and let cool to room temperature, then peel.  Dice beets into 1-inch cubes. Wash beet tops, trim stems saving just the leafy part.  Coarsely chop the tops, set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the steamed beets, lentils and beet tops.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Shave the ricotta salata on top and serve.

Photo Credit: Jesus Banuelos

Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times to Edible Manhattan. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Queens with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.

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