Learning to love food
When it comes to food we Kiwis are a pretty wasteful lot. Each year we spend $872 million on food that gets thrown away, uneaten. One solution to addressing our throwaway attitude is to learn from different cultures and understand how to appreciate our good fortune in the abundance we enjoy. We have asked three new New Zealanders what value food holds for them.
RESPECT IS EVERYTHING
Banu Sidharth, founder and owner of Banu’s Cooking Class has taught hundreds of New Zealanders to appreciate and respect food.
Banu says she learnt from the best. Her father was the top South Indian catering contractor in New Delhi for 51 years, while her mother was the backbone of the family, managing a busy household of five children. It was through them Banu learnt about the value of food.
“After a big wedding there would be more leftovers than you could know what to do with. My father would load the food on to a hired cart and take it to the slums to feed the poor. There is a belief that when your stomach is full you say nicer things and it is easier to bless others. I strongly believe that my father’s redistribution of the food bought him success from the blessings of those he fed.”
Banu says that in traditional Indian culture, food is believed to be the embodiment of Annapoorna — the Hindu goddess of food, energy and nourishment.
“Food is sacred and we’re taught to respect it. Wasting food is a sign of disrespecting Annapoorna and an insult both to the goddess and to the person who prepared it.”
There is also the belief that every morsel of food has the name of the eater written on it. “My students understand that the food they eat is meant for them. That connection to your food is precious; it brings health and allows you to flourish.”
Migrating to a new country also plays a major part in the way food is viewed, says Banu. “We come to New Zealand with very little and have to work hard to build prosperity. That attitude means you don’t take things for granted and value all that you have — and food is no exception.”
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 Tbsp each of chana dal and black gram dal (aka urad dal)
¼ cup raw cashews (optional, or use peanuts)
1 Tbsp raisins (optional)
2 dried red chillies or green chillies, chopped
15-20 fresh curry leaves (optional, or fresh coriander)
Pinch of asafoetida (optional)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 ½ cups cooked rice (ideally basmati that is grainy and not sticky)
Salt to taste
Juice of 1 medium lemon
- Heat a pan with oil on a medium-low heat. When hot add mustard seeds, when they crackle add chana dal, stirfry for a minute then add urad dal and mix well. When the lentils are light brown add cashews, raisins, chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida and mix well.
- Once lentils and cashews are golden, remove from the heat, add turmeric powder and mix.
- Warm the rice and add into this mix, add salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve hot or cold.
FROM GARDEN TO TABLE
For Chinese-Kiwi Tracey Lee, growing up in a family of market gardeners has meant an ingrained appreciation of where food comes from.
“My siblings and I were surrounded by open vegetable gardens and often helped out after school with harvesting. I’m sure my upbringing rubbed off on me, as I enjoy cooking with fresh food and New Zealand is a great place to live with the abundance of great produce, meat and seafood to create with.”
“When we visit them, Mum and Dad always have fruit or veges to take home. I guess I’ve been spoilt in that respect, and I shop where produce is the freshest — at local produce markets.”
It’s not without its challenges though, as Tracey has to find a variety of ways to use up that windfall.
“At the moment it’s lemons. My father and mother, Sammy and Pauline, are busily preserving lemons like there’s no tomorrow, and then bagging them up to give away to people. That’s Chinese culture for you, the sharing of things.
On a smaller scale I’m making batches of lemon curd. For inspiration, I’m more of an internet kind of girl, that’s where I get my recipe ideas. I’m also learning those Chinese family recipes from my mum, so they continue to be enjoyed in future generations”
Tracey says Chinese culture is about family and sharing, and food is central to this.
“Cooking in our home — and I am sure in many Chinese households — is all about spending time together and eating from shared dishes around the table. We go to Mum and Dad’s house every fortnight for a family dinner and this gives me the opportunity to catch up with my parents, my sisters, brother and nieces to see what everyone is up to, help to prepare the meal and eat together.
