Cooking up a storm with kitchen scraps

From vegetable peels to meat scraps, everything that we throw away most times in the kitchen is seeing a comeback in a big way. Credit goes to the pandemic for teaching us to eat responsibly and embrace a no-waste policy.  

Have you ever considered that what gets thrown out of the kitchen in the name of “waste” may actually not be waste. At a time when sustainability and eating healthy are trending, this pandemic has surely made us look back into our kitchen ones again. Rich in micronutrients, peels have always been an integral part of the kitchen landscape. This so-called zero-waste movement was once ubiquitous in kitchens. Be it the banana skin or the potato skin or the bottle gourd peel or watermelon rinds, even the okra crowns, nothing went to waste. Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, founder, Edible Archives, highlights “We believe in no-waste, nose-to-tail eating all year round. Nothing is ever wasted — some vegetable peels and prawn legs get ground up in chutneys, others are bundled into boras, and some find their way into our dog’s meat stock for some vitamins! Incidentally, her favourite snack is also chicken feet! A favourite staff dish is fish head and innards cooked with greens and cauliflower stems. And what really cannot be consumed goes to the compost heap, where it breaks down to grow next year’s crop!”

Fried onion and fish innards with namjim by chef anumitra ghosh dastidar ensures nothing in the kitchen goes to waste
Fried onion and fish innards with namjim by Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar ensures nothing in the kitchen goes to waste

The lockdown played a vital role and taught an important lesson of no wastage. Unceremoniously peeling the skin was never a great idea. Chef Gurmehar Sethi of Ziu and KLAP firmly believes in the use of sustainable peels in cooking. He adds, “Most of the time peels when dehydrated well make for a great bar nibble or the peel powder works great to rim the glasses. Prawn heads and so on are great for Thai curry powder as they hold a lot of flavour. We have a separate waste bin in the kitchen and it’s absolutely important to educate and train the staff. We even weigh our wastage. In my greenhouse in Aizawl we grow everything right from dragon fruit to Naga chilli and other exotic ingredients to reduce the hassle of importing them.”

What may seem like a novel concept in the West, India has always practised in its kitchens. While chopping off the stalks of herbs like coriander or mint we don’t even realise that that is where lie the strongest flavours. Chef Vanshika Bhatia of Petite Pie Shop, whose claim to fame is her constant endeavour to focus on heritage recipes, sustainability and zero-waste, says, “It’s always a wise decision to give a facelift to waste. Like, why not sprinkle dehydrated tomato powder on top to enhance the flavour of tomato? Not only is it zero waste, it’s another flavour. I feel that eating without peeling fruits and veggies and even eating local is always a great idea. This also helps to reduce the money spent on importing ingredients.”

Green pea peel hummus is like #zerowastehero -chef vanshikha
The green pea peel hummus by Chef Vanshika Bhatia is a star of the zero-waste movement

Several Indian chefs are making a conscious effort to promote the farm-to-fork concept and support local produce and farmers. And also reduce waste. These powerhouse foods (so called “waste”) are mostly rich in fibre, making your stomach feel full for longer. Aroona Reejhsinghani in her book, Tasty Dishes from Waste Items, writes about reinventing the leftovers and creating original recipes to enjoy them in a whole new way. She further highlights how one can make the most of every ingredient. Delhi-based food historian and co-founder of ForkTales, Tanushree Bhowmik points out that “events like the Bengal Famine and Partition hardwired Bengali kitchens to make every ingredient in the kitchen count, and use them as sustainably as possible. A good example is how Bengali kitchens use peels of vegetables to make stir fries, or how mature leaves of pumpkin and gourd shoots are turned into spicy mashes, the whey left from making chhana is used in curries and dal. Not only does this minimise wastage, it also keeps the nutritional profile broad. A traditional zero-waste kitchen is one which stretched every ingredient to minimise wastage, maximise economy.” 

According to tanushree bhowmik vegetable peels can be turned into tasty stir fries and gourd shoots into spicy mashes
According to Tanushree Bhowmik vegetable peels can be turned into tasty stir fries and gourd shoots into spicy mashes

The Food Waste Index Report 2021 clearly highlights that a huge amount of food waste is generated in India. With awareness taking the front seat, a handful of restaurants are doing their bit towards the environment and utilising fruit and vegetable peels in in-house syrups, bitters, or even transforming them into potent flavouring agents. Whether you are making chutney with watermelon rind, chips with potato peels, a humble cauliflower stalk curry or even a great veg soup or stew out of vegetable stalks, these dishes add the extra facelift to the table.

Kitchen scraps that cannot be used for cooking can be composted
Kitchen scraps that cannot be used for cooking can be composted. Image: Shutterstock

It’s time to redefine the word “scrap”. So, next time you are in the kitchen just ponder do you really need to separate leaf from stem. So before you plan to throw them away, do a little google find an interesting recipe and there you are your own Masterchef.        

Ayandrali dutta
Ayandrali Dutta is a wanderess by passion and a wordsmith by profession. Exploring newer terrains, books, tea and adda with a pinch of insanity pretty much sums her up. A journalist with 13+ years experience, having worked with various leading publications, she is currently in a freelance mode and writes around food and travel. Juggling many roles, she is also a Guest Faculty at NIFT and a HomeChef who holds regional food tables in her house. 

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Sustainability, community, and the domestic market