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5 steps you can take now to make your kitchen eco-friendly

Sustainable chef Priyanka Naik. MUST CREDIT: Priyanka Naik

Sustainable chef Priyanka Naik. MUST CREDIT: Priyanka Naik

Published May 31, 2022

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By Priyanka Naik

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the news about the climate, you aren't alone. While so many of the forces behind climate change are beyond our control, many of us are interested in making changes in our day-to-day lives that help minimise our footprint.

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In my journey as a sustainable chef, I have picked up a lot of tips and tricks on how to be more eco-friendly in the kitchen, where - surprise! - I spend a ton of time. Here are five of them:

Use all of the produce

Wild mushroom and butter bean pasta. This heartier dish paves the way for autumn cooking. PICTURE: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Why buy broccoli by the pound and then throw out half of what you paid for, i.e., the stalk. Many times, the parts of the produce that we discard are just as nutritious and maybe even more nutritious ― banana peels contain an additional 78 milligrams of potassium, for example. With produce that has been washed thoroughly, everything can be eaten and go inside your body instead of the landfill. You can make banana peel "pulled pork" sandwiches, whole banana bread or beet tops pesto, to name just a few options.

Use your cook-top efficiently

The author says there are ways we can use our cook-tops efficiently ― consider adding a lid to boil water quicker, boiling water in a teapot for tea and coffee (versus an electric kettle), and cooking items on the stove-top that may normally be made in ovens. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

We don't always have a say in what kind of cook-top we get in our homes. But there are still ways we can use our cook-tops efficiently ― consider adding a lid to boil water quicker, boiling water in a teapot for tea and coffee (versus an electric kettle), and cooking items on the stove-top that may normally be made in ovens. For example, make eggplant parmigiana in a skillet on the stove-top instead of baking it in the oven. Regulate the flame when cooking on a gas stove ― a higher flame means more gas use. The same applies for electric cook-tops ― generally, a mid-heat setting is sufficient versus the highest setting.

Power down an electric cook-top a few moments before your dish is complete ― this will allow the cook-top to cool down sooner and not prolong the use of energy. Similarly, for induction cook-tops, which are the most energy efficient option, make sure to align the size of your pan with the size of the heating element on the stove to not overuse electricity when cooking or prolong the heating process.

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Stop buying Mason jars

Homemade pickled garlic cloves preserved in mason jars with chopped chili peppers - in a row

I can't recall the last time I purchased a glass jar. Instead, I wash and reuse jars from coffee, jam, salsa, and more. If you ever walked into the home of an Indian family in America, you are bound to find a former Tostitos salsa jar, now filled with fragrant masalas or large jars filled with all sorts of dried legumes, flours and rices. The easiest way to sanitise a jar to reuse it is washing it in the dishwasher on a hot cycle.

Alternatively, soaking it with hot water and soap overnight and scrubbing it clean the next day works, too. Dry completely before using. If canning or jamming, consider water-bath canning to process and seal jars.

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Reuse your water

If you're boiling pasta or grains for a meal, reuse the same water to boil or steam veggies in the same pot. This minimizes the use of additional water and dishes. Once your food is cooked and removed, you can use the remaining water to blend into sauces. And if you're still left with water from cooking, use it to water your house plants (it can even add more nutrients to your plants!).

Always pack food at restaurants

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While this is an obvious one, I've observed that most people don't practice this. Having hosted and led several pop-ups across New York City, I've seen that the majority of restaurants don't have systems in place to compost, which means everything you don't eat goes straight to a landfill. In 2018, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance reported that 84% of unused food in American restaurants ends up in the trash. When food rots in a landfill, it produces massive amounts of methane - a greenhouse gas at least 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

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