Cooking From Scratch: Our Top 5 Simple Homemade Versions For Your Zero Waste Kitchen

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A lot of waste in the kitchen can be prevented by making homemade versions of store-bought items like vanilla essence and milk. We share our top 5 simple DIY recipes that we use to keep our fridge and diet plastic free.

A lot of waste in the kitchen can be prevented by making homemade versions of store-bought items like vanilla essence and milk, and many of these take less time to make than it would take to go to the shops to buy it when you have the ingredients on hand.

We’ve gone from being intimidated by making our own to wanting to give every DIY recipe a try!

We’re not great cooks and we’re lazy cooks so you know these recipes are easy and pretty foolproof and have the least amount of ingredients and take the least amount of time possible.

  1. Vanilla extract

    We need vanilla extract on hand for making things like banana bread and nut milk pulp cookies (staples in our household!) so we ensure this is always available!

    Firstly, whats the difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract? While vanilla extract is usually a natural product made with vanilla pods, vanilla essence is usually a synthetic vanilla flavouring. Another reason to rather make your own!

    Although homemade vanilla essence takes no time at all to mix up, it takes a bit of time to be ready for use (about eight weeks!) so start making it long before your current stash runs out.

    You’ll need vanilla beans and vodka (there’s usually a bottle of questionable quality vodka hiding at the back of your liquor cupboard in our experience) and a glass bottle or jar to mix and store your vanilla essence in.

    We are able to buy vanilla beans loose from an organic food store up the road from us and hopefully you can find them without packaging somewhere near you too. If you’re in Australia, our ever-expanding map of bulk food stores is a good place to start to find a store near you selling unpackaged foods.

    The downside of this recipe is that it is more expensive to make than to buy synthetic vanilla essence but you can use the vanilla beans more than once and they can make a large amount of extract.

    We used up an old bottle of vodka we weren’t going to drink last time and plan on raiding our friends and family’s alcohol closets next so we don’t have to buy a new bottle. The great thing about this recipe is that you can use any brand or quality of vodka so you can use up that cheap vodka that you bought once to make punch/you were given for your birthday in your university years.

    While vodka is generally used, you can also use bourbon, rum or brandy so if you don’t have any vodka but do have one of these, use it instead.

    One last note before the recipe, when storing your vanilla essence, make sure that the vanilla bean pods are covered by the liquid to ensure no mould grows on them. When the liquid starts getting too low, put it on its side to cover them or put the extract in another bottle and refill the one with the beans in with more vodka.

    Vanilla Extract Recipe

    (recipe from Beanilla)


    • 7 vanilla beans

    • 1 cup Vodka (70 Proof/35% Alcohol)

    • 250 ml glass bottle or jar

    1. Cut each vanilla bean in half long-ways and place in the bottle
    2. Pour the cup of vodka or alcohol of your choice into the bottle, making sure that the vanilla beans are completely submerged
    3. Wait and shake! It’ll take about eight weeks to extract so make a note of when eight weeks is and give your concoction a shake once or twice a week. I placed a label with the word “Shake!” written on it on our bottle and placed the bottle where we would easily see it when opening the pantry so we didn’t forget about it.
    4. After eight weeks, remove the vanilla pods (or leave longer for a stronger flavour) and enjoy your homemade vanilla extract!

  2. Nut butter

    Homemade peanut butter has to be the easiest zero waste cooking DIY. Simply put peanuts in a blender and blend. No recipe needed!

    It is so magical when the nuts suddenly start becoming smooth. I squealed with delight the first time. Keep blending until it is the smoothness you want.

    Nuts are generally easy to find in bulk packaging free in most places so this can easily be a zero waste recipe. And it usually works out to be cheaper than commercial peanut butter.

    Buy raw nuts to use, not roasted nuts. However, apparently it gives nut butter a richer flavour and makes it smoother and quicker to blend if you roast the nuts yourself before blending them. You don't have to roast them, but you can if you want to.

    If you want to roast them, bake the nuts for 10 to 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Stir them around a few times during cooking to ensure even cooking. Let them cool before blending.

    You can add a little bit of oil and salt when blending them if you like and think it tastes better with these additions, but it is not necessary.

    You can do this with most nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans or a mixture of a few different nuts and seeds! Why not add some chocolate? How fancy you get is up to you! Get yourself some nuts and get blending and experimenting. You’ll never go store-bought again!

  3. Hummus

    Avoid store-bought hummus in plastic tubs by making your own! It's super easy and you should be able to buy most of the ingredients in bulk at a bulk food store.

    There are loads of hummus recipes online and loads of variations of ingredients - how about some pumpkin hummus or beetroot hummus? - and you even get chocolate hummus (which we have tried and is A-MAY-ZING - but you can’t beat the original hummus recipe for a staple in your fridge ready to dip snacks in, smother on sandwiches and wraps, and add to buddha bowls with.

