Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Don't Throw It...Regrow It! The Tucson Homeskillet guide to regrowing food from scraps.

Not to sound 'punny' here, but, the way I started re-growing herbs and vegetables in our kitchen happened quite organically.

She-Ra and I were shopping for dinner one night at our local market a while ago and I picked up a bunch of green onions and put them in the basket. Not too sure what we were making but apparently it involved scallions of some kind. Anyway, from out of nowhere, this kind but very obvious hippie lady sees me doing this and just says:

“You know you can re-grow green onions from the white ends you cut off and usually throw away. Just put it in water and it just sprouts back up. It's pretty cool.”

Um, okay. Thanks for that. Luckily she didn’t try to engage me in some conversation about how sad she is that Phish no longer is together or the fact that I could not detect one scent of the usual patchouli aroma that wafts over those with blonde dreads named Karma and has investments in the Birkenstock corporation. Nope, just a nice if not a little strange woman with some helpful tips on how to regrow food. Alright. Maybe I'll try it someday.

Regrown lettuce from scraps

That night, after much chopping and eating, I saved the lil nubs of green onion, got an unused shot glass, filled it with water and dropped the bulbs in. Then I put it in the kitchen windowsill and forgot about it.

That is until a few days later, I open the sash to find that, yes indeed!, the green onions were regenerating itself. It was amazing. I had never thought about that before nor have I heard about it. And this coming from the chef era Metal Mark where I was engulfed and covered in food all day everyday...well, at least on a professional level. Now I just take that food engulfment and write about it. But still! And after a few days I had enough green stem goodness to use in another dish.

The results of that regrowing of the scallion was superb. The taste was pure and electric; sizzling with tiny particles of Allium perfection, with a toothsome crunch and a mild spice on the tongue. After that, I was hooked.

Soon after I began looking into what I could and could not grow in old wine, champagne and shot glasses. Being married to a bartender, you tend to accrue such items in your pantry and bar cabinet. Seeing as we are not big (if at all) wine and champagne drinkers, I got the approval to go ahead and use the vessels to aid in my strange fascination with growing things in our small kitchen windowsill.

From nothing sprouts something...

Okay. Some of the easy ones were always a success. Green onions. Done. Just drop the white ends with the hairy bits (that sounded crude right?) into a glass of water where just the top nib of the bulb just peeks out from the surface. Boom. In a few days you have a usable green onion again. So cool.

Green Onions about two days in just water
Same Green Onions a day or two later...

Because the green onion was so simple I tried leaving the already cultivated bulb in the water to see if it would do it again. Yeah, not so much. I guess the scallions have one good push in them and then it's time for the bin or mulch. Sometimes they would perk up but it was a far less great experience than the first shoot that would emerge.

It was around this time that I began my research on regrowing food from scraps. Turns out there was a ton of things that regrow itself organically. Fennel for one.

Here's the thing: we don't use fennel in a lot of dishes. Actually, the last time I used fennel was when I was a pizza chef and it was for this Venetian sausage dish that didn't go over well with the customers so it was scratched after a month or so. Being in the same family as the carrot, it made sense that fennel would simply revitalize itself with a little help from the dude that chopped it up just a moment ago. Turns out that carrot tops will keep sprouting if you hover the ends in water and once the tiny carrot nibblet is visible, you can take that to the garden, plant it and, bingo, you got a carrot farm going on kid.

Now, you might be reading this going, “Yo, Metal Mark. This is cooking and gardening 101. I've been doing this crap for years. Get back to eating tacos and insulting D list celebrity cookbooks...”

Yes, I understand your concerns as this post isn't as snarky or grandiose, but, honestly, from an amateur gardener's perspective and as a big time eater and cook, this post is to just let everyone else out there that you too can do this at home. Not everyone knows about regrowing veggies from stuff you normally toss in the trash and forget about. Plus, now that I've been doing it for a while I wanted to share what worked for me, what didn't and some tips I learned along the way. Is that cool?


Tasty, leafy sprout from a lettuce core

The other item I have always had good luck with is lettuce. Normally it’s advised that you use romaine or a good sturdy stock, but I have had sproutlings from all sorts of lettuce varieties. Romaine, yes; just stick the core end in some water and, kabloom, in a few short days that thing is blooming tentacles of bright green goodness. Bibb lettuce usually works for me as well, but because it's so delicate I haven't had much to harvest from the regrowth. But the ends that I do gain are so succulent and grassy they make an excellent topping to a salad or just a quick snack when you're working hard in the kitchen. For me, lettuces such as Bibb or red and green leaf, works as a palate cleanser of sorts. After a tart or spicy or a particularly overpowering dish, it is always nice to pick a sprig off of the leafy tendril and after a few chews over the tongue, you are ready to tackle the next culinary challenge now that your taste buds have taken a bath of sorts.

Here's the thing: lettuce does not last very long in water. Think about it. You've got a water based, fairly fragile food item just soaking in sink water on your windowsill. What's going to happen? Yeah, the water turns mucky and moldy and once that shoot is plucked clean it will not grow back. Trust me here. I've left lettuces in water for weeks just to see what happens. What happens is this:


And, even more curious, this:

So odd...

Weird huh? Little tufts of near dandelion springs just opening up and chilling on the end of a once thought dead stick regrown from the butt of a head of lettuce. Not really. It all makes sense once you do the research and know the basics of vegetation and how things work within the living food cycles. It's actually quite beautiful to me. I've left flowers grown from lettuce and other varietals just because I thought the blooms were kind of pretty. But then the smell begins, the wife complains and I have to begrudgingly toss the fetid lot into the bin. Oh well. Fare thee well my fair-weather leafy friend. You shall soon be replaced by yet another cousin of yours and hopefully they too shall provide me with pleasure and nutrients.

