Recounting the holidays spent in her maternal grand mother’s home in Amritsar, my mother recounts tales of the scullery and Relu, the cook, remembering the fastidiousness in the Punjabi kitchen, where everything from root and stalk to leaf and flower were relished. The cauliflower nobs that we so carelessly discard today were tossed in to a karahi to make gobhi ke danthal ki sabzi. Pumpkin or kaddu was cooked with the skin. Shucked pea pods were carefully collected, their fibrous veins discarded for the soft inner shell, which was cooked into soft sweetness with a bite—a wholesome meal.
Each winter, whole cauliflower heads and carrots would be strung and dangled around the eaves of the peeli kothi, treated with salt and preserved for spring, where the shrunken vegetables would be revived and the flesh consumed beyond the season. No part of the vegetable was a lesser morsel – each had their place of pride in the kitchen.
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It is only the modern culinary industry that has strayed away from using an ingredient to the fullest. The rush for special cuts and presentations has led to discarding imperfect-looking produce from retail shelves and as a result from our plates. Our current food habits result in a shocking amount of wastage.
The United National Environmental Programme states that one-third of the food produced to feed mankind is wasted every year, which equates to around 1.3 billion tonnes annually. To put it into context, that is more than the total amount of food produced in sub-Saharan Africa—a devastating consequence of style over substance in the scullery.
A way of life
Chef Prateek Sadhu, Founder and Executive Chef, Masque recounts that while growing up, his earliest memories were cooking with the fruits and vegetables from his aunt’s farm. “When you’re harvesting those ingredients yourself, you tend to utilise them as much as possible, and traditional recipes develop with that in mind.” For the Kashmiri chef, produce wasn’t thriving during the winters either, so they’d make the most of what they had. The philosophy articulated in Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, was a way of life for them. Following the oft quoted philosophy of, “If you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing,” on Sadhu’s menu featuring rarely eaten meat parts: offal, brain, liver, heart, testicles, everything.
(L) Prateek Sadhu, (R) Kalari pancake (photo courtesy: Rohan Hande)
Agrees Rushina Munshaw- Ghildiyal, an avid food chronicler and founder of A Perfect Bite Cook Studio, a Gujarati married into the Garwahli community. It was during visits to her husband’s ancestral home in the mountains wherein she learnt the deep symbiotic connection between what we grow and how we eat. With kitchen gardens in abundance, seasonal produce is the highlight of meals, eating the leaves, pods, flowers, stalk and whatever was remaining was composted in the garden. “For instance, radish or mooli was made into various sabzis, such as thichodi and paturi, using the tuber, leaves and the pods.” Plants are consumed throughout the growing season, only using whatever was needed, letting it grow till it withered away once its life span was over.
Says Chef and Mixologist, Arina Suchde, who has consulted with The Farm in Chennai and The Pantry Café in Mumbai on creating zero waste menus, “If we look at food habits of developing countries, minimal wastage in the kitchen was ingrained in to their culture, be it Mexico, India or Columbia, wherever food was scarce and expensive. While researching, I realised that food waste occurs at so many levels, starting from the farms all the way to the end consumer.”
But Suchde wanted to shift away from traditional recipes. According to her, the young modern urban dweller was well travelled and didn’t necessary relate to palwal ki chutney and danthal ki sabji, so she wanted to create modern menus that appealed to this palate. “There was nothing being done about all the trimmings, scraps, peels, pulps, seeds, etc., which were perfectly edible and nutritious, so I started developing recipes that use those as the main ingredient.” At The Pantry Café that serves up fresh, organic, local and seasonal produce, she uses otherwise discarded ingredients, such as pomegranate and orange peels for a detox tea and carrot oat tacos, made from baked carrot, ginger pulp waste from the juice, served with with refried beans, pulled pork and avocado-sour cream drizzle.
Making your kitchen zero waste
To use a fruit or vegetable whole, it is necessary to use only organic ones, as the skin holds the maximum nutritional value, but also retains pesticides and fertilizer residue. Some of the easiest ways to plunge into a zero-waste kitchen is to use the peels and trimmings—beets, pumpkins, carrot tops, celeriac, the list is endless—into chips, finishing salts or crispy toppings, or using them in stocks and sauces.
