Operation waste not: week two

Categories: Expert guidance

As part of a mission to tackle food waste, Sybil Kapoor offers tips on making the most of those back-of-the-fridge ingredients

Operation ‘waste not’ is continuing apace in the Kapoor household. As part of my campaign to run a well-ordered kitchen, I decided to spring clean the fridge. As I emptied the shelves, I was amazed by what I found.

The onions and garlic had taken on a life of their own and were sprouting. The rock-hard parmesan rinds, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge door, had multiplied. The remains of a joint of roast lamb had taken over one shelf and a decidedly limp celery heart was lurking in the bottom of the salad drawer.

Now, I have to admit that I store a lot in the fridge, as my kitchen is small and warm. Some foods, such as onions and garlic keep best in a cool, dry, dark place. Since this is non-existent in my home, they’re relegated to the fridge.

I tentatively tried a green onion shoot. It was very good, just like a spring onion, which is not surprising given that spring onions are baby onions. Perfect for salads and stir-fries. Then I tasted the spongy-textured sprouted onion bulb. It had lost much of its flavour. In the past, I would have thrown it away, but I decided to combine it with non-sprouted onions.

Strong and aromatic
The sprouting garlic was more challenging. The cloves were horribly bitter, but the shoots tasted of wild garlic leaves—strong and aromatic. I could discard the cloves and use a few shoots to flavour a spring risotto, tomato salad or morel pasta.

Instead, I decide to try planting them in some flower pots outside. Apparently, you separate the sprouting cloves, tuck each clove into some soil so that it is snugly covered and leave the green shoots exposed.

I turned my attention to the limp celery. I washed it before trying a small slice. If celery is not too floppy, you can revive it like a bunch of flowers by cutting its stems and placing in a glass of water. The same goes for parsley and coriander. My bendy celery tasted ultra-sweet. Finely sliced, it could make a lovely small salad, tossed in cream, mustard and lemon juice.

Perhaps I should revive the 1970s fashion for serving hors-d’œuvres—an ideal way to use up small quantities of food. A pretty plate of tiny salads, such as roughly grated carrots tossed with lemon and olive oil, beetroot mixed in a summery herb vinaigrette, half a hard boiled egg, mayonnaise, radishes and sardines.

A speedy supper
However, time, as always, is an issue. I needed a speedy supper, so it was between a white bean gratin and a black bean chilli to use up the celery and sprouting onions. Cannellini beans are delicious mixed with sautéed celery, onion and garlic, topped with any cheese that melts into a goo and baked or grilled until bubbling hot.

A black bean chilli, however, had the added benefit that I could mix some left-over diced roasted peppers into the sautéed onions, celery and garlic, and use up the about-to-turn-squidgy tomatoes. The latter are stored at room temperature for maximum flavour.

I opt for the black bean chilli served with avocado and yoghurt. It’s one of my favourite suppers, especially when flavoured with smoked paprika and cumin seeds.

The parmesan rinds were easy. Over the next few weeks I’ll use them to flavour slow-simmered dishes, such as Bolognese sauce and squash soup. The parmesan releases its rich umami taste into the dish, which in turn imbues it with an incredibly moreish taste.

Umami is the fifth taste and is best described as savoury (like mature cheese or Marmite). It increases your perception of sweetness, in much the same way as a squeeze of sour lime will make papaya taste sweeter. The cheese rind is discarded before liquidizing or serving.

Distinctly virtuous
At this rate I’ll have an empty fridge and full freezer. In fact, I would be feeling distinctly virtuous, were it not for the lamb. I’m not good at using up cold roast meat, as I’m not very fond of it. After all, there are only so many cold lamb, mint, cucumber, spring onion and feta wraps you can make.

The said joint has been sitting, loosely wrapped, on the second to bottom shelf in my fridge. The bottom and coldest shelf is reserved for raw meat or fish. To avoid cross-contamination, raw meat must never be stored above or on the same shelf as cooked foods.

The spring cleaning has forced me into facing up to the reproachful leg. I methodically remove the remaining pink meat around the bone. This is best for secondary cooking as it retains some succulence, especially if you mince it. Once minced, you can simmer it in a rich sauce for a moussaka or a cinnamon-spiced filo pastry.

Time to reset the fridge to below 5C, as recommended by the NHS Live Well website. I admire my gleaming clean fridge. How long, I wonder, will I manage to keep it looking neat and ordered?