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Zero waste: a kitchen without waste

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Zero waste is a sustainability philosophy that is being put into practice by more and more people. The well-known German chef Sophia Hoffmann has written a book on the subject and reveals what it’s all about.

A cloth bag of fresh vegetables from the weekly market is sitting on a kitchen countertop.
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In this article

The latest trend: zero waste as a way of life

About 2.6 million tons of food are thrown away in Switzerland every year. In addition to agriculture, private households also generate a great deal of food waste – on average, each person produces around 60 kilos per year. According to the Federal Office for the Environment, the main problems are overconsumption, a lack of appreciation of food and the failure to recycle food quickly enough.

But something is happening in the minds of the Swiss because the topic of zero waste is very much in vogue. In 2019, German chef and food activist Sophia Hoffmann published the guide “Zero Waste Küche” (zero-waste kitchen). According to Hoffmann, “More and more people are questioning current trends, no longer want to accept them and are eager to change something through their personal decisions and their own behavior. With this book, I want to create an easy-to-follow guide for home use.”

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Must-haves for zero-waste shopping

Reusable shopping bags instead of plastic bags are a simple must-have and the first step towards zero-waste shopping. But far too often, fresh vegetables and fruit, muesli and bread are also packaged in plastic trays or bags. Sophia Hoffmann recommends not only giving priority to products sold in cardboard rather than plastic packaging, but also always having cloth bags of various sizes, glass bottles and screw-top jars and stainless-steel boxes at hand as basic equipment.

Here in Switzerland, there are already dozens of no-packaging stores where people can fill containers they bring along themselves with all kinds of fresh products – examples include the “Gnussvoll Lädeli” in Hüttwilen, “Unverpackt Laupen” in the Bernese Mittelland, the “Füllstation” in Frauenfeld, “Ohni” in Thun, or the “Chez Mamie” group with over ten branches in French and German-speaking Switzerland. “Besides this, you can often simply have your own jars or storage tins filled with fresh produce in many regional farm stores and bakeries or at weekly markets,” the chef explains.

A woman fills her own metal container with oats at a no-packaging store.

No-packaging stores allow customers to put ingredients like oats into containers they have brought with them.

If you’re hungry while you’re out and about, you can also avoid plastic cutlery and disposable packaging. Sophia Hoffman has a tip: “I always carry a refillable coffee mug, a reusable water bottle, a spork (spoon-and-fork hybrid), a pocketknife and a stainless-steel box around with me – so there’s nothing stopping me from having a sustainable lunch.”

Appreciate food and buy consciously

As well as making careful choices in terms of packaging materials, it’s also important to adopt a conscious attitude towards food itself. “It’s possible to learn to appreciate food – smelling, feeling and tasting are crucial,” Hoffmann says. Anyone who processes fresh products themselves will realize more quickly if something is spoiled, or if it can still be put to good use.

Her tip: cut away brown spots on fruit and vegetables instead of throwing the whole apple in the trash. And above all: don’t pay attention to best-before dates. “The best-before date is among the main reasons people throw away food,” the author says. “But most food can be eaten well beyond that. My advice: trust your five senses, which will almost always let you know if food is still edible or not.”

One thing she definitely recommends: “Shop regionally and seasonally – to support local small farmers and leave a smaller carbon footprint.” This means rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries in the spring, for instance, cherries, beans and lettuce in the summer, fresh wild mushrooms, fennel and pears in the fall, and lamb’s lettuce and cabbage varieties in the winter. If you want to buy regional produce but aren’t willing to forgo more unusual delicacies, you can even find items such as shrimp produced in Switzerland, Swiss chickpeas and saffron from the Valais. In sunny and more southern locations, many domestic gardens also grow supposedly exotic produce such as kiwis, figs and citrus fruit. “Conscious shopping is the name of the game,” Hoffmann says. “Buy only as much as you can actually use over the next few days. And make sure you consume food that perishes quickly first.”

Little tools for a zero-waste kitchen

In order to produce as little waste as possible when cooking, the professional chef makes use of spatulas of every possible size. “That way, I’m sure to scrape the very last bit out of every bowl, pan, mixer or pot. I also use reusable silicone baking mats instead of disposable baking paper.”

“And I use up every last scrap in jars, too,” she says proudly. “When I’ve nearly finished nut butter or jam, I swish the jar out with water or plant milk, then use the liquid to make granola. As for mustard, vinegar or oil, I prepare salad dressing directly in the jar and use up the last few drops that way.”

Sophia Hoffmann keeps a supply of empty jars for storing jam, broth, pesto and spices in. “Or I use them for keeping leftover vegetables in vinegar broth or oil,” she says. She makes fruit tea or aromatic broth out of cuttings and leftovers, be it apple or vegetable peel. If she doesn’t need the zest of organic citrus fruit right away, she dries the delicate zest and uses it later for seasoning and adding to recipes.

Delicious food from old ingredients: three recipe tips from Sophia Hoffmann

1. Cauliflower cheeze

Cauliflower cheeze with bread chips

Chunks of cauliflower (with the stems) and limp carrots can be used to make a delicious cheesy sauce that’s great for dipping oven-roasted bread chips made from stale bread, fresh bread, or more veggies. The cauliflower cheeze can also be served as a side dish with rice, pasta, or any bowl or main course you can think of.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cauliflower cheeze with bread chips arranged attractively on a plate.

