MY JOURNEY TO A GREEN KITCHEN
I still remember my summer break at Tiruvalla. We’d spend a good part of the vacation at my Ammachi’s house. Looking back, more than anything it is the smells and the fragrances of the house that really wells up inside me as I fondly recollect memories. Ammach is still a passionate cook and her kitchen used to a hub of activity from the word go. Whether it is the snow white kallappam in the morning, the crunchy fish fry for lunch, the cardamom-laced tea and banana fry in the evening and the duck roast and chappathy at night- everything just smelled and tasted better when it was made in her kitchen.
Years later, I’d try to recreate the smells of her kitchen in my own little way. But my non- stick pots and aluminium pans hardly made the cut. I would follow the recipe by the word but it wasn’t about the ‘half a spoon of black pepper’ or ‘two tablespoons of coconut vinegar.’ I soon realised it was also about the old well-seasoned traditional cooking utensils which she considered “family heirloom” . It was all about slow cooking with evenly spread heat, retaining the juices of the meat as it oozed so that the meat could be naturally soaked in it. It was something that could not be measured or computed.
That’s when I made my first purchase of a cast iron vessel. I had just received my first salary from my first job and I knew exactly where to spend it. I googled ‘cast iron cookware shops near me.’ A few wholesale places were thrown up along with numerous online platforms devoted to cast iron and other such healthy options. It took me to a paradise of cast iron Tawas, Kadais, Skillets, Grills and Frying Pans and much more. I soon started doing some comprehensive research on this subject. I learnt that supermarkets such as Walmart in USA have separate sections for such cookware as the demand for healthy and greener utensils have spiked so much there. I was happy to see that this trend was setting in here in India as well.
Cooking with these utensils and tools definitely enhanced the quality of my food. Just the way it felt had changed in words I cannot explain. I believe half the job of delivering contentment in food is done by the aroma it creates. I realized that my non-stick pans could not produce the wholesome smell of meat as it is slowly cooking or the heavy smell of gravy as it bubbles and boils.
I soon diversified and began a hunt for other such alternatives. Clay cookware, Terracotta, Stoneware , Dutch ovens- I collected and experimented with many of these only to be handed success each time. What these options of utensils have going for them the most is that they are eco- friendly. It is also great news that it is easy to clean them, shift them from the gas to stove or even shove them in an oven without worrying about leaking or melting chemicals. They are durable and don’t wear out too fast so you don’t need to worry about getting a replacement every few years. The nuances of flavour that you get cooking in a clay dish is something one has to experience. That is when I, for the first time, felt I had come somewhere near the aura that Ammachi created with food.
Today, our knowledge of our bodies and the world around is so enhanced. We are aware and educated about various adulterated forms in which food comes to our supermarkets. We are informed of the healthier lifestyles that people in other countries are switching to. We have even witnessed a spurt in the number of lifestyle diseases that seem to inflict people. For instance, Teflon coated vessels are suspected to be carcinogenic as per latest studies.
To combat this calls for a paradigm shift in the way we see and approach food. This is because ultimately everything about us boils down to our eating patterns and the nature of our diet. Ayurveda even says that food can have a therapeutic effect on us if prepared in healthy conditions. It is for this reason that I felt the need to dramatically change the ways and means of my cooking. I vowed that when I cook , I wanted the food to do good when people eat it. That’s why our grandmothers’ food tastes best. Not only because they used simple materials and ingredients but also because they added a lot of love and affection into the cooking. And that’s why I chose to go green in my kitchen. So that when you eat my food, you taste not just the salt and spice but also the emotions and delight that went into producing it!