We only need to look at our past for answers when it comes to choosing ideal storage, cooking and serving dishes that are environment-friendly
In the last two parts of this series we navigated the hazards of using materials like plastic, non-stick cookware and aluminium vessels in the kitchen. Today, let us examine the wide variety of materials available for the different applications in the kitchen. I will break down the kitchen workflow into three parts: storage, cooking and finally serving & eating.Storage
We learnt that plastic breaks down in a few months and is not an ideal storage material for grains, flours and lentils in the kitchen. For dry goods like rice, wheat, lentils and other grains, stainless steel and glass containers are suitable. Add a few sticks of vasambu (Acorus Calamus), turmeric and some neem leaves to the rice and grain containers to keep weevils and other insects at bay.
Flours, which are more fragile than the grains, can be stored in glass or steel containers and kept inside the refrigerator to prolong their useful life. If you buy groceries in bulk, do remember to periodically dry the grains in the hot sun.
As mentioned in an earlier series we store drinking water in copper pots which has a number of health benefits including purification of water by killing pathogens. Please do not store drinking water in plastic containers.Cooking
Iron is now mostly forgotten in Indian kitchens and deserves to return to its rightful place. Cast iron pans for preparing dosas and kadais (woks) for all basic preparations are very good, as iron uses heat very efficiently and saves cooking fuel. A properly seasoned cast iron pan or wok uses very little oil and can simulate a non-stick like effect. It is also believed that the iron from the cookware can be absorbed by us through the food which is a bonus health benefit.
Iron needs a little extra maintenance to prevent rust. After cleaning with a mild, natural dish wash powder, it should be seasoned with a layer of cooking oil to prevent rust. We must remember not to cook very sour or acidic dishes in iron cookware.
Stainless steel of a thick gauge is a good, all-round material for nearly all types of cuisines. Apart from pressure cookers and serving dishes, which are commonly made from steel, it is also recommended that we replace all non-stick cooking utensils with stainless steel counterparts.
Clay is another excellent material to cook and serve food. It has long been used as it is economical, long-lasting and imparts a unique flavour to food. It also has a natural cooling effect and can be used to store drinking water and beverages.
After the last article, I received a number of queries on microwave oven safe plastic. Ceramic or glass dishes can be safely used instead of plastic for heating and cooking in these ovens.Serving and eating
Kansa, which is a form of bronze, is a very popular material in eastern India, used to make plates, tumblers and serving bowls. It is believed that using Kansa to eat our food and drink water from on a daily basis imparts many health benefits apart from purifying the food. In our home, each individual has their own Kansa plate and tumbler for their exclusive use to help them realise the benefits of eating from Kansa plates.
Silver cutlery, while expensive, has always been recommended in India for eating food. In many Indian homes, silverware is available but is kept safely locked up. Please consider using it daily in the kitchen to realise health benefits.
This article is a brief introduction to the plethora of options available for safe and healthy cooking in Indian kitchens. Many of these materials are economical, easily found and none of them pose a threat to health and the environment the way non-stick cookware and plastic do.
Happy exploring! Look out for more such safe and healthy options for cooking and eating.