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Why you must eat 'ugly food'

May 06, 2018 08:03 IST

The newly minted Ugly Food Project encourages sharing use-every-last-bit recipes alongside ideas on how to reimagine leftovers.

"Half the world is obese and other half is under- or malnourished. The thought behind the project is to create a food surplus from cuts of vegetables and meat that are usually thrown away," the founder tells Nikita Puri.

leftovers

Photograph: Paul Rysz/Wikimedia Commons

Sometime ago in Mumbai-based Prabha Kini's home, guests seated around her dining table had an off-beat experience to look forward to. Instead of regular idlis, Kini's menu for the day featured khotto idlis, a Konkani- and Mangalorean-special which are steamed in baskets woven out of jackfruit leaves. Kini had also whipped up dosas using the fleshy white of a watermelon left after the red fruit is scooped away.

Elsewhere, in Geeta Nair's home, the white bits of the watermelon had been chopped up to make tutti-fruity.

In Kavita Thanky's kitchen, the fleshy whites were pulped for soup. 

All three women are members of a social media group that calls upon foodies, cooks and chefs alike to minimise what goes into our kitchen bins by making the most of available resources.

It's only been about two months since this group came together, but the call has been well answered, with recipes pouring in on everything from chutneys made from ridge-gourd peel to a palate-tingling stew that employs orange peel. 

Called The Ugly Food Project, the Facebook group encourages sharing these use-every-last-bit recipes alongside ideas on how to reimagine leftovers.

In this universe, where every grain is cared for, leftover rice, for instance, becomes everything from a bowl of fermented rice porridge to a plate of rice pakodas, or desi Arancini, as Mohit Balachandran calls them.  

 

Balachandran, a street-food-loving restaurateur who goes by the moniker of Chowder Singh on social media, is the founder of the group.

"Half the world is obese and other half is under- or malnourished," says Balachandran. "The thought behind the project is to create a food surplus from cuts of vegetables and meat that are usually thrown away."

"'Ugly food', in this context, refers to the scraps and bits that are usually classified as waste. The idea is to encourage people to reduce food wastage," explains Kini, an administrator for the group's Facebook page. 

The concept is not new: virtually every Indian household has a recipe focused on re-using leftover vegetables or dal (sandwiches, pizza toppings, parathas, et cetera).

Many even believe that avial, the beloved mixed vegetable special from Kerala, has its origins in the court of the Maharaja of Travancore. The story goes that after days of feasting, an annual fixture in the king's court, a deficit of vegetables on the last day was addressed by putting together the unused vegetables cut the previous day.

Besides origin stories such as this, "it's very interesting to see how much one can learn from something like the Ugly Food Project," says Kini. "There are so many people who've started trying out the recipes after seeing them on this group." 

While Bengali and Oriya kitchens keep fish heads aside for curries like muri ghanta, pomfret heads are used in Parsi homes for a coconut and roasted masala special.

By uniquely targeting only "ugly" food, the group has also become a platform for specialised cultural exchange.

Soon after Delhi-based Geetha Kamath shares an idea for a digestion-friendly kadhi made from dried pomegranate peel, requests for recipe instructions pour in. 

"This is a Konkani way of using pomegranate," says Kamath, recalling the time her mother taught her how to get it right. "Apart from not wasting food, we must all remember that the peels, and bits right next to the peels, which we often throw away, are the most nutritious parts of a vegetable."

While passing on traditional recipes, the project by its very nature calls for experimentation galore, like crisps made from potato peels. "Treat these crisps with smoked paprika, or just pass them off as vegan bacon strips," suggests one member.

Such experiences also tend to being more variety to the table.

While a subzi made out of pea pods is a newly-discovered favourite for Kamath, another foodie is charmed by the ingenuity of a soup made from pea pods. 

"If individual households start looking at ways to reduce food wastage, that change will multiply," says Kamath.

As the globe deals with a food crisis, the call to tap into every resource has never been stronger.

Nikita Puri in Mumbai
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