Since the world was plagued by a tiny organism, deadly enough to kill millions, our outlook towards food, much like all other aspects of our lives has changed drastically. Previous food conversations revolved around tantrums of the likes and dislikes of all family members and on most occasions, the refusal to consume vegetables like bottle gourd or lauki and Indian squash or tinda. But since the pandemic began, food markets are seeing an unprecedented shortage in products, hence leaving us no choice but to put a lot more thought into what we cook and consume. Every day, the pantry is checked for available ingredients that are freshly cooked and served.
Gone are the days of unending choice, when one could easily step out of their homes to buy something that was needed. Availability of ingredients has become the current day priority when it comes to cooking up a meal.Since the products in local markets are so few, people have started respecting fresh produce. Humble fruits and vegetables like pumpkin and Indian squash that were once overlooked because of their unappealing taste or texture, are now being scouted for and consumed endearingly. Although, leftovers were always repurposed into new dishes, now more than ever, vegetables are being cooked up in numerous dishes to make sure nothing goes to waste, for instance, leftover potato bhaaji made for lunch is mixed up in a pulao or khichdi the next day.
All parts of fresh produce, including the stems, roots and peels are being put to use. Coriander stems are chopped up and added to chutneys, while egg shells are being used as fertilisers for the kitchen garden. Even the unassuming rind of a watermelon is being pickled and added to salads and sandwiches to add flavour and reduce wastage. Every time a spare part of a fruit or vegetable is pointed towards the trash, a tiny voice inside our head nudges us to think of an alternate use. Vegetable scraps are also being used to grow fresh veggies at home. Roots of onions and leftover cloves of garlic are been lovingly planted in the kitchen garden as increasing importance is being given to clean and fresh produce.
With restricted movement for people and goods alike, many are choosing to buy locally grown and sourced fruits and vegetables. Old recipes passed on from generations are being used as guides to make comforting meals from these select vegetables. Local greens are making an appearance on many dinner tables and replacing fancy ingredients with familiar ones. The likes of broccoli and mushrooms are taking a step back, making way for the humble ivy gourd to shine.Given the limited amount of produce available, we are increasingly leaning on comfort foods and one pot meals. Simple soups, khichdi and rice meals are providing us with the warmth and comfort we so dearly need.
We are relying on our basics of dal, rice and roti much like the dinner tables of the western world are relying on the comfort of soups and stews. Basic cooking with simple ingredients has proven to be the way most households are feeding themselves during such trying times. As the stress levels rise worldwide, simple food and cooking has been a coping mechanism for many. This pandemic has been a huge lesson in food and has altered the way we cook and consume food. Lessons of sustainability, simplicity and respect for our food is what we’ve learnt from this, and these are the lessons that could be carried well into future.