Clever Cooking in Lockdown (and Beyond)

The global pandemic and ensuing lockdown has changed not just the way we live, but also how we cook and eat.

Those who had never stepped foot in a kitchen before are now discovering they have an affinity towards it, with home chefs and budding bakers using this time to get creative in the kitchen, as we work around the paucity of ingredients we once took for granted. We’re cutting down on food waste, cooking from scratch (who needs shop-bought granola when a homemade batch is far more gratifying?) and embracing dining-in as the new dining-out.

If necessity is truly the mother of all invention, here’s sharing some inspiration to help you make the most of your Quarantine Kitchen. Of course, these tips should serve us well when life goes back to normal (or as normal as it can be) too, with one of the few silver linings of this hot mess being that perhaps, we’re finally learning to live and eat more sustainably. 


Repurposing Discards

With banana-bread emerging the cult hero of the crisis – blackened, spotty bananas have shone a light on adopting a zero-waste approach in the kitchen, opening up a world of wonderfully-delicious possibilities for baking or cooking with overripe fruits, as well as indeed items perceived to be past their shelf life.

Have bruised apples? Stir up Apple Sauce.

Leftover peels? Simmer them on the stove to make vegetable stock for thickening soups, stews and curries.

Didn’t quite finish your rice? Make mylk for your next coffee or overnight oats.

Week-old bread? Bake croutons, whip up French Toast or make Palotte Cacio e Ova (a dish from Abruzzo, Italy which translates to bread and cheese balls!).

In fact, even aquafaba – the cooking water from cooking legumes (from beans to chick peas) can be saved and repurposed. Did you know, when concentrated – this water is thick with a viscous texture similar to egg-whites, So much so that whipped aquafaba can be substituted for egg whites in anything and everything from brownies to meringues and pavlova, even giving rise to vegan cheese!

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It may sound daunting to take steps towards #sustainability in your daily life, but the easiest place to start is your own kitchen. Don’t bin those veggie scraps, broth them! . Save onion skins, carrot peel, mushroom stems, herb stalks, and cabbage cores until you’ve gathered about 3 cups (Pro Tip: Freeze your scraps so you can collect them over time.) . Then simply toss into a deep pan along with the spices of your choice – cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns, bay leaf or cloves. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for an hour. Strain, and keep in the fridge for 4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. . Your homemade #ScrapStock can be used to bolster flavours in soups, stews, and rice dishes. . P.S. We actually enjoy ours just as is with a dash of salt and pepper! #FoodhallIndia #ZeroWaste

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High-Octane Flavour Boosts

Recalibrate everyday dishes with a slant of the spices you have at home. Toasting your staple spices in fact, lends a fragrant hit to cooking as opposed to just adding heat.

Cumin seeds (jeera), caraway seeds (black jeera), coriander seeds (dhaniya) from your masala dabba and dried red chillies are all you need to get started on blitzing homemade harissa, a fiery red chilli paste which can vivify humble veggies, marinated meats and even eggs. Then there’s dukkah – a textured blend of spices, nuts and seeds, adding a craveable crunch when scattered atop your avocado toast, roasts, dips or salads. 

Hopping firmly off the store-bought wagon, you can also make your own raw tahini paste by grinding sesame seeds with olive oil. If you know, you know that tahini can elevate just about everything – including basic chocolate-chip cookies – with a creamy touch of nuttiness.

Speaking of which, pantry staples such as peanut butter also rush to the rescue in adding a nutty boost to stews, stir-fry sauces and noodles. Nut butters in fact are fabulously-versatile, not to mention addictive (I love them heaped on my overnight oats). If you blitz up your own batch at home, you’ll discover that it’s far tastier than the store-bought variety not least as you can create your own blend of favourite nuts and seeds, adding in extras such as sea salt and chocolate, all the while controlling the salt content.


Same Staples, New Spin

Beans, dals, legumes.

They’re good for more than just rajma-chawal, khichdi and simple sprouts (although I have to admit that each of the aforementioned dishes feature on our table at least once a week!). Why not also draw inspiration from globe-trotting cuisines to experiment with these shelf-stable sources of protein?

Lentils and rice cooked together manifest in mujaddara , my favourite Lebanese dish which is simple but substantive in itself; while dals can also be savoured as Sri-Lankan-style dhals, constellating on coconut and curry leaves to lend a light creaminess to your stew.

As for beans, well they’re apt for a quick Mexican meal. Refried and stuffed into tortillas with the right seasonings and cheese, they make a mean quesadilla. Beans are also a starring half of Pasta e Fagioli – a rustic dish typical of the Italian countryside from Tuscany to Veneto and South of Italy. Its simplicity lies in the underlying combination of humble, inexpensive ingredients, manifesting in an intensely-rich soup which is full of flavour, warmth and much-needed comfort during these unsettling times.


Few-Ingredient Recipes

With a bit of creativity and a touch of alchemy, you don’t need more than just a handful of staple ingredients knocking around the back of your cupboard, to recreate your favourite pasta from Rome, Cacio e Pepe; or to conjure up your favourite fudge.

Then there are two-ingredient banana and oatmeal bites (baked with exactly what it says on the tin), three-ingredient peanut butter cookies (no flour required), four-ingredient chocolate mousse (using Greek yogurt for a silky-smooth texture) and so on! The possibilities truly are as endless as they are deliciously-ingenious!


There’s nothing which makes me happier than hearing back from you! Please do comment below on how the recipe turns out if you try it at home. And of course, do tag me @the_foodiediaries , as I love seeing your pictures!

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