Bindu Gopal Rao
The concept of zero-waste cooking is simple — ensuring that no part of the ingredient goes waste. So, think peels, seeds and skin of vegetables and fruits that are normally discarded, being actually used innovatively and intelligently to give you a dish that is as tasty as it is sustainable.
Zero-waste cooking is an approach to minimise food waste by reducing, refusing, reusing and, as a final resort, recycling the ingredients for dishes. The concept calls for using every possible part of food product before it reaches the bin.
“For example, take our morels, polenta porridge and tomato broth. Morels are dried wild mushrooms. These need to be re-hydrated in hot water before cooking. A lot of people would discard the water used to boil morels, but we make a reduction out of it. This is used to cook the polenta porridge. Morels have a very woody texture and aroma. The broth has a very distinct umami flavour, which lends itself very well to the polenta. The polenta is then paired with morels cooked in heirloom tomatoes and San Marzano tomato broth,” says Vanika Chaudhary, founder of Sequel Bistro & Juice Bar at Bandra & Kala Ghoda in Mumbai.
Restaurants are putting things like peels to use too. At Hotel Sea Princess, also in Mumbai, potato and tomato peels are dehydrated and used as crunchy garnishes. Executive chef Jerson Fernandes has more to surprise us. “We also use the strawberry tops while reducing sugar syrup to give it that flavour of berries. Shrimp shells and fish meat trimmings are used for flavouring stocks and so are vegetable trimmings. Bread trimmings go into a dish I innovated. Called the bread lasagna, it is again a zero wastage signature recipe.”
There are some vegetables, particularly carrots, that lend themselves to zero-waste cooking so well. Their leaves can be used to make pesto with basil or chimichuri with parsley. Beet greens (from beetroot) are an excellent source of fibre, calcium, Vitamin A and K and these nutritious greens can used in smoothies/soups/juices instead of being discarded, as is the normal practice. One just needs to think creatively and use these for cooking.
“Raw banana peel, cauliflower stem, broccoli stem, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander roots, beetroot leaf, carrot leaf, radish leaf, carrot peel, parsley stem, potato peel, pea pods, and pineapple core lend themselves to rich and healthy delicacies. For instance, raw banana peels can be used to make cutlets and chutneys. Orange peels can be turned into candied orange or can be dehydrated and powdered for flavouring,” says Chef Naveen Handa, executive chef, JW Marriott, Chandigarh.
Likewise, fennel bulb can be used in salads and the fond can be used in broths and soups. Chef Rishim, Olive Bar and Kitchen, Mumbai, says all root vegetables, herbs, sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower can be zero-waste vegetables.
“We try to use all the trimmings. For example, cauliflower stalks gets pickled, broccoli stems gets fermented for salsa, onion peels are roasted and burnt for ash,” says Chef Rishim.
For Fernandes, the best application would be the water used to boil/soak chick peas. He says it is a very good substitute for egg white in making mousses and other desserts. He uses it to make a vegetarian hazelnut mousse slab, chick pea water mousse and several other desserts.
Cooking without discarding is definitely the new trend in restaurants, but has been employed in Indian kitchens since eons. Chef Krishnan Dinakaran, executive chef, Three Dots and a Dash, says, “It was an essential part of Indian cooking until a few decades ago.” Remember your grandmother putting bits of peapod in aloo-matar? Chef Dinakaran says zero-waste cooking has two-fold advantage: one it helps reduce wastage and secondly it is healthy because it adds a lot of nutritive value to a dish.
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