Operation waste not: week one

Categories: Expert guidance

In the first in a series of articles on tackling food waste, Sybil Kapoor discusses the ‘key to happiness’, facing up to food waste, and guilty feelings brought on by black bananas

Words: Sybil Kapoor

My cooking was first shaped by my addiction to Victorian novels. Their heroines always suffered deprivation, yet they contrived to make a homely idyll in the face of adversity and create tempting dishes out of nothing.

I was living on a shoestring in a flat that would have been condemned today. The key to happiness, or so it seemed to me, was to practice good housekeeping. I fell in love with cooking as I learnt how to stretch tinned sardines into a lemony, butter pâté and transform stale bread into sugary pain perdu.

Such days of good housewifery are long gone. I’m ashamed to admit that I now regularly throw away black bananas and discover fossilised pieces of root ginger in my fridge. According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), I’m not alone. In November 2013, they published a report that claimed that the average UK household throws away the equivalent of six (500g) meals a week.

Aged remnants
Keen to banish my guilt, I’m trying to minimise my food waste this year. Over the next few weeks, I’m targeting the foods I most commonly discard. In theory, this will make me plan my shopping more carefully, as I’m forcing myself to face up to all the half-eaten or aged remnants lurking in my kitchen, from the perennially half-empty pot of natural yoghurt to the salted anchovies haunting my fridge. The smaller the amount left, the harder it is to finish.

I decided to start my campaign with the yoghurt. Happily, I only need a spoonful of it to make a delicious marinade for meat or fish. I just mix a little yoghurt with lemon juice and olive oil, and then depending on what is to hand, stir in chopped garlic or grated onion with fresh herbs or saffron, cumin or smoked paprika. A tandoori marinade is even easier—just mix a little more yoghurt with lemon juice, finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger, paprika, garam masala and salt.

If I’m in a rush, I’ll turn the excess yoghurt into an instant savoury sauce by adding toasted ground cumin, salt and a little water. There are lots of variations, ranging from chopped grapes with mint to grated cucumber or finely sliced chives. The latter is also good swirled into soups.

A creamy filling
In a perfect world, I’d bake some scones or soda bread at the weekend for tea, as I can use my natural yoghurt in place of the soured cream or buttermilk. The last spoonful could then be beaten into cream cheese with vanilla sugar and lemon zest to make a creamy filling for a strawberry or mango tart.

Of course, I could make a banana snow with mashed banana, yoghurt, sugar and whisked egg white. This would remove another source of guilt—black bananas. The longer you leave them, the more intense they taste. Everyone knows that you should bake your old bananas in muffins or banana bread but somehow I never do, just as I never manage to catch the ripening bunch in time and turn it into home-made banana ice cream or trifle.

For me, the best solution is banana flambé for supper. Fry the bananas in butter, then add sugar, orange or lemon juice, and at the last moment rum, brandy or whisky and ignite. Yum!

If the bananas are not too dark, I’ll serve them sliced with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with melted chocolate. My last resort is an energy-packed sandwich of cream cheese mixed with chopped walnuts and topped with mashed banana. It’s surprisingly good.

Anchovy and lemon butter
The opened can of salted anchovies, however, is more challenging. I’ve decanted them into a clean bowl, and covered them with a little extra oil, but anchovy fillets go a long way, even when rinsed and soaked in milk for 20 minutes to lessen their intense flavour. I’ve already frozen a roll of anchovy and lemon butter to melt on some future supper of seared salmon or steak, and my husband doesn’t like anchovies on pizza or pissaldièrre, so those options are out.

I look at them sitting in the fridge. They won’t keep more than a week. I could make an anchovy mayonnaise, excellent with roast veal, or maybe a Caesar salad?  Perhaps a cannellini and green bean salad with an anchovy vinaigrette or even a roasted pepper salad strewn with finely sliced anchovies. All are wonderful.

My love of nineteenth century cookbooks, however, gets the better of me. As I turn the pages of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families (1855), I see her recipe for anchovy butter—a heady mix of salted anchovy fillets beaten into a paste with lots of butter, cayenne pepper, mace and nutmeg. I’ll spread it thinly on to hot toast and curl up with a cup of tea. Time to find one of my favourite Victorian novels—Dickens, Thackeray or Mrs Gaskell?