Did you know that an average Indian home throws away 50 kilograms of food per person every year? These were the startling findings of a report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in October 2021. This year, a Food Trends Report by Godrej highlights how mindful consumption can help build eco-friendly kitchens, especially post-pandemic, in India.
A new book, The No-Waste Kitchen Cookbook: 75 Recipes To Begin Your Zero-Waste Journey by Arina Suchde, shows the way to zero-waste recipes and is among the rare few by an Indian author suitable for a modern urban set-up.
Suchde, a Mumbai-based chef, mixologist and now author, is a self-admittedly recent inductee into the realm of “sustainability in a commercial setting”, though she has been dabbling in it as a lifestyle choice since childhood and has conducted “trash cooking” workshops for home cooks in a few Indian cities. The book offers 75 vegetarian recipes across seven sections that deal not just with food but also cocktails, and shines the spotlight again on composting.
Internationally, there has been a gradual rise in the number of such books, including The Zero Waste Cookbook: 100 Recipes For Cooking Without Waste (2019) by Amelia Wasiliev and Giovanna Torrico, and The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes And Tips For A Sustainable Kitchen And Planet (2021) by Anne Marie Bonneau.
Now an Indian author has provided recipes suitable to adaptation by both commercial as well as home kitchens, given their simplicity and ease in preparation. Suchde, a vegetarian, has kept the focus on plant-based food wastage in her rather slim and evocative book.
Reading and trying out a few of the 75 recipes helped me understand and look at hitherto discarded ingredients in a whole other light. In one section, Skins And Seeds, I learnt that something as basic as pea pods, which we so often discard, make for excellent Pea Pod Soup, crispy Pea Pod Fritters and a delicious Garlicky Pea Pod Stir-Fry recipe.
In the segment Best Before, I learnt that trusting one’s instinct and palate, too, are great sustainability practices. While I wouldn’t have hesitated earlier to throw away bruised, seemingly past their prime button mushrooms, I will henceforth blitz them (it is safe to eat such mushrooms until a fuzzy white fungus starts to grow over them) into a delicious garlic-y Mushroom Pâté. A chunky thyme and rosemary-flavoured side dish, it can be transformed into a pasta sauce with a little cream and ricotta cheese thrown in at the end of the cook.
Almost mushy, blackened bananas can get a new lease of life in the form of a Nice Cream. The recipe only calls for one other ingredient, milk. And an optional splash of vanilla extract.
While the section Leftover Makeover has recipes for a handful of very obvious dishes, like stale Instant Roti Laddoos and Dal Parathas stuffed with day-old, coagulated lentils, there are a few that wowed me. For example, I would never have imagined that the discarded stalks of my favourite cruciferous vegetable, broccoli, could be whipped into a beloved dip, guacamole. The author calls it “Broccomole”, and it’s best teamed with chips made from potato peels that have been dusted with a tangy citrus salt made from fruit peels we usually consign to the garbage bin.
Suchde’s oeuvre as a mixologist comes to the fore in the section Boozy Bonus, which she dedicates to rarely seen but easy to craft zero-waste cocktails. In an age where one doesn’t think twice before purchasing imported bitters, syrups and fancy infusions, this section shows us how much one can do in the bar with cocktails made with kitchen scrap, fruit off-cuts and even spent coffee grinds.
The whisky-based Banana Old Fashioned, for example, is primarily flavoured with a Banana Peel Syrup that’s as easy to make as it is practical and delicious to taste.
The most unusual recipe perhaps is the Corn Margarita. The recipe pairs silver tequila with a cold infusion made from the fibrous corn silk that is usually thrown away .
This book moves out into gardens, too, with practical information and tips on how we can start our own mini composting units at home, at our community/housing society gardens, and beyond.
Personally, I missed a section on non-vegetarian waste. For, I believe gross wastage and the need for sustainability go far beyond vegetarian boundaries. A few tips on upcycling, managing and dealing with animal protein off-cuts and waste would have sealed the deal for me. In the second edition, perhaps?
One other crucial nit-picking observation: The (rather sparingly used) black and white sketch illustrations didn’t work as well as beautifully shot pictures would have. We do eat with our eyes too, after all.
PEA POD SOUP
Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins India
200 gm pea pods (tender, green and fresh)
1 small onion, chopped
1–2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp oil or butter
2 cups vegetable stock, or 2 cups water plus 1 stock cube
6–8 mint leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oil or butter in a pot, add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 3-4 minutes until translucent.
2. Add the roughly chopped pea pods and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the stock or water. Bring to a boil, simmer for around 15 minutes or until the pods have softened.
3. Add mint leaves after turning off the heat.
4. Once cooled, blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if the texture is too fibrous.
5. Transfer back to pot, season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust the consistency with extra stock or water if required.
6. Serve hot or chilled.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.