«Kohlrabi leaves are great for steaming and you can pickle the stalks, too.»
Esther Kern, food journalist and editor-in-chief at waskochen.ch
Throw it away? It would be a shame, really. In Esther Kern's house, beetroot leaves become soups and dandelion roots turn into coffee. Her Leaf to Root project is creating a brand new form of vegetable-based cuisine. Her tools: a big refrigerator and lots of creativity.
Esther Kern needs more space in her refrigerator than most other people. That's because she likes to keep the parts of the vegetables that the rest of us throw away: Stalks. Leaves. Roots. «It is crazy to see how much delicious stuff ends up getting thrown away!» she says. Back in 2002, the journalist co-founded waskochen.ch, Switzerland's first independent cooking platform. Following a relaunch, the website now brings in over 30,000 users a month – and Esther Kern is once again taking a pioneering role. She has come up with the «Leaf to Root» campaign, working with top chefs to demonstrate how we can use all parts of a vegetable from leaf to root. She is also working on a recipe book, which has already been the subject of reports on Swiss television.
A radish salad, but not as we know it
After months of testing recipes, she already has plenty of tips to hand. For instance, she knows that leaves draw the juice out of the body of root vegetables. As a result, root vegetables like radishes will keep for longer in the fridge if you remove the leaves – using them straight away if possible. «Radish leaves make a great salad,» she explains. «You can use beetroot leaves in a soup, kohlrabi leaves are good for steaming and you can pickle their stems, too.» Esther Kern is a regular guest at the weekly market and a passionate gardener, growing her own fruit and vegetables. «That's why I value the drawers in my fridge so much: they are the perfect temperature,» she explains. «You can easily keep a salad for a good week.» Something else she loves: «There's plenty of space for bottles. I don't just need the space for drinks. I need it for storing my home-made syrup, good organic ketchup, or verjus, the juice from unripe grapes, which adds a magical sour note to dishes. Once you have opened it, you have to leave it in the fridge.» Even though she has a big freezer in the cellar, she is still happy to have a freezer compartment in the fridge. «Some things just need to be in easy reach. For example, I always keep cubes of butter frozen to add to sauces. And ice cubes to chill vegetables.»
Cheese and an everlasting life
Now, it's not likely that any family will claim that their refrigerator is a constant source of joy. Esther Kern laughs. «Well, of course, tidiness is a constant issue. When things are stressful, food can disappear into the back of the fridge – and not reappear again until the expiry date has passed. We've all experienced it.» However, she noticed that you can still enjoy lots of food after the expiry date has passed. «We should rely on our instincts a lot more. Bernard Antony, a master cheese maker from the Alsace, once told me in an interview that a good cheese should never go off. All you have to do is cut off the mould.» Of course, precaution is always better. «We used to just have cheese spread out all over the fridge,» explains Esther Kern. «These days, we store it all together in a glass container. All these little storage tools help us to keep an eye on all our culinary delights.»