By now, most of us know that there are perhaps a hundred ways to bake a cake without flour, eggs, oil, baking powder or an oven. That a chakka (jackfruit) 65 could be as delicious as a standard chicken 65. Ever since the global lockdowns to tackle COVID-19 began, the internet has been teeming with food videos as people learn how to creatively work with basic supplies.
The pandemic is pushing home cooks to examine their larders and backyards more closely, as they find inventive, practical ways to use up everything in the fridge, thus limiting both waste and the necessity for yet another grocery run.
“Who can possibly have idli three days in a row?,” asks Krishnaraj PS, a software consultant from Kochi, who is giving a new twist to leftover batter with his appakkara (skillet used to make unniappams). He smears it with oil, and pours batter into each mould to get delightful golden paniyarams. “These made for a great lockdown snack,” he says.
Shreya N, a Kochi-based entrepreneur says the lockdown is taking us back several decades, in a positive way. “This is how our grandparents lived. No eating out, growing and cooking our own food. In a way, I would say we are evolving, food-wise,” she says. “It makes me think of ways to create something fancy out of the mundane,” she says. For someone who used to order in every weekend, Shreya has stopped ordering food, owing to safety concerns.
For those who miss eating out, digital marketing professional Najiya Sheejish from Kollam, has a solution: “You eat with your eyes. As long as it looks good, half the eating is done and it helps cure lockdown blues,” she says. Najiya makes a “mocktail” out of black tea, lemon spritz, a drizzle of honey and a handful of ice cubes. She also makes batter-fried, crisp chicken that resembles and tastes like its retail-chain counterpart.
Businessman Mathew M Joseph has decided to sun dry beef in order to avoid multiple trips to the market. “Especially for those who don’t get it delivered at home, it is ideal,” he says. He cleans the meat thoroughly, salts it and dries it in the sun. “This preserves the meat, which can be powdered and stored. It can be used whenever needed, sautéed with a handful of shallots, grated coconut and chilli powder,” he says. “Sun-drying tomatoes too are a great idea during lockdown,” says Mathew.
Balram Menon, businessman and food enthusiast from Kanjiramattom, Ernakulam, made chips out of raw papaya, with a lavish sprinkling of chilli powder and curry leaves. “I upload the videos of my exploits with food on Instagram to inspire others,” he says.
When Aysha Abel from Kollam revived an almost forgotten traditional snack and posted it on Instagram, the video was shared over 2,500 times. The “ethakka ball”, which routinely graced tea-time home menus, has been pushed off tea tables by store bought snacks over the past few decades. The simple and wholesome dish, says Aysha, can be made with the most basic of ingredients — banana, coconut, rice flour, sugar and ghee. “The ingredients are thrown in together, mixed and steamed in a banana leaf,” she says.
Mango leaf green juice
- Mango leaves (tender)
- Wash the leaves thoroughly before grinding them in a mixer along with a piece of ginger. Strain the juice and add lemon juice and sugar. For those who want a spicy version, add a couple of green chillies before grinding the leaves in the mixer with ginger, and add a pinch of salt.
“Traditional snacks don’t need fancy ingredients. Almost all of them can be made with basic home supplies,” says Krishnaraj, whose food videos have a number of viewers. “We are familiar with the aval kuzhachathu (flattened rice with jaggery shavings and coconut peels), but a savoury dish can be made too, if you mix flattened rice with a little bit of water, slit green chillies, a pinch of salt and grated coconut. All you need is tea to go with it,” he says.
Of course there are also plenty of experiments that border on the adventurous now that people are spending more time in the kitchen — ice cream made of wheat, green juice made of mango leaves and milkshakes made of jackfruit seeds. “It tastes so much better than it sounds,” says Shanti MS, a home-maker, who tried these with “great results”.
Making the most of resources and minimising wastage is one of the takeaways from COVID-19, as a women’s FaceBook group says. The discussions of late have been around ingenious ways of cooking with whatever is available.