In the midst of autumn, with dying leaves and spent gardens, we gardeners are tempted to long for the always-sunny days of summer. A 17th century medical student invented just the word for the ache for sunnier days, nostalgia.
A fond childhood memory was taking the ends of cut carrots and setting them in shallow dishes of water. Within days the carrot stubs would sprout, like magic, into lacy foliage.
While you may not be able to recapture your nostalgic youth, you can quite easily regrow the edible stems and leaves of many common kitchen vegetables just by placing their inedible base in water. For best growth, set your stumps on a sunny windowsill. To keep things fresh, change the water every few days. For best results, use organic produce so you know it hasn’t been treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting.
So rather than toss the hard white lump at the base of a head of lettuce or cabbage, set this part in water, and you can grow fresh new leaves.
Place the stub in a wide cup or shallow bowl with just one or two inches of water, leafy-side up. Keep an eye on it so that the outer area doesn’t get slimy. In a week or two, fresh new baby leaves will be sprouting from the center of the stump. Of course, your cabbage or lettuce probably won’t form a true head, but you will find the new leaves tender and delicious. Perfect to use as garnishes or to liven up a salad when there are no fresh leaves left in the garden. Bulb fennel is another vegetable that is easy to regrow in water in the same way as celery.
With a bit of luck, you can even regrow bok choy, lettuce, and other leafy greens from individual leaves. Just put the leaves in a bowl with some water in the bottom. Set the bowl where it will get full sun and spray the leaves with a mist of water every couple of days. In just a week or so, you will see roots grow along with new leaves.
Because leeks, chives and celery are sold with their roots still attached, they are very easy to regrow. You can simply prop up the base in a glass with around an inch of water at the bottom. Set the glass where it will get some sunlight, and presto within a few weeks you will have fresh chives, tiny leek leaves and celery leaves to add to your cooking.
Always add more water when it gets low, just be careful you don’t drown your plants with so much water that you cover too much of the base. While the new sprouts will be thinner than the original vegetables, they will often have far more flavor because you can snip them moments before using them with no loss of flavor.
Even though you won’t grow cloves of garlic or onion bulbs themselves unless you plant them in soil, you can easily get the leftover bases of these to sprout spicy green shoots in water alone. Poke some toothpicks into a single clove of garlic and suspend it in a cup of water. Make sure the upper part of the garlic clove is above water and only about half of the clove is actually underwater. You can do the same toothpick trick with the bottom few inches of chives, green onions or scallions. In just a couple of days, bright green shoots will start to grow out of the base.
These garlic shoots, or scapes, are perfect for adding fresh garlic taste to any dish, especially salads where a whole clove of garlic might be overpowering.
Many fresh kitchen herbs readily root in water. Try placing a stem of basil, cilantro, thyme or rosemary in a vase of water and within a few weeks you will see roots. Remove the leaves on the lower part of the stems, that is anything that will be underwater. This keeps the water clean and prevents dead leaves from becoming rancid.
Maybe nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but you can use your leftover kitchen vegetables for a nostalgic garden on a windowsill. Don’t toss the ends of carrots or the stumps of celery. Set them in water, let them sprout and enjoy a trip down memory lane in the garden. In the windowsill garden, and in life, these are the good old days.