    The first step of making hummus is remembering to start soaking the chickpeas 8 hours before you want to start making it. We prefer using dry chickpeas because they come without any waste and don’t come in a BPA-lined can and I swear they taste better (and, apparently, adding 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the soaking water makes hummus smoother), but you can use canned chickpeas too.

    The main ingredients of traditional hummus don’t really change in different recipes - chickpeas (garbanzo bean), tahini (ground sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic and salt - but we’ve found that the order of the blending of ingredients is different in different recipes, as well as the spice added, with some claiming that the different order makes it smoother.

    Apparently using ice-cold water also helps make hummus light and fluffy.

    You’ll find our current favourite recipe below!

    Hummus Recipe

    (recipe from Cookie + Kate)


    • 1.5 cups chickpeas soaked & cooked (or 1 can rinsed & drained)

    • 0.25 cups lemon juice (1.5 to 2 lemons)

    • 1 med clove of garlic, roughly chopped

    • 0.5 tsp fine sea salt

    • 0.5 cup tahini

    • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

    • 0.5 teaspoon ground cumin

    • 1 tbsp olive oil

    1. Process the lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor or high-powered blender until the garlic is very finely chopped and then let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to allow the garlic flavour to mellow
    2. Add the tahini and blend until the mixture is thick and creamy.
    3. Add the ice water while the food processor is running and blend until the mixture is smooth, pale and creamy, adding more water if needed.
    4. Add the cumin and the chickpeas and then, while blending, drizzle in the olive oil, blending until the mixture is smooth, which should take about 2 minutes. Add more ice water by the tablespoon and adjust taste if needed.

  4. Pesto / Chimichurri

    Pesto is traditionally made with basil leaves, but it can be made with all kinds of green leaves, including spinach, parsley, cilantro, arugula, scallions, kale, collards, mustard greens, radish tops, beet greens, spinach, watercress, peas, and carrot top greens.

    The pesto-making process generally only involves blending these with a few other ingredients and some olive oil. It also has so many uses - it can be used as a pasta source, a spread on bread or crackers, or as a dip.

    We generally make it with carrot top greens as a way to avoid food waste. No point in chucking them in the compost when you can make delicious pesto out of them! You’ll find the recipe we use below.

    Recipe ingredients usually include some green leaves, garlic, nuts (they don’t have to be pine nuts!), salt and pepper, and a good amount of olive oil. A hard cheese (mostly parmigiano-reggiano aka parmesan cheese or Pecorino Sardo) is also traditionally added, but this can be left out to make it vegan, or nutritional yeast flakes can be added instead.

    Another similar option that is even easier to make as it just involves mixing the ingredients together is chimichurri, which we sometimes make with our carrot tops instead of pesto using this recipe. It is great for drizzling on salads, sandwiches, meat or fish and is traditionally a mix of parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and red wine vinegar, but once again, other leaves and spices work just as well.

    Carrot Top Pesto Recipe

    (recipe from Simply Recipes)


    • 1 cup carrot top greens

    • 1 cup baby spinach

    • 1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped

    • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews

    • 1/2 tsp sea salt

    • 1/4 tsp black pepper

    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

    1. Blend the carrot top greens, baby spinach, chopped garlic, roasted cashews, salt, and pepper in a food processor.
    2. Slowly and steadily add the olive oil while the food processor is running and process until smooth.

  5. Plant milk

    Avoid tetra paks by making your own milk at home! DIYing plant-based milks is actually really easy!
    Here are Veganuary’s four steps to making homemade plant milk:

    1. Soak your nuts, seeds or grains in a bowl of water with a pinch of salt for the required amount of time (this is different for different nuts, seeds and grains) and then strain

    2. Blend your nuts, seeds or grains, gradually adding more water until you reach the desired consistency (a 1:3 ratio of nuts/seeds/grains to water usually works well)

    3. Sweeten by adding pitted dates, maple syrup, agave or coconut sugar

    4. Strain using a nut milk bag by pouring it in and squeezing the bag or strain it in another way (any material that’ll work or you can use a loose-leaf teapot like me and I’ve also seen people using coffee plungers)

    Save the leftover pulp (or use it immediately!) to make nut pulp cookies, energy bites, crackers, or fruit crumble. It can be frozen and thawed for use later on.

    Our fav options are oat milk and cashew milk as oat milk is a cheap option and cashew milk actually doesn’t have to be strained! Here’s the cashew milk we use - it’s is creamy and delicious and lasts a week in the fridge:

    Cashew Milk Recipe

    (recipe from The Healthy Chef)


    • 1 cup raw cashew nuts (soaked and drained)

    • 6 cups water

    • 6 fresh pitted dates (or some honey or maple syrup)

    • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/extract or 1 scraped vanilla bean

    • pinch sea salt

    1. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend.

What have you started cooking from scratch since starting you zero waste journey? What should we try homemaking next?

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