Waste not, want not

Stop calling things garbage. Start calling them trim.

click to enlarge Waste not, want not
Photo by Ann Shaffer Glatz
The rinds contain the essence of the fruit in a concentrated form.

The Japanese have a concept known as Mottainai, which expresses a sense of regret over waste. Mottai comes from a Buddhist word that refers to the interconnectedness of all things, living and non-living, and -nai means negation. Therefore, Mottainai is an expression of sadness over the wasted opportunity of things that have yet to reach their full potential. It's equivalent to our expression "What a waste!" Japanese environmentalists have used the term to encourage people to "reduce, reuse and recycle."

This concept is one of the core values of the R&D and Fermentation Lab of Audrey, the restaurant I work in. We strive towards being a "zero-waste" restaurant, and I am continually surprised by the amazing things we can make from the trimmings that usually go into the trash or compost. For example, we ferment all the tomato or apple trimmings and reduce the juices into a delicious syrup, and then dehydrate the pulp into flavorful seasoning powders. Numerous other trimmings end up as pickles or turned into miso pastes, vinegars or any number of dehydrated, fermented or preserved ingredients.

It's well known that food waste is a major issue. With the currently inflated cost of food, if you practice fermentation and food preservation, it's more work up front, but as soon as you start creating your own ingredients, you're not buying as much. If you stop calling things garbage and start calling them trim, you get more value for your money.

Our restaurant's menu is based on the seasonality of ingredients, and now we are in the citrus season. Our production kitchen is full of blood oranges, bitter oranges, clementines, yuzu, mandarins, satsumas, kumquats, grapefruits and Meyer lemons. Our walk-in cooler has containers of fragrant citrus blossoms and leaves. All this produce makes its way in some form into the dishes that are coming out of the kitchen and into the drinks coming out of the bar.

Throughout the day, the prep cooks bring containers of citrus peels to the lab for us to create something with. I must confess that I had no idea of the potential uses of citrus peels. The intensely perfumed outermost colored layer of citrus peel (not including the white pith, which is bitter) is known as the zest. Zest captures the flavor of the fruit it came from in a highly concentrated form. It is so aromatic and flavorful because the fruit's volatile oils reside in its rind. I've used lemon, lime and orange zest in my cooking and strips of orange peel in my Old Fashioned cocktails, but these applications are just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm currently involved in a deep dive down the citrus zest rabbit hole.

Before zesting, it's important to remove all the wax coating or anything else that might be on the surface. If you are planning to juice the fruit, zesting should be done first. After you've squeezed out the juice, the rind will be floppy and hard to hold and you might zest your knuckles instead. If you're not in a rush, go ahead and zest some of your citruses as soon as you get home from the store to capture the aromatic essence at its peak. After the peel is removed, the fruit will dry out faster, so try to not let it hang out too long before using the juice.

The easiest way to remove the zest is with a grater or zester. To create a delicate, fine zest, I like the Microplane Grater that I bought at my local Ace Hardware for about $20. To achieve thin strips, I use an OXO Good Grips Citrus Zester which I bought for about $12. If you don't have a grater or zester, you can also use a potato peeler and then cut the zest to the desired size. In a pinch, I've even used a BIC disposable razor. Just be careful to leave behind the bitter, white pith.

It's important to do your zesting over a non-absorbent surface. The volatile oils you're going after will be absorbed by your wooden cutting board. I like to zest over parchment or wax paper. The paper can be folded for easy transfer of the zest. Tightly covered in an airtight container, zest will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and longer in the freezer.

Citrus Kosho (Japanese Citrus Chili Paste)

This recipe is based on the Japanese condiment Yuzu kosho, a fermented citrus chili paste. Yuzu is a small bright yellow Japanese citrus with an intensely aromatic and flavorful peel. Because yuzu can be hard to find in the U.S., this recipe substitutes easily available citrus. Citrus kosho is a good condiment for grilled meats and poultry. Try a dab in miso soup. Combine with a little soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar to make a dipping sauce.

1 Meyer lemon (or substitute a regular lemon)
1 lime
1 small grapefruit
1 orange
2 serrano chilis, stems and seeds removed
1 tablespoon fine sea salt


Zest the lemons, limes, grapefruit and orange into a bowl. Finely slice the chili, and add to the bowl.

Transfer the ingredients to a small food processor and pulse until a smooth paste forms.

Add the juice of half a lemon and half a lime to the paste and stir. Transfer to a glass jar, cover, and allow ferment for two days at room temperature, stirring daily.

Transfer to the refrigerator to ferment for an additional two weeks.

Lemon "Mosto" Olive Oil

Lemon Mosto Olive Oil is traditionally made by cold-pressing together olives and fresh lemons. This recipe is a good approximation. Use this infused oil to dip crusty bread, or in a vinaigrette for salads, or drizzle over grilled fish, meats, and vegetables. It's especially good over grilled asparagus.

1 large lemon
1 cup olive oil


Scrub the lemon thoroughly with soap and water and then rinse and dry well.

With a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemon in long strips, being careful not to include the bitter white pith.

In a small saucepan, gently warm the lemon zest and the olive oil. Keep below a simmer for about 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow the zest to steep until the oil cools to room temperature. Remove the zest; it will not add any more flavor once the oil cools.

Transfer the lemon-infused oil into a sealable container.

Store the oil in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks.

About The Author

Peter Glatz

After the passing of his wife, Julianne (former Illinois Times food columnist), Peter Glatz decided to retire from a 40-year career as a dentist to reinvent himself as a chef at the age of 66. In his short culinary career, he has worked at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant, Oklahoma City’s Nonesuch...

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