Waste Not, Want Not
Our food columnist dishes up a quick guide to stem-to-root cooking.
I don’t remember the last time I threw away kaccha kela (green plantain) skins. Why would I? They are delicious. For a quick and simple snack, I cut them into short strips and stir fry them with any combination of masalas. (Here’s a recipe that tells you how to make them into a chutney.) I love using whole baby brinjals in curries, because when cooked, not only do the green stems absorb the flavours of the dish, they also have a lovely creamy, meaty texture of their own. The white roots of kothmir are even more intensely scented than the leaves and stems, with a slightly earthy note, as compared to the spicy aroma of the herb.
These are not the only otherwise-trashed bits of produce I eat. I’ve always found it worth looking beyond just the popular parts of a vegetable. Bare corn cobs (those that have been stripped off their kernels) can be used to make a sweet, robust stock with which you can cook pulao, or use as a soup base/veggie substitute for chicken stock. I also recommend saving the rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano, or any other hard cheese—by just tossing them in (remembering to strain them out later, of course), they add incredible depth and tons of umami to any soup.
In 1999, English chef Fergus Henderson released his first book, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, which detailed how to use every part of a pig, including bits not typically cooked such as the spleen and tongue. Henderson’s personal slogan (and an oft-repeated quote since the book was published) has been, “If you’re going to kill the animal, it seems only polite to use the whole thing.” The nose-to-tail eating movement has since caught on around the world, becoming fashionable in many countries, including the US and Australia. In the last couple of years, this trend (at least in the western world) has embraced the plant kingdom as well. The produce-driven movement even has its own catchphrase: stem-to-root cooking. In India, the idea is hardly a novelty. Various communities have found creative and delicious ways to minimise wastage from their produce.
The celebrated recipe book of the Parsi ladies’ organisation the Time & Talents Club has a section of “anti-waste” recipes in the chapter called “Prize Winning and Exhibited Dishes” that includes banana skin “par eeda” (eggs on banana skin) and green pea pod soup. Palanpuri Jain recipe bible Dadimano Varso eschews garlic and onions in keeping with the beliefs of the community, but offers delights such as “pakki keri nu chhal nu shaak” or a semi-dry curry made with ripe mango peel, which also uses the boiled seeds of ripe mango. Another recipe from the book is “karela ni chhal nu besan”, a gram flour gravy containing the peel of the bitter gourd. Recently, my vegetable seller gave me his family recipe for a hot and tart chutney made from the rough skin of the ridge gourd (here’s a close approximation). These are but a handful of hundreds of dishes.
Here are a few unloved but still lovely veggie components I try to use in these warm, wet months. Pumpkin skins make a lovely stir fry with eggs in this Bengali dish. The skin of orange pumpkin, softened in a little salted butter and stock and then finely pureed with cream, make for a bright, hearty sauce to serve alongside a grilled chicken breast or as pasta sauce. Bengali cuisine uses several veggie peels, perhaps most effectively in the sauteed khosha chorchori. For a dish that comes pretty close in texture to pork cracklings, follow this recipe for daata (potato) chorchori, but deep fry the potato skins before adding them to the dish for crunch.
Summer veggies offer us some unusual greens when winter’s wonders are withering during our hotter months. I most often use radish leaves in parathas (they make a better stuffing than the actual root), but the pesto made from them boasts a slightly sharp, peppery, vegetal aroma. Its creamy texture works best on a bruschetta with a dab of goat cheese and seared cherry tomatoes. Owing to their versatile herby flavour, carrot greens can be used in a pesto as well as in a dozen other things. Use them in green salad; as a vinaigrette with citrus, bacon, or yoghurt; or maybe just sauteed with a touch of freshly minced garlic under a poached egg for a lovely breakfast.
Pumpkin seeds, when peeled, salted and roasted (in a pan, oven or microwave) make a TV-watching snack that beats popcorn. Pulverised in a dry grinder, they can be used to provide body to gravies in place of cashews, cream or onions. Beet leaves are excellent sauteed with sesame oil and seeds, as well as combined with spinach in palak paneer. Their bittersweet vegetal flavour can help create an elegant salad—roast whole beets with their green tops attached, chop both and use them in a twist on the popular combination of beets with goat cheese, orange segments and arugula. The most astonishingly delicious and simple stem-to-root summer recipe is also very low risk: watermelon rind pickle. It’s easy to prepare (you’ll also find a recipe in the Time & Talents Club book), and makes a super crunchy, sweet and tart side to a spicy dal-chawal meal. But of course, as usual, treat this list simply as introductory experiments. A lot of what we think is trash could most likely be an interesting and unusual component of your dinner.Tags: stem-to-root cooking, The Tastemaker, Vegetables