Also read: 7 ways to get creative with leftover fruit and veggie peels
Chef Sadhu, who dislikes food wastage, stretches one ingredient across several dishes. “We had a savoury pumpkin cheesecake that used the flesh, the skin as a crispy base, and the seeds as a dehydrated powder dusted over it,” he says, adding that the kitchen is involved in constant R&D on how to extract maximum flavour from a single ingredient and in many ways, whether through fermenting the stems into a juice or preserving fruits.
He advises people to shop smart. “Buy ingredients you know you can use in different ways; the internet is a treasure trove of information. Use carrot tops to make chutney, for example; don’t discard the stems of herbs such as coriander, they hold a lot of flavour! Trimmings – both veggies and meat – are always a great way to add flavour to homemade stock, which you can freeze till you need it,” he says, adding that composting is a great way to deal with the remainder waste that cannot be used.
But for those who do not have the time to devote for elaborate kitchen rituals, Chef Suchde, recommends you use ingredients whole in your traditional recipes, for instance, if you have organic potatoes, then don’t discard the peel while preparing aloo sabzi or fries. This is applicable to any root vegetable.
Also read: What is the right way to cook vegetables?
Even pumpkin seeds can be dried out on a baking tray and used to consume as a snack or in a soup. Another favourite of hers is the water melon rind, which she uses to make gazpachos, salads and soups, because of its high-water content and neutral taste. And she says that you must not strain soups to retain the goodness of fibres. “Fibre is the most underrated component in the field of nutrition,” Suchde explains.
(L) Chef Arina Suchde, (R) Variety of dishes at The Pantry Cafe
But will this become a bigger movement in the hearth? Munshaw-Ghildiyal believes that the shift towards zero waste kitchens is a conscious but niche movement, not restricted by socio-economic boundaries, but is propagated rather by the educated and environmentally conscious: “Embracing a zero-waste kitchen is more about understanding and adjusting to the modern realities of food.”
Also read: Check out LF's series on slow living
The Pantry Café along with Chef Arina Suchde shares some zero waste recipes from their kitchen
CORN SILK TEA
Silk from 1 Corn Cob
4 Cups Water
- Boil water and steep the corn silk for 10-15 minutes and strain.
- Note: If not using immediately, the corn silk can be dried and stored in an airtight container for future use.
PINEAPPLE PEEL TIKI COCKTAIL
Peels from 1 Pineapple
500 ml Water
Sugar/ Honey as per personal preference (Optional)
1 inch piece Cinnamon
2 Star Anise
White/Gold Rum or Tequila
- Boil the pineapple peels, cinnamon, star anise and cloves in water for 30 minutes to extract flavour. Sweeten as desired. Serve chilled or with ice for a non-alcoholic drink.
- For the cocktail: In a cocktail shaker, add 60 ml of Rum/Tequila, 120 ml of the pineapple peel drink, 10 ml lime/lemon juice, and 1 sage leaf. Add ice and shake well till frothy. Pour into a glass and float the sage leaf as garnish.
POTATO SKIN SOUP
Skins from 3-4 Potatoes, soaked in water and kept aside
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 small onion chopped
1-2 Cups Vegetable stock, corn cob stock or water
¼ Cup Milk (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 teaspoon of any one or a combination of fresh herbs like Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, etc.
1/4 cup Boiled Corn Kernels Chopped Chives or Parsley for garnish
- Heat oil in a pan; add the chopped onion and sauté till soft and translucent.
- Add the potato skins, salt, pepper and herbs and sauté for 5-7 minutes or till the skins are softened.
- Add milk and cook for 2 minutes.
- Cool and blend till smooth, add stock depending on the desired consistency of the soup.
- Add the boiled corn and heat once again before serving.
- Garnish with chives/parsley.
- Note: You can also add other chopped vegetables like carrots, beans, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc. Optional garnish: Crispy bacon bits or crispy fried sage.
CARROT PEEL PESTO
1 Cup Carrot Peels
¼ Cup Roasted Pumpkin Seeds/Walnuts/Pinenuts/Almonds
2-3 tablespoon Parmesan Cheese
1-2 cloves Garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
¼ Cup Olive oil
- Add all the ingredients to a blender/food processor and pulse to break up the carrot peels and seeds. Start with half the quantity of olive oil and blend till smooth, add more gradually if required.
- Serve with crackers, lavash, toast or pita bread. It can also be used as a sandwich spread.
Featured image conceptualised by: Vartika Pahuja