When I think of frugal cooks, my mind conjures an image of my mother cleaning a vessel of dosa maav. First, she would use the dosa ladle to transfer the leftover batter into a smaller steel dabba, then a spatula would be employed to get the bits that the ladle could not reach, and finally, she would use her hands to clean the ladle and spatula, scraping her fingers against the edge of the container so every dollop of creamy white dosa maav was saved. I took her meticulous ways to mean two things: One, that food is to be valued. And two, one must save every resource because who knows what tomorrow will bring?
My approach to frugality has changed over the years: I now see waste as potential, waiting to be tapped. Especially in the kitchen, where the bits that we traditionally discard―peels, offal, the fuzz in the centre of a pumpkin that my dad calls “pumpkin brains”―each of these ingredients offer the possibility of new flavours, textures and meals. The more I cook, the more I believe this to be true.
For years, I bought watermelon only thinking of it as a fruit. Now I eat the juicy flesh, then peel the rind, chop into cubes and pressure-cook with some haldi, salt, chilli powder and water. Voila! A white pumpkin substitute that can be used to make soup, sambar or any recipe that calls for white gourds.
Earlier this week, I made a Mangalorean-style dosa called kalingana polo, using soaked white rice, watermelon rind and fresh coconut (recipe below). It was a revelation: impossibly crisp and with the faintest whiff of sweet, like a nicely fermented appam. It can be ladled thick like an uttapam or thin like the golden-brown dosa in this image. Both versions are delicious.
Indian cuisine has many examples of putting discards to genius use. Case in point: a dish called Pakka kela ni chhal nu shaak, from the Palanpuri Jain community, made from besan, spices and finely chopped banana peels, cooked until soft, almost buttery.
Palanpuri Jains come from arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat and their cuisine reflects this in the ample use of dried ingredients and lentil flours. When a fresh ingredient comes by, every bit is celebrated, even the peel. Theirs is a philosophy shaped by the landscape they inhabit. The Palanpuri Jain cookbook Dadima No Varso also lists a kadi made with mango peels and seed, which is extracted by breaking the stone at the heart of the fruit to obtain the nut-like seed inside.
The Dalit delicacy rakti, a dish of coagulated animal blood cooked with onion, spices and oil, is another excellent example of turning waste into gold―an illustration of how scarcity and caste-imposed injustices have shaped the way India eats.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have dishes born of abundance. When it’s orange season, matriarchs in Malabar homes use the rind of the fragrant fruit to make jars of narthangai pickle, to be eaten along with biryani for the rest of the year. Closer home, in the kitchens of Kodaikanal, the peels of ridge gourd are ground with coconut, peanuts and chillies to make peerkangai chutney, an excellent accompaniment to dosas, idlis or rice. A simple, no-fuss way of incorporating the nutrient-rich peel into one’s diet.
If you have waste-rich recipes to share, do write to us, and we will share them online, so we can all discover new, interesting ways of cooking together. Until then, enjoy these three recipes for waste-full food, and happy cooking!
Kalingana Polo (Watermelon Rind Dosa)
Serves 2 to 3
Light, crispy dosas made from soaked rice, watermelon rind and fresh coconut
- Melon rind – 1 cup, peeled and chopped
- Idli rice – 1 cup, soaked overnight
- Coconut – ½ cup, grated
- Salt to taste
- Ghee to taste
- Soak the rice in plenty of water overnight or for a minimum of four hours. Drain and set aside.
- Peel the melon rind with a knife to remove the green outer layer. The pink part (where rind meets fruit) can be added, and lends a pale pink tint to the batter.
- Chop the rind into cubes and place in a mixer-grinder.
- Add the coconut and blend until it is a paste, with no discernible pieces of rind. Minimal water can be added if necessary.
- In batches, add the soaked rice to the mix and blend until it resembles dosa batter: thick but flowing. Minimal water can be added if necessary.
- Take a moment to look at the batter: mine had a faint pink tinge and a fruity aroma that was almost floral.
- Transfer the batter into a large steel vessel and leave it to ferment in a warm part of your kitchen. Where I live, in the hills, the batter takes about 24 hours to ferment, but the fermentation time would be closer to overnight in most places in the plains. My batter did not rise more than a couple of inches, but the dosas were delicious nonetheless!
