How many weeks worth of food items to you keep at home?
Few days back, I was looking out for new ingredients at the wet market, when a lady next to me started lamenting how she threw away sprouted potatoes every time. I thought she was complaining to the stall owner how fast the stocks were turning green, but she went on to elaborate that, because the potatoes at the stall were always looking so nice, she ended up buying a bag home, but never seemed to cook them. So when they started to sprout after a while, the only safe thing to do was to throw them away.
I had two questions in my mind as I listened : “How does a nice potato look like? So much so that the lady buys it every time she sees it?” I am biased towards the produce found in the local wet markets, they all seem very nice to me. So if her motivation to buy is “nice looking potatoes”, going by the same reason, I could end up buying every nice looking vegetable in the market.
And my second question was: “With 101 ways to cook potatoes, how can one end up throwing perfectly good ingredients away? And every time?” I wanted to believe that the “every time” point could be an exaggeration, as “saving money is the greatest motivation to reduce food wastage” according to this study here.
I watched interestingly how the stall owner spoke with discomfort as he dispensed the perfect tip that greatly conflict with his business interest :” Just buy enough, don’t buy too much lah. Only wasting your own money.” How’s that for a solution? While companies all over the world roll out promotion after promotion to entice customers to buy more (Buy 3 for price of 2! Buy 1 get 25% off 2nd item!), this stall owner sheepishly adviced the customer to buy lesser. I am not sure if he had kept his volume lower to save the food wasting customer from embarrassment or he was worrying that his business would be affected if everyone hears his honestly simple tip. Either way, his response greatly reflected 2 top habits that lead Singapore households to waste food at home ; over preparation of food/ingredients and oversight of expiring food inventories at home.
For me, my greatest sore is also the greatest solution to food waste reduction : a tiny kitchen at home. Due to the lack of space, I have since developed a few (very good) habits to stock up less on pantry items. Having a wet market and a 24 hours supermarket a stone’s throw away makes cooking with a low food inventory a lot easier. If I run out of an ingredient, I try to replace with another, or do without altogether. Often, I find that I do not really need a perfectly stocked pantry to prepare my daily meals. Then once a month, I do a “total cleanse” with my pantry; to use up every single fresh ingredient or items that are close to expiry. You will be surprised by how well stocked your pantry actually is, by refraining from grocery shopping for as long as possible.
Another great tip I have on keeping a low pantry stock is to DIY. Available on the retail shelves are bottles of ready made sauce to make cooking more convenient, but most can be prepared at home if you already have the basic condiments ready such as chili paste, vegetarian oyster sauce, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar etc. Do a quick search on the internet, and there are thousands of recipe entries for teriyaki sauce, black pepper sauce, sesame mayonnaise dressing, etc and the beauty of these diy sauces is that you can season them exactly to the way you like it. I have also recently found that icing sugar is simply adding corn starch to fine sugar after processing it in a blender, one less item on my shelf since I already have corn starch and sugar at home.
And talking about blender, they are great for making diy flour too, especially the types that you don’t use that often and certainly won’t need to buy 1 kg for, like I make my own small batch oat flour to make breads like this and this. As you can see from my photos, my homemade flour might not be as fine as the store-bought ones**, but it doesn’t have to be for my bread recipes. Moreover, between getting a not-quite-up-to-miller-standard flour and turning good quality flour rancid due to infrequent use, I’ll settle with coarser flour in my breads and think of it as a better fiber source.
What are the must-haves in your pantry?
** I have read that the ultra high end blenders like Vitamix and Blendec can produce really fine diy flours. Use them to make you own diy flour if you already own one. Lucky you!