From seasonings to salads and even beauty treatments, peel has a thousand uses around the home. Unless, that is, you eat it first …
|Orange peel: not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end
of the beginning. Photograph: Guardian
When it comes to eating bunny food, Peter Rabbit has nothing on me. Left to my own devices I would happily eat nothing but roast vegetables but when it comes to the question of “to peel or not to peel”, I’m stumped.
On the one hand there’s the case for not peeling: the alleged health benefits, the virtuous glow that comes from cutting down on food waste, not to mention upping your fruit and veg intake. On the other hand, you have pesticides and bits of claggy earth stuck into the grooves and dimples. Peel evangelists, of course, say that organic produce is best and just needs a hearty scrub. But I have three kids. I haven’t time to exfoliate vegetables. Who has?
There are those who would have you believe that the world can be divided into two camps: those who peel and those who don’t. As ever, this simple binary distinction fails to capture the full picture. I, for example, hover somewhere between the two: carrots I like to munch skin-on and, like my mum, I have lately taken to snacking on orange peel. There’s a pleasing oily tang and a good strong chew.
I have also been known to play fast and loose with celery leaves, scattering them over casseroles or whizzing them into a punchy little salsa verde. Other people get clever with celery pesto and celery salt (sprinkled onto buttered corn), which is slowly winning me round. But there are some scraps I just wouldn’t do: banana (too bitter), pineapple (too spiky), ugli fruit (too knobbly), avocado (madness).
The web is teeming with advice for the fledgling peel enthusiast, whether it is simmering papery onion leaves in sauces for added pungency, or braising chard stalks in red wine. Some of the tips make sense: seasoned root-and-stem stock, for example, but vegetable peel soup is a little too Tom and Barbara for me.
Apparently, though, bunging bits of fruit and veg peel into the pot is a time-honoured tradition. In Chinese cooking, dried tangerine peel is an expensive delicacy. Traditional Indian and Bengali dishes would frequently feature the odd zesty strip or vegetable pulp. Candied peel is a Christmas treat here, and Nigel Slater does earth-moving stuff with curls of orange peel sweated with “chubby garlic cloves”, bay leaf, anchovies, thyme and a slug of olive oil to kick off an aromatic fish stew. Bliss.
The highly regarded Sat Bains serves up raw broccoli stalks in lemon vinaigrette which I can testify to being delicious, and a richly perfumed tomato vine-infused oil, intercepting the stalks and tops before they reach the bin, covering with sunflower oil and plopping them in a vacuum-sealed bag to steep overnight in a 50C water bath.
Other tempting ruses include fruit skins to infuse vodka, raw broccoli shaved into ribbons and scattered with lemon zest and shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and peach leaves steeped in red wine, sugar and Cognac to make a summery vin de peche.
In the end, I consult the person I usually do when I have an important decision to make: Oprah. Oprah says I should definitely not bin the skin, so I don’t. Instead I get all Lawrentian with a kiwi fruit, wolfing it down whole. Initially, I thought it would be too hairy, but it was actually quite nice. The skin proved the perfect chewy foil to its inner silky mulch, turning it into a sensuous, almost carnal experience, which is as clear a sign as any that I don’t get out enough. So, what do you think – are you peeling it or not?