Even though I’ve wanted a garden my entire adult life, I didn’t take the plunge until around five years ago. Before then, we just didn’t have the space in our yard or the time to get started. But, once we moved into our current home, I no longer had an excuse.
Ever since we started gardening, I’ve looked forward to it every year. I love being able to walk into my yard, pick something fresh, and eat it right away. I absolutely adore my summer caprese salads, fresh basil pesto, and raw vegetables I had a hand in growing myself.
Over the years, I’ve also learned a ton about how to grow my own vegetables, mostly through trial and error. Gardening is also relaxing, as well as a great way to teach our kids about how our food is grown.
Nine Recipes Perfect for Garden Leftovers
But, if there’s any downside to gardening, it’s this: At least where I live, it’s feast or famine.
You’re either picking 20 cucumbers or zucchini in a week or absolutely none; you’re either overwhelmed with tomatoes or craving them desperately. One way to deal with any influx is to trade with neighbors, which I did just last week. My next-door-neighbor solved my too-many-cucumbers problem by trading for her fresh (and giant!) carrots, which I never grow on my own.
Other than that, you’re stuck giving food away or putting it to good use. Since we’re vegetarian and eat a lot of vegetables anyway, I tend to plan or menu around whatever we have on hand for the bulk of late summer and early fall. Here are nine recipes we rely on to use up garden leftovers every year:
Fresh Vegetable Soup
No matter what vegetables you have, you can turn them into a tasty pot of vegetable soup. I usually use whatever garden leftovers I have on hand (zucchini, tomato, cabbage, etc.) and supplement with fresh vegetables at the store. All you need to make this recipe is fresh vegetables, vegetable broth, tomato juice, and seasonings.
Start by washing and cubing whatever vegetables you have, including any mix of the following:
- Sweet Potatoes
Remember, this is not an all-inclusive list. You can use any vegetables you have and any combination of vegetables you want. I make this soup different every time, and it’s always good.
Once your vegetables are washed and cubed into 1- or 2-inch pieces, heat two cans of vegetable broth on the stove. Start adding your vegetables and simmer them on medium, pouring tomato juice into the pot as you go.
There’s no right or wrong amount of vegetable broth and tomato juice to use. If you use more of either, you’ll have a “soupier” texture, while less liquid will leave you with more of a “stew.” (You can also add a bit of cream and blend the soup with an immersion blender for more of a bisque.)
As your soup cooks, add salt and pepper, coriander, basil, and thyme to taste. The amount of seasoning you’ll add depends on how much soup you’re making and how much liquid you use. Either way, it’s best to add seasoning slowly and taste frequently to make sure you don’t use too much.
Continue simmering your soup for a few hours and it’s done. Serve with crackers or homemade bread.
Pickled Cucumbers and Onions
If you have a vegetable spiralizer, it’s easy to make pickled cucumbers and onions. Basically, you take whatever cucumbers you have and spiralize them into medium or small noodles. After that, cut up one half to one whole white or red onion and add it to a large bowl with your cucumbers.
In a large saucepan, heat up 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, 1.5 cups of sugar, and a dash of salt and pepper. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is transparent, take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once it’s cool, pour it over your cucumber and onion mixture and let it sit for 24 hours.
There are lots of different ways to make your own tomato sauce, but this recipe from the New York Times is tried and true. I have made this recipe or a variation of it dozens of times, and it always turns out great.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 5 pounds of tomatoes
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 1 basil sprig
- 1 bay leaf
The New York Times suggests a three-step process for the perfect tomato sauce. First, cut your tomatoes horizontally and get rid of the seeds. Use a grater to grate the tomato flesh into a bowl until you have around four cups.
Second, heat tomato pulp in a saucepan over high heat. Add salt, olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, basil, and your bay leaf, then bring to a boil before lowering heat. Continue to simmer.
Continue cooking the sauce until it’s reduced by almost half, adding more salt as needed. The Times notes this sauce will last for five days unless you freeze it.