- Heat a cast-iron pan until it is evenly hot. Ladle the batter in a circular motion, like a dosa. It can be ladled fairly thin and cooked to a crisp thanks to the rice in the batter. That being said, I also love a thick watermelon dosa because I can taste the fruitiness and sweetness of the coconut. Try them both, I say!
- Pairs well with most chutneys, as well as with warm, thick coconut milk with a generous spoon of dark jaggery and a drizzle of ghee.
Palanpuri Kadi with Ripe Banana Peels
Soft and tender banana peels cooked in a light besan kadi, with a generous sesame tadka for added texture. Inspired by a Palanpuri Jain recipe from the cookbook Dadima No Varso.
- Peels of 2 bananas
- Hing – 2 pinches
- Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
- Red chilli powder – ½ tsp
- Besan/rice flour – 1 tbsp
- Ghee – 4 tsp
- Water – 1 cup
- Lime – ½, juiced
- Jaggery/sugar – ½ tsp
- Salt to taste
- Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
- Dried red chillies – 2
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp
- Ghee – 2 tbsp
- Peel the bananas, chop off the tail-end from both peels and rinse under water. Finely slice and set aside.
- Gently heat 2 tsp of ghee in a kadai.
- Add the banana peels, stir gently and cook covered for 5–10 minutes until soft and tender. I like to cover the vessel with a steel plate filled with a little water, as this prevents the veggies from burning and gives them an even cook.
- In the meantime mix the besan and water with a pinch of salt to taste. Set aside.
- When the peels seem cooked, add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt to taste. Cook for another few minutes, stirring minimally so the pieces don’t break. This is a delicate ingredient to be treated with care.
- Ever so gently, add the besan slurry to the banana and stir until it begins to thicken. We’re looking for a consistency that is akin to a rich gravy, the kind you can mop with soft chapatis.
- When the desired thickness has been achieved, switch off the flame.
- Add the lime juice and sugar, mix and let it sit until the tadka is ready.
- For the final tempering, heat 2 tsp of ghee in a small kadai. Keep a suitable lid ready: the sesame will splutter wildly when added.
- Begin with the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the red chillies, curry leaves and sesame, and cover immediately. Switch off the flame and wait until the action subsides.
- Garnish the dish with this nutty and fragrant tadka, and take a moment to breathe in its toasty aroma―sesame and ghee are divine together.
Pumpkin Fuzz Chutney
Pumpkin fuzz is the stringy-looking bit in the heart of a pumpkin. It is also the sweetest part of the vegetable, full of fruity melon flavour. Here, the fuzz is blended with chillies, ginger and coconut to make a quick, delicious chutney. (Optionally, the fuzz can be sautéeed with garlic and then blended with cheese and nuts to make a pesto-like sauce for pasta.)
- Pumpkin fuzz, without seeds – ½ cup
- Coconut – ¼ cup, grated or cut into small pieces
- Ginger – 1 inch piece, peeled and sliced
- Onion – 1 small, finely sliced
- Dried red chillies – 2
- Tamarind – chickpea-sized piece, without seed
- Oil – 1 tbsp
- Salt to taste
- Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
- Split urad dal seeds – 1 tsp
- Dried red chilli – 1
- Curry leaves – 1 sprig
- Oil – 2 tbsp
- Char the dried red chillies on a naked flame until the skin is blackened. Discard the stalk. Coarsely cut the chillies and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a kadai. Add the charred chillies, ginger and onion. Sauté on a medium flame until the onion starts to brown at the edges.
- Add the pumpkin fuzz. Salt the mixture, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. It does not take long to cook.
- Transfer the mixture into a bowl, along with the grated coconut and the tamarind.
- When it has cooled down, blend the mixture in a chutney grinder. Salt as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.
- Heat up 2 tbsp of oil in a kadai for tempering. Begin with the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the split urad dal and cook until light brown. Add the red chilli and curry leaves, switch off the flame and transfer to the chutney after a few seconds.
- Stir gently and serve with idli or dosa, or as a veggie dip with carrot sticks.