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With most countries the world over in lockdown and covid-19 looming over our heads, the way we cook (in the absence of takeaways and order-ins and help in the kitchen) is now drastically different. There are some people who have needlessly hoarded groceries (that everybody and their uncle knows they are more likely to waste than use). There are some who can't so much as step out to buy basic grains or pulses - to save their lives (I've spoken to a few whom I care for, unfortunately). There are some who have taken to cooking simple and basic meals themselves. And there are some (the likes of me, perhaps) who are using this time to make the most of what we have in our kitchens and make new things when we can.

Of course, a large part of this edition will, therefore, be about how you can reuse what you'd otherwise throw away. It's something I LOVE doing. And there's never a dearth of ideas here once you've gotten a hang of it!

In an older newsletter, I remember speaking about pan roasting meat and veggies. Of course, do that. By all means. But you can always do more, you can. I was tired of my cauliflower sabji the other week, so I decided to use the cauliflower to make some hummus instead. I'm so glad I did. Much lighter than its chickpea (authentic) counterpart. But it tastes just the same. And you can use the stem as well, a cauliflower that's going a little old if you want to... and it will work. Of course, this isn't quite a solution for using the leaves. But it is one for using a part of the stem we might conveniently otherwise toss way while making a sabji. Nobody is going to stop you from defaulting to the usual hummus recipe made with chickpeas. But if you need more chickpea ideas, there's always aquafaba and crisps and what not!

Cauliflower stems and leaves make yummy crisps (tried and tested and happily consumed) too. I'm quite sure the leaves make a pretty yummy pesto. I was out for groceries this morning and I found carrots - with their tops. And oh boy, I can totally see myself making a pesto pasta this week.

Which then brings me to a handful of interesting things I've been seeing on the internet around low waste too - Waste Free Wednesdays, Low waste cocktails like the ones for Wasted at Woodside, Mumbai, Trash Tiki in L.A. and more. That 'garbage' cocktails are becoming a trend is not really any surprise then! In your home kitchens, you can use leftover fruit bits in a sangria, mashed up pineapple slices (often the last bits if you're using a tin of the fruit) with gin or vodka (alcohol flavoured pineapple is absolutely delicious!), essential oil gotten by using a candle over some citrus peels in a cocktail, the possibilities are endless!

Stepping a little into the sustainability territory here, citrus peels find their place not only in cocktails but also in bio enzymes and liquid soap bases. Reetha, from when we were little, is making a come back because it is all-natural.

Reetha for hair or natural detergents sure is cool. But have you tried saving leftover soap bars and making a new-and-improved custom bar of soap? Melting down those last nubs of soap, adding an essential oil of your choice and probably some exfoliant makes it a fantastic conversation starter (if you're into that sort of thing) and it doesn't even really take that much effort!
Homemade foot scrubs, manicure scrubs and body scrubs are actually fairly easy. Of course, buying them from another country when you're travelling might give you a thrill too. But if you're the kind who worries about your carbon footprint or single-use plastic (or being frugal), making them at home doesn't hurt one bit.

To expect everybody to not use plastic or to make their own soap is near impossible, I know. And it's wrong to fault one's choices really. Some folk might prioritize DIY (food or tables or soaps or whatever). And other folks might prioritize reading a book or taking an online course or three in these times. 

One of the other things I've seen a lot of people do of late is to use the whole vegetable/animal when they cook - root to leaf/fruit/shoot... Nose to Tail... Farm to Table/Fork...

A few months ago, The Bombay Canteen had a beautiful concept around using all parts of the goat (one of their co-owners passed away last week from covid-19, and it was heartbreaking, to say the least). And there's a book by Fergus Henderson (of St. John's in London) called The Whole Beast that does that with pig too.

Taking things to the next level and perhaps not in the best possible way (but that's just me!) are vegans. A little while ago, I read about a pulled pork burger that was vegan. The pulled pork was replaced with a faux pulled pork made with banana peel.

In fact, if you already don't know, several cuisines use parts of the banana. The flower is used in Vazhakkoombu thoran in Kerala. Banana leaves are used to serve food (or even wrap food to preserve it longer or to steam and eat it). The fruit, oh well, eat it as it is, or make a smoothie or even an easy ice-cream! And if you think it's getting old and brown, use the over-ripe fruit to make banana bread! They're all the rage these days (on Instagram amidst the lockdown)!

... Or then coriander leaves as garnishes, coriander stem and root used to make broths more flavourful (trust me, this really does work!), finely chopped coriander stem in an Asian dipping sauce... Or well, the humble, good ol' drumstick - all our curry concoctions across the country that use the sticks, moringa leaves being a suddenly emerging superfood, flowers in Gujju kadhi... I don't think our grandmums were told how to be 'sustainable' when they cooked. It's something they just did.

If you put your mind to it, you really can use up these bits that you'd throw away in seemingly fancy weekend meals. Two birds with one stone, if you ask me - making the most of what you have in tough times and being sustainable in your cooking.

I'm sure we all have ways of getting through this crisis - for some, it's an extended vacation... some are working more hours than they normally would... some are learning a new art form (others, re-kindling it) - painting or embroidery or even yoga! But at the end of it all, we've all got to eat. And some people may be extremely comfortable with eating and/or cooking the same things day in and day out. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But a little bit of variety (especially of the good kind) never hurt anyone.

With that, here are some book recommendations for this month. I know online delivery services aren't working (at all or then not half as efficiently as they used to a month ago) right now. So feel free to reach out to me for these books, if you want them. I have a hard copy for myself of course, but also a soft copy that I'm happy to share with you.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Love Your Leftovers.

I'll be very honest. I'll never ever tire of recommending this book. It's a treasure for the newbie home cook and the seasoned (pun intended, haha)one alike.
Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast.

I'm well aware that a lot of ingredients and cooking techniques mentioned here may not be conducive to the average Indian kitchen. But the book will surely give you a plethora of ideas.
It goes without saying, stay safe, y'all. We'll get through this. We will. If 2019 has been a shitty year for me, 2020 too will pass. And if it passes for me, rest assured, I'll be dragging you along with me too. I promise!

Until next time, nom nom!
- Meha
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In case you missed what I sent out last month, you can visit this link to go to the archives. Since I've also been reading up since then, here's what has popped up:
  1. It will be very very difficult for many of us to forget Floyd Cardoz.
  2. Cooking can be therapeutic. I have known this about myself for a few years now. And the more and more I read about others feeling the same way, my spirits are lifted.
  3. It’s neither easy nor convenient to want to change the world, but we must stretch our imaginations, and never forget that we have gone from cave-dwellers to space explorers in the blink of an eye.” And look where we are today. Sigh.
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