Cauliflower cheeze with bread chips.

Ingredients

For the cheeze

  • 100 g sunflower seeds
  • 1 carrot (approx. 80 g)
  • Approx. 180 g cauliflower (½ a head)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 dash vinegar or lemon juice
  • 4 tsp yeast flakes
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2 level tsp (smoked) paprika powder
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp salt

For the bread chips

  • ½ stale baguette or white bread
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried herbs or spice mix to taste

Preparation:

For the cheeze

  1. Soak the sunflower seeds in warm water. Pour about a liter of water into a medium saucepan. Put the lid on.

  2. Peel the carrot (unless it’s organic or already very limp). Cut the carrot and cauliflower into equal pieces. Since everything will be pureed later, the pieces can be quite small. This reduces the cooking time. Boil the carrot and cauliflower pieces in salted water until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

  3. Now drain the sunflower seeds as well and mix them with the vegetables and all the other flavoring ingredients in a food processor or using a blender. Taste and add more vinegar/lemon juice, salt and spices if necessary.

Bread chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (upper and lower heat).

  2. Cut the bread into thin slices. Mix the oil and herbs or spices in a bowl and brush onto the bread slices.

  3. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about five to eight minutes until the slices are golden brown and crisp. This also works very well with wholewheat bread, but it takes a few minutes longer because this type of bread retains more moisture. The finished chips will last for weeks if kept dry in a box.

2. Polenta patties

Polenta is a versatile food. To make these patties, you can add all kinds of ingredients to the polenta such as herbs, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach or, for a sweet preparation, dates cut into small pieces, raisins or nuts. When making sweet patties, you should of course avoid cooking the polenta in vegetable broth.

Quantity: 2 servings

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Polenta patties and polenta with fried lettuce are on a plate ready to be eaten.

Polenta patties and polenta with fried lettuce.

Ingredients

  • 600 ml water or vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 150 g polenta
  • Nutmeg
  • 100 g watermelon
  • 2 small tomatoes (approx. 100 g)
  • ½ or 1 small red onion
  • Depending on the spiciness, ½-1 fresh chili pepper or ½ tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon / lime juice
  • 200 g limp lettuce (e.g. oak leaf, romaine, radicchio, endives, ...)
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. Stir into the polenta as soon as the water or broth begins to simmer.

  2. Allow the polenta to absorb the liquid over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg. If the polenta is too firm, stir in a little more liquid to obtain a perfectly creamy consistency.

  4. For the salsa, dice the watermelon, tomatoes and onion and mix. Season with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or juice, chili and a little salt.

  5. For the fried lettuce, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Cut larger heads of lettuce in half once; small lettuces such as romaine lettuce can be fried whole. In a similar way to spinach leaves, the lettuce will be ready in just a few minutes. Deglaze with 1 tbsp vinegar or juice and season with salt and pepper.

  6. Form patties out of the remaining polenta (with the addition of other ingredients) and fry them in oil on both sides in a pan until golden brown. If the polenta seems too firm, knead in a little water or moisten your hands.

3. The simplest cake in the world

This cake consists of just four basic ingredients. All imaginable variations are possible, depending on what you currently have in the house and need to use up.

Quantity: 26-centimeter springform pan, ring cake or twelve muffins.

Preparation time: 1 hour

Eight different pieces of cake are arranged on a plate.

The simplest cake in the world can be made with leftovers in many different ways.

Ingredients

  • 400 g wheat or spelt flour
  • 240 g sugar
  • 1 sachet baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 180 ml mild vegetable oil
  • 400 ml water
  • Optional and depending on what is in the house and needs to be eaten up: cocoa, matcha, berries, fruit, lemon zest, rum and many more foodstuffs.

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (upper and lower heat).

  2. In a bowl, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt.

  3. Stir the oil and water together in a second bowl. If you want to use additional liquid flavoring ingredients such as lemon juice, add them to the liquid ingredients now.

  4. Use a hand mixer to blend the dry mixture into the liquid ingredients in several stages, stirring just long enough for a uniform mass of dough to form.

  5. Fold in any other ingredients such as cocoa, berries, nuts, matcha etc.

  6. Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish and bake at 180 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes until a tester comes out clean with no more mixture on it. For a sustainable tester, prick the center of the cake with a knitting needle, a barbecue skewer or a chopstick.

  7. Wait for the cake to cool before turning it out of the mold.

Conclusion: treat zero waste as an adventure

Waste cannot be avoided completely. But everyone can help ensure that less valuable food is thrown away. If you become a more conscious consumer – for instance by not just getting rid of yogurt as soon as it reaches its best-before date but smelling it first – you will not only create less waste, but also save money.

“Experiment and be bold,” urges professional chef Sophia Hoffmann. “We can eat so many more things made of vegetables and leftovers than most people think – and even enjoy them, by turning them into delicious dishes.” If in doubt, you can also just call grandma and ask what she used to do with stale bread and leftover pasta.

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