When Chef Karishma Sakhrani found excess chives in her fridge at her home in Mumbai, she wanted to save the precious greens, knowing finding them again would be difficult during the ongoing lockdown. The MasterChef India Season 4 finalist cut them up and froze them, thus offering them a new lease of life, while also letting herself use them when she needed to in the near future.
The way we interact with food and ingredients has changed during the lockdown: more home-cooked food, more OPOS (one pot one shot) cooking, recipes of two or three ingredients, head-to-tail cooking, and, now, extending the life of ingredients to minimise food wastage.
Karishma states freezing is a new norm, given we cannot go for grocery runs frequently. “It is a great way to preserve all the nutrition, and sometimes flavour and texture aren’t too disturbed.”
Quick tips and tricks…
The shelf life of ginger is between four and six weeks at room temperature, “I grate and put it into a mini ice cube tray and then demould it, putting it into a ziplock bag, so I have little pre-measured cubes of grated ginger to put it into dal or whatever else I am cooking.” The same can be done with ginger-garlic paste. Karishma recommends this way of preserving things one uses a lot in the kitchen — such as tamarind and raw mango — and not just during lockdown.
Yes, ’tis the season of the king of fruits, but due to soaring temperatures, mangoes have a tendency to ripen quite quickly. Karishma points out that slightly overripe mangoes (soft to the touch while still smelling fresh) are ideal to blend up with some yoghurt and sugar for a breakfast side or a quick pick-me-up. One can also go for lassi or the classic home-made aamras, that is ideal for the whole family and can be quickly consumed too.
Hyderabad-based culinary instructor Arundati Rao is spending her lockdown time at a farm in Shankarpalli, Telangana. She says the yellow pumpkin — common across all Indian households and easily available through the year in the South — is a prized vegetable for curries, tangy gravies or as a dry dish. “If uncut, it can be stored for months,” she explains, “but once cut into, like a melon, it spoils fast. Steam the pumpkin and purée it, and then it can be frozen for as long as three months. The defrosted purée can be added to pasta sauces, kneaded into roti doughs or even substituted in place of banana or apple purée in your favourite cake recipe.”
One particular fruit that has been overbought is the tomato, which in this heat, ripens and softens quickly. “Tomatoes have a lot of versatility,” comments Karishma, “When they are soft and look slightly bruised, you can make a puree or a gravy, or whip up a large batch of base pasta sauce. Oven-roasting tomatoes brings out a lot of sweetness, and doesn’t require a lot of hands-on time as the oven does the workload. Once roasted, you can blend them into a soup with a smoky touch.”
Alternatively, excess tomatoes can be converted into a tasty tomato chutney, to be eaten with hot white rice and a dash of ghee, creating a whole new meal in itself. These home-made chutneys are the go-to options for those not wanting to part with still-usable produce, such as ridge gourd, onions and yellow cucumber.
A by-product behaviour of extending the life of ingredients is becoming more familiar with your fridge, and learning how to use it to its full potential. Which shelf is optimal for which ingredients? What about temperature changes? Basic tips include keeping opened foods or foods close to expiring towards the front of the fridge for quicker consumption, not overcrowding to disrupt the circulation of cold air, and keeping unfrozen meats and fish at the bottom for optimal preservation.
Our leafy greens tend to brown fast, especially coriander and mint, which are daily staples. Karishma says, “I wrap these greens up in cling-wrap tightly, and roll it up so that it uses less space in my vegetable drawer, while not compromising crispness and texture. Do not keep these in the door of your fridge; they become more prone to spoiling because when the fridge is continually opened, their exposure to fluctuating temperatures speeds up oxidation. Keep less perishable foods in the fridge door.”
But not everything can be ‘saved’. Preserving need not have the same mentality of panic-buying; upcycle with moderation and do not overpopulate your freezer.
Arundati Rao’s pumpkin spiced cake recipe (Makes one seven-inch loaf)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and grease and line a 7-inch cake pan
Sift together the following:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup maida
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional: leave it out if you don’t like the taste or add your favourite chai masala or cardamom powder or even a large pinch of dried ginger powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
In another bowl, whisk all of the below till the sugar has melted and the mixture is frothy.
4 tablespoons melted butter or oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup yellow pumpkin purée
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 egg or 4 tablespoons yoghurt/milk
Add the flour mixture in 3 parts to the wet mixture, stir in with a spatula and do not over-mix the batter.
Optionally add 1/4 cup walnuts/almonds or chocolate chips to the batter and stir. Pour it into the prepared cake tin, tap a couple of times on the table and bake for 40-45 minutes or till a toothpick inserted into the centre comes clean.
Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack, covered with a clean kitchen towel before de-panning. Slice only after fully cooled.
If you do not have an oven, use a heavy-bottomed pan with an inch of salt, a trivet and bake the cake for 45-60 minutes. Alternatively, one can use the same batter (reduce the sugar) to make pancakes or waffles.
Arundati Rao’s Escapades Culinary Studio , Hyderabad, can be reached at 09959202255 for virtual baking/cooking classes.