I grew up in India during a time of food rationing and careful spending. In the 1970s, shortly after achieving independence from the British, India was at war with its neighbours. This was a long and tough period in India’s history and the after-effects of the two wars lingered for years. Families (like mine) continued to live frugally with the memory of doing without still so fresh in our minds.
My dad was in the Indian military and a brand new officer during the early wars. At that time, food for army soldiers, officers and their families was rationed. The quantity was assigned quota through the available budget. It was also dependent on location and a family’s needs. Eggs, meat, cheese were all considered prime food rations. Vegetables were also rationed though not as strictly as the proteins. As a result, cooking became more creative, and people started trying out various ways to infuse flavour while still remaining within assigned rations.
Vegetables from my mother’s garden in India
CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge
I am participating in Culinary Historian’s Canada 150 Food Challenge for Bloggers where we are celebrating Canada’s rich heritage through food. This month’s theme is focused on “doing without.” It’s a theme that really connects with my roots in India where even today, during a time of plenty, with the wars decades behind us, wasting food is simply not acceptable.
As a child in India, I saw great examples of people making sure that all parts of food were fully utilized. My mom was especially creative in this practice. One of the regular features on our weekly menu was danthal ki sabzi – a dry curry made with the stems of cauliflower, onions and spices. Though yummy, it had an acquired texture to say the least. My mom would slice the stems lengthwise in 4-in long pieces. The outside of the cauliflower stem is quite tough and the inside is tender, so one had to use the tip of the teeth to scrape the tender part off while the woody part would be discarded. Almost like ribs but with less saturated fat!
Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with parts of the vegetable that would normally end up in the compost heap. Beet tops, cauliflower stems and now broccoli stems. While I haven’t quite got the cauliflower stems right, I’ve discovered beet greens are absolutely delicious. And broccoli stems have become a favourite even with my kids. For my part, I’m glad to reduce food waste.
And while our lives have changed tremendously since those early years of childhood and memories of “doing without”, I still hold onto the values I learned from my mom and dad – those of careful living and counting our blessings.
Sautéed Broccoli Stems
- Cut the stems off the broccoli flower and rinse well
- Peel the knobby and extra hard bits off
- Slice the stems into pieces 1/4 in thick.
- Take a hot pan with a little olive oil and toss the broccoli stems in.
- Stir and cook approx 10-15 mins till they get a little bit of colour.
- A sprinkle of salt and pepper, and chilli peppers if you’d like.
I often serve this dish as an after-school snack. For dinner, this makes for a delicious topping on soups and pulao. Fabulous either and every way.