6 tips to eco-friendly cooking in winter

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With the arrival of winter, many of us will be changing the type of meals we prepare, with both the weather and the seasonality of fruits and vegetables factoring into that change.

This year’s food trends are leaning towards sustainable and eco-friendly consumption as climate change, global warming and ethical food production become ever more prominent factors in the global conversation.

This has seen trends look at creative ways of incorporating meat replacements and alternatives into recipes in a manner that has meals tasting just as delicious or even enhanced in flavour with a healthy twist.

“There is also a trend of moving to more freshly prepared produce rather than the preservative filled alternatives. Consumers are also asking questions – which is good? With the increase of the more food-focused television and social media channels, consumers are more aware of food and ingredients.

On the positive side, this is opening up a market that is willing to leave their comfort zones and taste and experiment with new dishes. Another major trend is the adaptation of menus and recipes to accommodate dietary issues like lactose intolerance or gluten free, and even special diets like banting and keto,” says Executive Chef at Protea Hotel by Marriott O.R Tambo, Coovashan Pillay.

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Executive Chef at Protea Hotel by Marriott O.R Tambo, Coovashan Pillay

Many global food chains have had to adapt their menu offerings to move with these trends with McDonald’s offering a trial ‘McVegan burger’, Kentucky Fried Chicken offering vegetarian chicken, Domino’s creating an entirely vegan menu and Starbucks, along with many other coffee chains, offering cow’s milk alternatives in the form of almond, oat or rice milk, among others.

The focus on sustainable eating practices has also seen trends centered around sustainable cooking methods with many households and food business establishments looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint in their everyday actions.

“The type of cooking materials we use can also impact either our health and the amount of energy used while cooking.”

Having had to change the way he operates his kitchen and business practices in line with these green trends, Chef Pillay offers his top six sustainable cooking tricks and tips to help you go green at home this winter.

1. Electrical stove-top cooking – the sustainable way

Electricity is generated from raw materials that are mined and sourced from the earth’s natural resources such as coal and fuel, making electricity less eco-friendly and also more costly than alternative energy sources. There are ways to reduce the amount of electricity used while cooking such as:

  • Slicing meats and vegetables into thin slices to make sure they cook faster.
  • Using pots that cover the entire stove plate.
  • Keeping the lid on the pot during cooking in order to reduce the amount of heat and energy escaping during cooking, thus reducing cooking time and electricity usage.
  • When cooking rice or pasta, you could also use a large enough pot to place vegetables above to steam, cooking two dishes at the same time, and then save your hot water to wash your dishes in.

2. Air frying

One of Pillay’s favourite appliances, the Air Fryer, works by means of a small built-in fan circulating heat over food thereby immersing and surrounding items in the same temperature as would be done when deep frying. As no oil is used in an air fryer, the same cooking effect is produced in the method causing the dish to taste the same but doing away with the unhealthy elements of a deep-fried dish. Think home-made granola, beetroot and sweet potato crisps, healthy coconut fried chicken or Jalapeno poppers, glazed salmon or winter sweet treats like apple crumble or home-made scones.

3. All-in-one pot

The powerless crock pot is making a comeback this year as the most sustainable way to cook all-in-one dishes without using any type of fuel or fire. You can also easily make them at home at little cost. The powerless crock pot or Wonder Oven works by placing a pot of food that has been brought to the boil into the drawstring pouch and leaving it there for the required cooking time until the dish is ready. You’d be surprised how hot the pot still is after hours of cooking. Some of Pillay’s personal favourite dishes include one-pot pasta, chicken and rice, slow-cooked chilli con carne, salmon teriyaki, Asian curries and breakfast items like frittatas or oats.

4. Eco-friendly cookware

The type of cooking materials we use can also impact either our health and the amount of energy used while cooking. Cookware manufacturers are now using ceramic to create non-stick pots, pans and oven dishes, replacing Teflon, which starts to break down at a lower temperature than ceramic-coated pans causing foods to stick, the non-stick coating to chip and break down and general wear and tear. Ceramic coated non-stick pans take less time than Teflon to heat the surface of the pan to the proper cooking temperature due to the aluminium they are made from. Cookware is also being made out of recycled materials like recycled aluminium or bamboo.

5. Going gas

According to Pillay, chefs generally prefer the gas cooking method in large kitchens to simmer sauces and sauté vegetables, and for precision cooking because of the ease of being able to adjust a gas flame according to your recipe. There’s no need to wait for the burner to heat up or cool down, and energy usage stops as soon as you turn off the burner – and you can still cook if the electricity goes out. Try and opt for natural gas for your stove top.

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Gas cooking

6. Fire

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Braaing

Barbequing, grilling, spit fire or braai – these are all many names for what is essentially the same cooking method: fire. More and more chefs have gone back to the basics by using this cooking method in their restaurants such as popular Korean barbeque eatery Galbi and the local Chesa-Nyama franchise, which has spread through Gauteng and Durban over past few years. Perhaps the best factor of this cooking method is that, whatever you’re cooking, it’s always going to turn out tasting delicious. Wood-fire stoves are a great off-the-grid kitchen tool, as are gas-fire grills. For outdoor cooking, you can opt for an open fire, a wood barbeque, or an earth oven for pizzas, breads, and foil-wrapped dishes.

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Korean barbeque eatery, Galbi

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