Ugly Produce

This blog post was written by Liluye Staff Writer, Katie Hutchinson, who is a driven and compassionate environmentalist and humanitarian.

Stores typically reject fruit and vegetables that are “ugly” or “imperfect” looking because their display doesn’t look as good and shoppers are less likely to pick up a bruised apple when a green shiny one sits right next to it. While these “ugly” options are typically fine, edible, and delicious, they are overlooked and thrown out, ending up in landfills. 

On top of these popular, outward imperfections, an “ugly” fruit or veggie also refers to one that is wilting or dying. Grocers pull these bad boys out well in advance but we tend to find these types of “uggos” in the drawers of our refrigerator. It could look like squash you forgot about because you bought it on a whim, a head of lettuce that you haven’t finished yet and the leaves are beginning to brown, or even a potato that is starting to grow a few spuds on the side.

Even after I left my house for a week to visit family over the holidays, I came back to find browning bananas, rotting tomatoes, wet mushrooms, veggies that were a little softer than I’d like…you get the picture. But instead of tossing them, or chopping them up to put in the compost bin, I decided to give them a second life.

Below are a few recipes that I not only live by, but are a great way to reuse the produce that is going bad, or a way to use the ones you get in the garden that don’t quite reach that “beauty” standard.

Side Dishes

Salsa – classic for all tomatoes that are starting to go a bit bad; not to mention the flavor, in my opinion, is so much better.

4 tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
3 jalapenos, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2-3 teaspoons cumin
Salt to taste

Chop the tomatoes, onion, and jalapenos as finely as you’d like and throw them into a bowl. Let the salsa rest for about an hour, but it’s usually best the next day.

Roasted Veggies – when in doubt, throw all of the veggies you have into the oven, cutting away any unwanted parts.

2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
4 minced garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 cups asparagus or broccoli
2 cups cremini mushrooms
1 zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 yellow squash
2 cups butternut squash, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (Fahrenheit).
Grease a large, foiled baking sheet.
Prepare the vegetables and place them into a large bowl.
Toss together oil, balsamic vinaigrette, minced garlic cloves, dried thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste.
Place the veggies in a large, sprayed baking sheet.
Put into a 425 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, but for the last five minutes, place them under the broiler.


Mulligatawny – a favorite when I have apples, carrots, celery, and onions laying around. This could be an excuse to let them go bad.

2 tablespoons butter
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
4 teaspoons curry powder
4 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 cups cooked turkey meat, chopped
2 apples, chopped
1/4 cup raw white rice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)

In a large pot, melt the butter on medium to high heat. Once it has melted, add onions, celery, carrots, and lower the heat.
Once the onions are translucent, add the curry powder, stir, and add the stock, rice, and bay leaves. Then, increase the heat to high until it reaches a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
After the 5 minutes are up, add the apples, chopped turkey, salt, and pepper to the mixture for another 10 minutes; stirring occasionally.
At this point, if you want a thicker soup, add the cream.
Add more salt and pepper, to taste.

Mushroom Soup – if you don’t want to throw those mushrooms that are starting to become wet in the oven or grill, this soup is a go-to.

3 8 ounce containers of baby bellas mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion diced (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic minced or 2 large pressed
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup Pinot Noir
1 cup evaporated whole milk
1 teaspoon fresh thyme minced (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot.
Add onion and garlic; sauté until tender.
Add mushrooms and sauté until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add flour, cook, and stir for 1 minute.
Add the wine and deglaze the pan.
Add broth and herbs.
Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Puree soup in a blender, in batches.
Add the cream, salt, and pepper.


Banana Bread – bananas just go bad way too quickly… so make some bread. 

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups mashed banana (about 4 large bananas)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set it aside.
Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until well combined (about 1 minute). Add in the eggs and vanilla, making sure to mix well after each ingredient. Add the mashed banana, and stir by hand.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined, making sure not to over mix the batter.
In a separate bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon (for the cinnamon sugar swirl) and set aside.
For one layer of the cinnamon sugar, pour about half of the banana bread into the loaf pan and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on top, then pour the remaining batter on top.
Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If the banana bread becomes too dark, make a tent with aluminum foil for the last 15-20 minutes of baking.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool in the loaf pan for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the loaf pan and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Mango Smoothie – when I buy mangoes, I always buy way too many and can’t eat enough in time… so mango smoothies have become my favorite.  

1/2 cup of mango 
1 cup spinach 
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups of milk 
1/2 cup of yogurt 

Blend, blend, blend. 

I hope you enjoy a few of these recipes with ugly produce. Happy cooking! 

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