More with less: How to minimalise waste while cooking

As we focus on mindful living and eating during lockdown, it’s a good idea to pay attention to minimising waste too

Three months into lockdown, many of us have learnt a few valuable lessons. And the lessons learnt from our kitchen are here to stay.

With families huddled together, children attending online classes and parents working from home, there has been more cooking in many households. Naturally, the waste generated in those kitchens are also of higher volume. Minimal food wastage has to be our focal point, especially these days when the aim is to get by with a few essentials.

Chennai-based cookbook author Usha Prabhakar says that this is the right time for families to learn to lead a frugal life, and be aware and mindful of how to put kitchen waste to best use. In her book Usha’s Pickle Digest, published in 1998, Usha had dedicated a section for pickling peels and leaves. “We generally discard orange and lemon peels, unmindful of the fact that they are actually loaded with nutrients and various other vital minerals. The stem of the cauliflower is rich in sulforaphane, a plant compound with many beneficial effects,” says Usha.

Lemon Peel Pickle

  • Ingredients:
  • Lemon peel pieces 250 grams
  • Salt 100grams or to taste & make a solution with 3 cups (600 ml) water
  • Black salt: 5g
  • Cumin seeds: 10g dry roasted
  • Method:
  • Combine the lemon pieces with the salt solution. Stir in the black salt. Sun the mixture for 5 days. Stir in the roasted cumin and set aside for a day. The pickle is ready for use. It lasts for 1 month. Sun occasionally. Use regular coarse salt in the absence of black salt, though black salt gives the pickle its characteristic sulfurous smell. Recipe by Usha Prabhakaran

Jeyashri Suresh, a Hongkong-based food blogger, says that even though she does not use vegetable peels to make any dish, fearing pesticide deposits, she does pay attention to reducing waste. She collects the centre, hard portion of the cabbage and unused portions of various vegetables, boils them to make vegetable stock, and this broth is used to make lemon coriander (using only the stem portions) soup.

“We can also make bread soup with the trims of bread slices. When I steam raw plantain to prepare a dish called vazhakkai podimas (a dry curry with raw banana), I use the peel to make a delicious chutney. Recently, I got to know of a thogayal recipe that uses snake gourd pith,” Jeyashri says.

Septuagenarian Gita Rajamani,says that food wastage is something every family needs to pay attention to, and cook lesser quantities than required. “Avoid hoarding and stocking up. Best is monthly planning. If you end up buying more, preserve them by placing dried neem leaves wrapped in a clean cotton cloth while storing lentils and place Vasambu (Acorus Calamus) sticks in rice containers. During my childhood, when there were no refrigerators, we hardly wasted any food. If sambar, rasam and other preparations were left over, they were mixed together, heated on a fire woodstove and left there overnight and in the morning this Erichakulambu was mixed with rice and gingelly oil and served as breakfast,” she reminisces.

Green platter

For food blogger Sharmila Ribero, collecting cauliflower stems, broccoli stems and all other stems and peels of vegetables and making a broth or stock is a routine these days. This broth is used as soup base. “This is not only delicious but also nutritious. Similarly, we can use coriander stems and roots for chutney or gravies. I grind coriander and mint leaves into chutney and freeze and use.”

Sharmila suggests that families grow greens and herbs. “Basil, curry leaves, mint and coriander can be grown even in balconies. Growing microgreens using fenugreek and mustard seeds is even simpler. You can sow them in shallow trays in the kitchen and the harvest could be used in raithas and salads.”

Blender composting

Organic waste generated in our kitchen can be put in a bin for composting, but this method takes many weeks and those who live in apartments may find the process difficult. Moreover, it is not easy to maintain it stench-free.

“Which is why I recommend blender composting, a fantastic way to make use of kitchen waste to create your own nutrient-rich soil,” says Usha.

Plantain peel thogayal

  • Ingredients
  • 1 raw plantain
  • 3 tbsp curd
  • A small piece of tamarind
  • 7 pods garlic
  • 4 green chillies
  • A few sprigs of coriander leaves
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Method
  • Grind together all the ingredients raw. No need to roast any of them. Mix it with hot rice and a little ghee. Recipe by Jeyashri Suresh

“It is a process of blending organic kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit peel, egg shells and coffee grounds. But avoid dairy products (they will hinder the composting process) and meat as it might attract rodents,” she cautions before moving on to further details: “We blend the waste with water, in about one-fourth of the blender, to create a pourable liquid that can be fed to plants directly,” she adds. This mixture can be poured directly around the roots of big trees or poured in a pot with mud and allowed to compost.

Blending significantly hastens the decomposition process: it takes less than 10 days to decompose, and there is absolutely no foul smell.

With gardening gaining popularity during lockdown, this is a fast and efficient way to enrich the soil.

Blender composting is convenient for apartment dwellers who want to make use of organic waste, but do not have the set-up to build a full-blown compost bin.

Yet, they can create their own homemade organic compost in days instead of weeks, adds Usha.

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