At the time of writing, it’s been almost 15 days since the countrywide enhanced community quarantine was imposed. Since there is no clear indication as to when this pandemic will end, we have witnessed the undignified behavior of people panic buying food in supermarkets.
Instant noodles, canned tuna and sardines, rice, 3-in-1 coffee, powdered milk, and bottled water are the must-have items generally seen piled into the shopping carts at the check-out counter. These are generally perceived as disaster food items since they are inevitably included in those care packages distributed by the government or relief agencies following typhoons and earthquakes. Following the initiative of fast food joints, food delivery and pick-up services have now expanded to restaurants.
You may also like:
- Here’s where to buy veggies at unbelievably low prices and help our Benguet farmers at the same time
- The Marketman’s guide to the “smelliest” market in Cebu | Ces & The City
- Benguet farmers are disposing sacks and sacks of perfectly fine pipino — here’s what can be done
- From black cuchinta to a grandma’s tapa: an insider’s guide to Salcedo Market
- Here’s where to source fresh vegetables, fruits, and poultry direct from local farmers
However, with a little thought, there are always alternatives, especially now since meal times are the main time indicator of the day. Buying more than one needs invariably leads to wastage which can easily be resolved by good kitchen management and basic knowledge of food preservation.
Next time you’re shopping, remember the letters: DFF. Dry, Frozen and Fermented. They’re the three choices at our disposal to extend the life of our food at home.
Disaster food with low-carbon footprint
History has taught us that during times of severe shortages, people in the past stocked up on grains, pulses, and dried fruit, while examples of saved vegetables included dried taro leaves used for laing, root crops such as sweet potato (camote), taro (gabi), and cassava, all of which are ironically, a proven healthier substitute for rice.
Camote is perhaps one of the most underrated and underutilized food, simply because of its connotations with being poor. The word itself is used in Tagalog slang to mean stupid or ill-mannered. But in times of disasters, camote can be a life saver because, aside from not requiring refrigeration, it is high in fiber and beta carotene, an antioxidant, thereby making it extremely nutritious.
As an added ingredient in many dishes, camote can be boiled, baked, steamed, or fried. Like most root crops, camote should be stored in a cool dark space in your kitchen. This could be under the sink or anywhere away from direct sunlight.
Other produce that does not need refrigeration include bananas, sayote, calabaza (squash), tomato, garlic, onion, and ginger. Only fragile, leafy green vegetables like pechay, bok choi, cabbage, malunggay, and kangkong need refrigerating. Green soup can be made by using kangkong, celery, and kale that are nearing the end of their life.
The dry facts
Dry products like flour, sugar, and rice, have proven to be the backbone of any kitchen pantry. Build up a selection of grains, legumes, and pulses such as corn grits, mung bean (mongo), black, red and white beans, garbanzos, and lentils. These are not only a good source of fiber and low-fat protein, but they are also vegan and diabetic-friendly.
Fortify your rice by adding mongo, lentils, red and black beans, or garbanzos. Not only will it extend the rice, thereby feeding more people, but it will give a nice texture-packed dish that’s high in protein, fiber, and minerals to help strengthen the immune system. Remember to soak the grains between 8 and 24 hours prior to cooking.
Aside from the Lenten favorite ginisang monggo, the practice of making stews with grains and pulses, vegetables and meat can be traced back to the pre-Christian era in the Mediterranean region of Europe. The Portuguese, with their feijoada, Milanese cassoeula from Lombardy, Italy, the French cassoulet, the fabada asturiana from Northwestern Spain, and Spanish cocido madrileño are among the few inspirations for a one-pot dish that can serve a large family or frozen for future meals.
The big freeze
Some of the healthiest and most tasty food available is also the least expensive and most often ignored: frozen vegetables. Frozen carrots, broccoli and cauliflower; packs of peas and corn can be used for hearty soups and quick dishes. Even frozen French fries can be used as an alternative source of carbohydrate and rice substitute.
Freezing is also one way of preserving cooked dishes. Cook a large batch of adobo, then portion it for one or two people before freezing. Food stuffs that are suitable for freezing are bread, pan-fried tofu, meat, fish, and butter. However, eggs and mayonnaise are not suitable for freezing.
Fermentation is one of the oldest ways of preserving food and was used extensively prior to the days of refrigerators. Kimchi, sauerkraut, soy sauce, vinegar, tausi (black beans), patis (fish sauce), and buro are just a few examples.
Bok choi (pechay Baguio), sayote, cabbage, mustard leaves, radish, mango, and practically any fruit or vegetable can be preserved by using salt, sugar, and water. Pickling fruit and vegetables is also an option. Surplus tomatoes, cucumber, green papayas can be made into atchara, while cucumbers and mangoes can be pickled for use in future cooking.
Probiotics, the good bacteria found in fermented food, contributes to our digestive health with the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Plus, they play an important role in fortifying our immune system.
Not to forget, making jams and fruit jellies are also wonderful options to preserve surplus fruits that are already in their prime, ripened state.
Perhaps now is a good time to stop viewing food merely as an aspiration or entertainment, but rather as a source of healthy sustenance and joy.
Photos by Ige Ramos