Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waste not want not

A couple of weeks ago, in the Saturday edition of the Herald, Canvas ran an article about this lady who is Kiwi but moved to the Aussie outback to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. She wasn’t a natural cook but grabbed onto this idea of writing a book about cooking that would help households save money. Her trick is cooking only 3 days a week. The rest of the week’s meal consists of eating concoctions built around what has been cooked the three days prior.

Fine idea. I like the concept of saving money. The Chinese are great at saving leftovers. There is a fantastic dish mom used to make “Kai Choy” it is called.

Kai choy
What goes into the pot is a medley of leftover roast duck, steamed chick, roast pork, and other bits and pieces from a Chinese New Year banquet. The pot holds together a melting pot of flavours from an assortment of meat.

Gather all your leftovers in a pot, throw is some water, a big handful of dried chillies and a handful of dried tamarin slices; add some sugar and generous helpings of fresh mustard greens (kai choy) and boil them to death. Voila – a cauldron of disintegrated meats and seasoning blend in with the mustard greens to make a part-stew, part tom-yum like dish that is amazingly tasty and appetizing (never mind the look).

We have had occasions in the dining room where my aunties sit around the table spinning yarns as chew on bones and fish mustard greens to savour the sweet and sour and slightly spicy dish.

The Chinese never waste food. Well, the generation that was, that is. These days, I tend to be less conscious of the lessons mom gave me – never ever waster food.

Leftovers were reheated in mom’s home until they were no longer recognizable.
If we had rice leftover, it was turned into fried rice – dressed up with a bit of chopped garlic and leftover meats and some green peas/carrots.

If we had leftover roast pork, it can be brought to live again with a bit of chopped garlic, fried with dark soy sauce and sugar.

If we had bean sprouts that wilted, it was mixed into a batter, and some chopped spring onions and a bit of dried or fresh shrimps, to make a delicious fritter.

When we were young, our great grandmother used to save the not-so-fresh sweet potatoes and boil them for mashing. Mixed with a little tapioca starch and sugar, they were deep fried into potato balls that made a fine breakfast.

Leftover pork lard would be fried to perfection. Sautéed with garlic and chopped fermented beans, the pork lard became crackling -- a dish so divine and sinful.

Wasteful generation
I wonder if Princess’ generation will do the same. I throw out leftovers after a week but it is often done with great guilt. Waste has become so much a part of our lives.

Every generation needs a war, I was told. It is true. My aunties told me they used to eat only sweet potatoes (kumara) as they hid in the jungle during the Japanese invasion of Malaysia. Other families have similar stories.

Let us not forget. Whatever we can save should be saved. The challenge is inspiring our kids to have this consciousness of saving and being frugal. We don’t live like our parents used to live. But we need to remind ourselves that wasting is indeed sinful – not in a Biblical sense but because so many hours/so much resources go into bringing food to our table. I tell Princess – enjoy the food, and be happy when you eat. It is being here now, and enjoying everything on the table, and enjoying the great company around us. Nothing beats that! This is the secret to happiness.