Since my husband loves breads and pies, I have gone out of my way to learn how to make a few of his favorites. Over time, I’ve come up with my own zucchini bread recipe that is flavorful and addictive. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2-6 cups of zucchini spiralized and chopped (it’s up to you to decide how much zucchini to add)
- 5 cups of flour
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 eggs, whisked
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup vegetable oil
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add all dry ingredients together in one bowl and all wet ingredients together in another. Thoroughly mix both bowls of ingredients before combining them in a single large bowl.
Use cooking spray to prepare two loaf pans, then split the mixture across both. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour for the perfect zucchini bread. Note: I’ve used up to 8 cups of zucchini in this recipe without noticing a big difference in flavor, so be as generous as you want.
This recipe is easy and a complete no-brainer if you have a ton of leftover zucchini to use. Simply wash and cut your zucchini before slicing it into ¾ inch slices similar to a “zucchini steak.” Slather both sides with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Grill on your outdoor grill just like you would a brat or a hamburger until the zucchini is completely cooked and slightly browned on the edges.
Eat your grilled zucchini plain or on a hamburger bun with cheese and other vegetables.
Veggie Omelets or Veggie Breakfast Burritos
Veggie omelets and breakfast burritos make it easy to use up small portions of any vegetable of your choosing. My favorite vegetables to add to omelets include:
- Green or red peppers
Start by cubing your vegetables into one inch squares then sautéing them in a sauce pan on medium heat. Saute with butter or olive oil until your vegetables are fully cooked. Set your cooked vegetables to the side and whisk 3-4 eggs together in a small bowl. Add the eggs to your pan and cook on both sides before adding vegetables to the center and folding in half.
Cook your omelet thoroughly until it’s ready to enjoy. You can also add cheese if you’d like. If you want veggie breakfast burritos, scramble the eggs instead or just slip your vegetable omelet inside a flour or corn tortilla, then add cheese or salsa and serve.
Stir-fry makes it easy to use up garden leftovers because you can make it any way you want. Vegetables you can use include, but aren’t limited to:
- Peppers (green, yellow, or red)
- Green beans
- Sugar snap peas
Wash your vegetables and slice them into 2-inch pieces. Simmer over medium heat in a large skillet with olive oil for around 10-15 minutes. Once your vegetables are about three-quarters of the way cooked, add your favorite teriyaki or stir-fry sauce. Continue cooking until all vegetables are cooked thoroughly (cook less for crisper, al dente veggies), then serve alone or with a side of rice.
Roasted vegetables are laughably easy to make and a good way to use up garden leftovers no matter what – or how much – you have. My favorite vegetables to roast include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
Other vegetables will work as well, and you can even roast several different kinds at once!
Turn your oven to 400 degrees. Wash and cube your vegetables into 1- or 2-inch pieces. Coat all your vegetables evenly with olive oil and lay evenly on a baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning. (One of my favorite seasonings for vegetables is Rancher Steak Rub from Wildtree.)
Cooking times will vary depending on the vegetables you’re using and how small you cut them up. Plan on roasting your vegetables anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes.
Vegetable Thai Curry
Like a stir-fry or vegetable soup, Thai curry can handle just about any vegetables you’ve got. My favorite vegetables for Thai curry include:
- Peppers (green, yellow, or red)
Whatever vegetables you use, start by washing them and cutting them up into 1- or 2-inch cubes. Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook your vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes with a splash of vegetable oil while stirring frequently.
Once your vegetables are nearly cooked, add a few teaspoons of your favorite curry powder along with a teaspoon of coriander, a tablespoon of minced garlic, a teaspoon of dried ginger, and salt and pepper to taste.
Add a can of vegetable broth to the mix, starting with just ¼ of a cup and adding more liquid as needed. Continue adding spices in the increments above until your curry has just the right amount of flavor for your palate.
Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes or minced red pepper if you want a spicier curry. Either way, serve your vegetable curry with sticky white rice.
How to Maximize the Value of Abundant Fresh Foods: Lessons from a Gardener and CSA Member
- 26 Favorite Cheap-and-Easy Meals
- Eight Ways to Use Expiring Produce
What’s your favorite way to use summer garden leftovers? What recipes would you add to this list?