Leftovers aren't evil

12:30 PM

One of the first thing that shocked me when I first arrived in India was the amount of cooked food you would find dumped in the garbage and in the street every morning. In one of the neighbourhood I lived in ladies would ceremoniously dump enough day old rice and dal to feed a crowd in the gutter. I come from a nation where we aren't so casual about wasting food. And I know that the phenomenon I saw in India is practiced by middle class families, not poverty level ones who if they have leftovers will simply save them and eat them at a next meal because due to their low income are far more aware of the price of what goes in their stomach. I have been told that leftovers are considered unhealthy in India, due to the fact fridges are a recent thing and people aren't used to them and still use the old common wisdom of discarding food away...

That makes very little sense for me, first because those who aren't well off enough to hope to see food on a plate 3 times a day don't waste it and don't have fridges. And then again fridges in Switzerland were unknown of in houses before the 50's and did cost a tremendous amount of money even back then. Yet the leftover habit is going far in the past. First we have about 6 months a year during which almost nothing will grow in the soil, what you harvested in the Fall has to last until March or April, when you have that kind of timeline to work with, you aren't going to discard a whole load of cabbage stew just because it is a day old, you find a way to improve it and use it at the next meal. Then both my grand mothers who were born in the 30's and saw world war 2 happening in all neighbouring countries and lived with the constant fear it could erupt in Switzerland any time both reported that during that time people could not just buy as much food as they wanted, there was a ration coupon system, once you ran out of coupons for a specific food for the month, you were forbidden to buy any extra. The amount of coupons depended on the size of your family. so when you are granted the right to buy a certain amount of bread a month, no more, you don't go wasting it just because it is a day old and has started drying...the French toasts are actually called "pain perdu" in French and translates as lost bread! and it was a way to continue eating a product that would have been too hard to chew otherwise. Without fridges, and yes even through summer hot months, my people have been very aware of the value of the food they have and unless it has turned green and caught fungus, the thing would end up be eaten in one way or another. Even today people will rarely throw food away, the only excuse for doing it being a rotten fruit or vegetable. Kids are taught very early that what is not finished out of a tantrum at one meal will come back the next, and being guilt into eating with various variant of the "there are people in this world who don't eat as much as they want".

So with that in perspective, you can imagine how I felt seeing the way food is treated by some in India, to me it was and still is disrespectful. There said it. But today's blog post topic is about leftovers and how they can make your life simple. I am not saying your entire meal has to be made of leftovers, we rarely do that back home, but yesterday's roast chicken with steamed veggies and rice become a big chicken salad the next. Steamed veggies end up in healthy vegetable soup with fresh other veggies added to the lot. In my home left over chapati become quesadillas the next day, my maid struggle with the idea that I forbid her to throw them away, but seriously chop a mushroom or two add some grated carrots, or bell pepper, or anything you want, top it with a little grated cheese while the roti reheat on the tawa and fold in two...and you have a quick snack, or light meal. Toss a salad on the side, add a bowl of freshly made tomato salsa and you have a full meal. That is that easy. What is more it will save you loads of time in the kitchen, make your grocery expenses go down and save your sanity at the end of a long day. And with airtight containers and fridges, there is not even much of an excuse left not to reheat leftover dal and serve it differently at the next meal, add some fresh tomatoes and leafy green to it and you have a brand new still packed with fresh nutrient dish.

I myself do leftovers regularly, or as a side to another dish I cooked the day itself, or once a week as a stand alone serie of dishes that have been left I. The fridge 2-3 days, tossed with a fresh salad for good measure. Many of the things left after a meal never come back as it is the next meal, I have had occurrence of eggplant satay that became a pasta sauce the next, or left over steamed veggies from a continental dish that ended up in a Chinese stir fry, leftover chicken dish stock added to another meat dish. Leftover rajma that become a chili with some chicken keema added, mashed potatoes that end up rolled in bread crumbs and turned into cutlets with or without added fresh veggies. The only organic waste you will find in my dustbin on most days are vegetable peels that can't be eaten, and used tea leaves, on occasion there will be a vegetable I forgot in my fridge and very very rarely will you find the remains of a cooked dish. I could not give up my western way even after some aunties lectured me about how "you can't do that in India". I survived 10 years in India that way, no sign of sickness due to my leftover saving habit either.

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  1. Beatrix3:12 PM

    Personally I think most dals & meat curries taste better reheated after a night in the fridge - it allows the flavors to mingle a bit more.
    But my husband will throw a fit if he is served leftovers so most of the time leftovers go out to the neighbors' pigs.
    I'm rather appalled by the food wastage I see in India & Nepal also - my parents were teenagers during the Great Depression in the US & then young adults during World War II so NOTHING ever went to waste in our household.

  2. My great grand mother was born in 1902 saw the two world wars had no electricity in her childhood home and wasting food was a massive no no for her too

  3. I think that is because Switzerland is cold for most of the year which means you don't need a refrigerator. I don't know about your neighbors, but most Indian families try to cook just as much as they need.

  4. I was expecting such an observation, but as you must have noticed I said we don't waste even in the summer! and summers mean temps that reach 27-30 degrees, houses in the winter are heated, so the you don't need a refrigerator part does not hold at all.

  5. Also trust me Swiss also cook as much as they need, but should there be one small serving left of something, it will not go be trashed the way I see it happening here with middle class Indians. And of course they are those who dump the "old food" to the maid, this would be fine if it was done out of charity, but the fact they are giving her something they themselves claim is unfit for consumption ( even if it is not so) is disrespectful.

  6. Alexandra Madhavan10:00 AM

    I totally get this post! My MIL refuses to eat leftover food, and she actually got really mad at me when I tried to feed my daughter leftover Biriyani for lunch one day, but then she gave in when Maya wanted it.
    She likes to cook every meal fresh, and has no problem storing vegetables in the fridge, but she hates leftover food. But for us, it's just not realistic. Maya only lets me cook while she's sleeping, so I can only manage 1-2 fresh meals per day (breakfast we have oatmeal)
    When MIL was leaving, my aunts suggested that she make "freezer meals" for us...you can imagine the look on her face!!! LMAO!!!!

  7. Alexandra Madhavan10:02 AM

    Looks great! Need to do mine....just got around to labeling all my spice jars.
    One time my hubby put Rasam powder in the chilli powder labeled jar, and he thought I would know (?!?!) and then I ended up cooking a whole meal with it, which he totally spit out! We laughed about it after ;)

  8. I label spice jars which have content that look similar to avoid that problem too :)

  9. My mil hates wasting food and has no problem with leftovers, she cooks food for the whole day in the morning and let it sit on the counter until dinner, yet when she came to our place after we got married she gave me he'll for serving leftovers at any meal, and gasp storing it in the fridge in airtight containers. I never saw her logic there, neither did DH or my FIL we only assume she was all out to find a flaw in me and penalise me for it, I was already house smart when she thought I would need household holding education after marriage...she was dead set that westerners can't keep a household running to begin with. Oh well! She would not do the freezer thing, the freezer according to her is just to store spice and nuts, nothing else.


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