Celebrating Every Part of the Plant

Celebrating Every Part of the Plant

If there’s one phrase we’d like to remove from the vocabulary when considering what parts of a plant to use, it would be, “But, that’s what we’ve always done!” And, if there’s one phrase that Chef Jamie Simpson would like to have engraved in our minds, it would be the following: “Every part of a plant offers something unique to the plate.”

At Roots 2023: Regenerate, Jamie appreciated talking about this philosophy with like-minded attendees, and here are some of his thoughts in more detail.

Setting the Context

Although not all plants are completely edible, many are—and even those that aren’t 100 percent edible have deliciously edible parts that people often don’t think of using. By simply strolling down grocery store aisles, you can see celery leaf being offered as an herb and its stem as a vegetable. Heading to another aisle, you can see celery seeds being sold as a spice and, in many grocery stories, you’ll also see the roots in the produce section. 

The same thing can happen with fennel with its bulb being offered as produce and other parts of the plant being displayed as a vegetable, an herb, and a spice. 

We’d like to see this practice expanded so that the entire edible part of each plant is being valued as it deserves.

Stereotyping Parts of Plants

Using carrots and parsley as examples, they’re from the same family, and yet they’re often used by consumers in significantly different ways. It’s pretty typical to use the carrot root in dishes and toss away the greens—despite the fact that carrot greens are flavorful and delicious. Then, with parsley, people often use the leaves while leaving the roots in the ground. There’s no real logic to this outside of “but that’s what we’ve always done!”

Looking at a Brussels plant, the sprouts are treasured—as they should be—but the leaves, which are a delicious alternative to collard greens, are often discarded. By discarding the stereotypes, instead, a whole world of new culinary possibilities open up. 

Benefitting From the Entire Lifecycle

Besides using only select portions of the edible plant components, opportunities are missed when a particular plant is repeatedly used in the same stage of ripeness. Taking the cucumber as an example, they’re typically used when larger and more firm and slice-able, which skips over the beautifully delicate stage when a cucumber is tiny with lovely blooms. 

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with using mature cucumbers—or carrot roots or parsley leaves—in dishes. They’re commonly used that way in part because they are so flavorful at those stages. Instead, Jamie loves to use vegetables in those stages alongside ones in lesser celebrated ones to embrace the entire lifecycle of these plants. There’s an opportunity on the plate, he believes, in every stage. 

Spotlight on the Brassica Family 

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels, and more capture the beauty of both concepts. Using broccoli as an example, it’s fully edible—leaves, stems, and flowers—and enticing to use across the lifecycle. A broccoli head consists of numerous buds that, as time goes on, become looser and then yellow as the plant blooms. Flavor evolves as the plant does, but it remains beautifully and uniquely usable.

More Sustainable Society

By consuming every edible portion of the plant, we’ll naturally become more sustainable as a society. This practice can help the culinary industry to serve as a model for a new, more meaningful way of being.

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