From amaranth to water spinach, locally-grown produce makes a comeback


Chefs are looking to reduce carbon footprints and reintroduce native favourites

Are you fed up of the rainbow on your plate? The spectrum of coloured bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli and red cabbage? It could also be the ruby-red lola rosa lettuce or napa cabbage in your salad, sprinkled generously with rucola leaves or the dark-hued micro greens of purple basil, red cabbage or beetroot if you live in a metro.

We all know that colourful fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants; but the rainbow garnish leaves a big carbon footprint in its wake. In fact, the food on our plate is much more than the colours, it can become an instrument for climate change reversal if taken seriously.

Imagine the supply chain of such produce: procuring, packaging and transporting them involves using up a lot of energy and generates immense plastic waste. This produce is grown all year round, using up a lot of water that could instead be used for the main food crops; it also translates into disproportionate use of resources and fertilisers and pesticides. The point to ponder here is whether it is the diners who want to see such food on their plates, or if it is lack of creativity and willingness by restaurants.

Think local

Thankfully, there is a new wave of awareness amongst chefs, with some of them taking initiatives to bring about a change. On the other hand, diners and travellers have also begun appreciating local cuisines.

Vegetables and greens such as water spinach, guwar phali (cluster beans), kachri (wild cucumber), chaulai (amaranth), moringa and herbs like jakhia (dog mustard), jimbu (allium), timur (red pepper) or stinging nettles are finding their moment in the sun, with chefs procuring them from local markets; some grow them in their own vegetable and herb gardens. This is a shift that may become a game-changer in an industry that feeds the market-led economy.

On the table

Among the boutique hotels, Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner has a range of regional curries and pickles like guwar kachri ki subzi, kaachra ki subzi, chaurai ka saag, aloe vera ki subzi with bajre ki roti and chana kadhi that are winning guests over for their novelty factor. The hotel sources ingredients from the local vegetable markets and has been growing some of them in the kitchen garden as well.

At JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa chefs use foraged stinging nettle to make kandali ka saag and use jakhia to temper several dishes. Given Uttarakhand’s rich flora of wild edible greens, the ingredients available to the hotel are diverse. They use pahadi kheera and pahadi palak, apart from the local millets to create Garhwali meals.

Even Vivanta Guwahati has a special Assamese breakfast buffet and seasonal Assamese thalis that make extensive use of local greens and vegetables, apart from the local fish, shrimp and pork. Local herbs and vegetables like elephant apple, chayote squash, bamboo shoots, fiddlehead ferns, ash gourd, cilantro, skunkvine etc figure prominently in their thalis.

Restaurants in the metros follow close on the heels of their counterparts in resort towns. Kitchens now focus on sourcing ingredients directly from local farmers, and chefs take great interest in introducing diners to native produce.

Chef Thomas Zacharias at The Bombay Canteen has been actively promoting native produce. He successfully uses the seasonal moras bhaji foraged from the mangroves in Vasai to make vada and a salad.

Under The Neem in Gurugram, has a menu based on whatever grows in their kitchen garden. While their mezze platter uses brinjals and leafy greens, dishes like jowar paratha with fresh radish and assorted greens, and the vegetarian mung bean omelette, accommodate seasonal greens like mustard, amaranth and dill.

VietNom in Gurugram has an eclectic Vietnamese menu, featuring herbs and greens sourced from local markets and farmers. Chef Vaibhav Bhardwaj uses locally sourced water spinach or morning glory as a side dish for grilled salmon.

Native ingredients are also being reinterpreted in interesting ways by several chefs. Take for instance, chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, Delhi, who has been using vegetables like kundru (ivy gourd) and lauki (bottle gourd) in innovative ways in his salads and curries. Similarly, an innovative bathua and ricotta ravioli has been a hit at Manu Chandra’s Toast & Tonic in Bengaluru.

Sridevi Jasti from Vibrant Living Foods in Hyderabad, caters meal boxes using moringa greens in hummus and dips, gongura leaves in chutneys and salads and purslane in raita.

While this new wave of innovation is restricted to fine-dining restaurants for now, it is a welcome step into making a dovetail effect that is sure to trickle down to the masses. Small steps count.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 5:48:33 PM |

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