Cabbage butts, anyone?

You'll find them at Teaism. The dish is part of the "trash or treasure" part of the menu, which was conceived by chef Alison Swope as a way to try to use food that may otherwise be thrown away, co-owner Michelle Brown said.

In the case of Napa cabbage, the cruciferous vegetable features in Teaism's chicken salad. The tender leaves are just fine raw, but the cabbage butt -- the end and first bit of leaves -- would be too tough to use in the salad, Brown said. So Swope decided she'd stir-fry them with a house-made gochujang sauce.


Teaism's "trash or treasure" dishes, clockwise from front: bread salad, fried chard stems and stir-fried Napa cabbage butts. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Chard stems separated from their leaves, which are used in a grilled salmon dish, get dipped in coconut milk, coated in panko crumbs and fried. They look like mozzarella sticks but make you feel a bit more grown-up and health-conscious. The final "trash or treasure" dish features a panzanella-style salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, vinaigrette and bread crusts from the focaccia that Teaism bakes for its burgers.

The new menu items came as part of Teaism's menu reboot earlier this year.

"We had to kind of clean up 20 years of cut and paste and get a little more serious about cross utilization of products," Brown said. The $5 "trash or treasure" items -- intended in part to appeal to budget diners -- haven't completely caught on with diners, she said. She said she thinks that's because people don't know how filling they are. "They're not huge portions but they're not super small," she explained.

We ordered them all and found them generously portioned -- two or three would make a satisfying lunch for most people. One would be a perfect snack, while Brown suggested ordering one with a side of rice for a light meal.

Food waste has become a topic du jour, with endeavors including celebrations of "ugly produce" and stores selling items approaching their expiration dates.

"We're supposed to become more conscious of all these things," Brown said.

Teaism, 2009 R St. NW; 800 Connecticut Ave. NW; 400 Eighth St. NW; 682 N. St. Asaph St., Alexandria. (Not all "trash or treasure" items are available at all locations.) www.teaism.com.

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