Avoiding food waste is something Pauline instilled in her six children. “Great taste, no waste” was something she used to say to us as children.
In preparing meals, there is not much that goes to waste — chicken frames or porkbones make a great base for broths or stocks, and she often uses unusual cuts of meat not usually found in a regular supermarket (pork knuckles, pork cheeks). Mum purposely over-caters as she knows there is always someone who happily will be willing to take the leftovers of her cooking.”
Steamed chinese gok jai (dumplings)
5 pieces black wood ear mushrooms (auricula black fungus)
Oil, for stir-frying
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
½ cabbage, finely chopped
2 pieces preserved dried turnip or radish, finely chopped
2 chillies (optional), finely chopped
250g barbecue pork (char siu), chopped in small cubes
250g roast pork, chopped in small cubes
200g water chestnuts, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp oyster sauce
½ tsp soy sauce
1 tsp powdered stock (chicken or vegetable)
1-2 tsp cornflour mixed with water to make a paste
- Rehydrate the mushrooms in salty boiling water for 15 minutes. Rinse the salt off, drain and chop finely.
- Heat a wok and add some oil. Fry the onion for 2 minutes, add the carrot and cabbage to cook through. Add mushrooms, turnip, chilli, pork and lastly the water chestnuts.
- Add oyster sauce, soy sauce and stock. Mix through, taste and season if required. If overly salty you can add a teaspoon of sugar to balance flavours.
- Add the cornflour paste to thicken the mix to a firm consistency. Leave to cool
- Add water to the bottom of a steamer and bring to the boil.
- Place a little filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper and fold in half to make a half moon. Pinch the edges to seal.
- From one corner of each dumpling, fold pinches along the edge to make a scalloped pattern. Place the dumplings on an oiled plate so they don’t stick.
- Place the dumplings in the steamer, cover and cook for 7 minutes or until the dumplings are translucent. Remove from steamer and allow to cool before eating.
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
For Tongan-born Maile Uluave, surplus food is a way to bring the community together. Maile is chairwoman of Multi-Educational Support and Services Trust (MESST), a charity that provides a range of services for Pacific Island people and new migrants.
Every Wednesday around 20 families attend MESST’s community cooking class at the Langimalie Community Garden in Onehunga, using bread donated from a local bakery, leftover produce donated by stallholders at Avondale markets and harvest from the gardening plots at the community garden.
Maile says the workshop teaches cooking and gardening skills, and provides people with the knowledge to take back into their own homes. For Maile this is crucial, as words alone do not lead to change.
“Our children need to see us as role models; we need to lead the way to healthy eating and exercise. At the cooking workshops I see people’s minds opening. It’s so easy to fall into the takeaway trap — we love KFC but it’s not the right food for us, but cooking a curry with lots of vegetables is. I see people start to grow their own food and cook with it and watch as it reveals their inner happiness and joy. This brings good health.”
Learning to make use of donated food is a skill in itself (tip: a surplus of cucumbers mixed with mango and coconut make for a fantastic tropical drink) and Maile say some of the biggest barriers is unfamiliar foods.
“We don’t like Italian bread because we don’t know what it is, we’ve never tasted it. But if you are given a loaf of Italian bread and learn how to use it, chances are that we will like it. It turns out that if you toast it and spread it with butter it’s like any other bread!”
For the past few years the garden produced a lot of silverbeet but no one was using it. So Maile organised a workshop that taught people how to cook with it.
“Once they had tasted it and been given the skills to cook it and grow it themselves the knowledge was there. I bet we won’t have any extra silverbeet in the garden from now on.”
Even produce that has begun to turn and can’t be eaten doesn’t go to waste, with scraps going into Bokashi bins, which then goes to feed the kumara that are harvested to come back to the table. Above all Maile says that the sharing of knowledge is one of the most powerful tools.
“People like to share their skills, teaching and learning from others and everyone can participate — that’s what makes the community richer.”