Okay, enough with the rococo bullcrap, let's get down to what else has worked for me.

Garlic is jammin'...

Garlic. Oh yes. Now this is something I can get down with. We use garlic in just about everything.  She-Ra being half Italian and me being, well, of British decent (which I don't know how this parlays into the conversation here, but whatever...), garlic is used in way too many dishes in our household. So when I found that garlic can be regrown, I was both elated and strangely aroused at the prospect of having garlic just popping up all over the place.

So yummy

Now, with garlic, you don't get the usual bulb that you buy in the store regrown. No. What you do here is, or rather what I've been doing, is taking a garlic bulb that is beginning to sprout a little green buddy, take that guy and put it in some good soil then using the green shoots in a lot of Asian dishes. The bright green sprout from a head of garlic is so pungent and fragrant that a little snippet of it goes a long way. Think a good brothy bowl of pho infused with the stems of garlic or a green Thai curry tossed with a decent chiffonade of the garlic sprig. So, so tasty.  I'm pretty sure I once used the garlic shoot in my breakfast cereal. Cocoa Pebbles and regrown garlic pith? Oh mais oui! Makes the sugary garbage floating in milk so much more fragrant and bizarre.

I've also had decent success with celery.

Can't stop the celery...

Celery, though, is a tough customer. Sometimes the top greens just fly up and create a mass of reusable fronds that can be used in cooking, or stocks or to be transferred to the garden for eventual harvest. But, I don't know, it's always been a hit or miss for me.  Celery really isn't meant to be contained in a pint glass on my kitchen windowsill here in Tucson, AZ. But occasionally the celery stalks will produce a relatively okay amount to be reused.

Regrowth celery roots...

Although their family member, the leek, is a mofo! I have had so much regrowth from the white chalky ends of leeks I can't even begin to describe the good fortune with these guys. Leeks, in a bit of water and in a bit of time, regrow with amazing abundance. The first morning I used a regrown leek was in an omelet with some Gruyere cheese and baby heirloom tomatoes. It was unreal. So tasty. Just a quick sauté of the leek greens with the tomatoes and I was in lonely man brunch heaven. You can re-purpose the leeks in way too many dishes to list here. I don't wanna bore you with some vast list here, just use your skills and check your recipe books for anything involving leeks. Then use the discarded ends for a savory dish later. You'll thank me in the end. Trust me.
Other items that I haven’t gotten around to regrowing include mushrooms, lemongrass and sweet potatoes. Apparently all of those regrow like mad and hopefully in the near future I can try my hand at that project.

Here, once again, is the one real important factor when regrowing things on your kitchen windowsill: PLEASE change the water as frequently as you can!

Keep your water clean kids!

Here in Tucson, where temps get easily up into the 90s and 100s often, what I had to contend with was mosquito larvae. Blecch! For real, I had to switch water on all of my experiments on an almost daily basis. You really don’t want revolting insects in your food do you? No. That’s what I thought. Plus the mossy build up begins to grind on the fertile roots that are literally just submerged in tap water. Chemicals upon chemicals have a way of receding the goodness that you want from that fresh green shoot that promises to delight and entice.

Yet with all of the amazing success I have had, there have also been major let downs. Remember me saying that sweet potatoes have a way of coming back? Yeah, well apparently so do regular ol’ russet potatoes. Those eyes that begin to cry hard, green mollusks when you leave them sitting around too long? Yeah, if you plant them, apparently they begin to grow more potatoes. Unfortunately for me, this is the progress that I have had the last few months:

Potato planted a few months ago

Same potato taken this morning. Oh well....

See? Not much. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong, I don’t know, but according to many websites I have visited and gardeners I have spoken to, this is the way to do it. Maybe you’ll have better luck that I have or will. If so, get back to me and let’s compare notes.

Also, regrowing certain lettuces outdoors result in this brown out:

Not happening...

Maybe it’s the harsh desert climate, alkali in the dust or something, that makes it stunt like this, but so far my success rate on the patio is near zilch. Not too sure why, but when I grow these buggers indoors I have no problem.I guess it's the hothouse factor or something, even though we keep the air on at all times. Whatever..

Thing is, as Jeff Goldblum said in “Jurassic Park”: 

And because of that, I think this project has been one of my favorites so far concerning food. Since I’ve only been at it a few short years I still have lots to learn and you better believe that I am in no way shape or chloroform going to quit anytime soon. Sure our tiny kitchen windowsill can sometimes look like a child’s science project gone horribly wrong…because that’s precisely what it is! I just hope that I don’t discover a plant/liquid combo that’ll cause some kind of abnormal combustion and blow up the place.

No, wait… That’d be awesome!

Anyway, here are some websites you might want to peruse in order to get you started:

And if you get started on this project, or are already doing your own regrowth experiments, you can always share your pictures, notes and tips by commenting here on this blog, or emailing me at:

Thanks for stopping by and reading The Tucson Homeskillet. More good stuff is under way. For now, I have to tend to my strawberry tops because they are turning the water red and producing some type of “foam”.

Well, you never know till you try.


Remember in "RED" when Bruce Willis was regrowing from an avocado seed? Yeah...that.

Typing and Camera
Metal Mark
July 1, 2015

Metal Influence:
Bay Area neo- Black Metal outfit



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