The coronavirus kitchen: What home cooks create during lockdown
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The coronavirus kitchen: What home cooks create during lockdown

More time plus more people at home is a recipe for culinary innovation. We grill some experts, who dish up some food for thought

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Food personality Shaily Lipa shows how to organize the fridge so that there is less wasted food Courtesy Shaily Lipa)
Food personality Shaily Lipa shows how to organize the fridge so that there is less wasted food Courtesy Shaily Lipa)

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home, but as the coronavirus pandemic rages, it’s the war room.

Besides the three meals a day needed during home quarantines and closures, it’s also where homeschooling gets done, games are played, conversations conducted, and snacks are constantly being cobbled together.

For cookbook author and television presenter Shaily Lipa, it’s the space that created her life’s work.

“The kitchen has power,” said Lipa, speaking from her own in Ra’anana. “A tidy, organized kitchen does something for the energy of the house.”

The front cover of Shaily Lipa’s new book, ‘Hakol B’seder,’ about organizing the kitchen (Courtesy Shaily Lipa)

Lipa, whose latest book, “Hakol B’seder” just came out in Hebrew and will be published in English (as “KitcheNeat”) , is a bit obsessive when it comes to well-organized kitchens. She reminisced about her younger brother’s nanny, who worked for her family for just a year when Lipa was six but left an indelible mark on the young girl for her ability to create a warm, functional kitchen.

The methodology stuck with Lipa, and even after all the cookbooks, she feels that her true message is how to operate one’s kitchen.

“If you organize your kitchen and cook more at home, it doesn’t need to be every day, but if you make it active and warm, light the oven, you’ll feel it in other areas of your life,” she said.

It’s a message that has particular power right now, said Lipa.

“Bottom line, if the kitchen is organized and active, not just tidy, if someone’s cooking there, then all areas of life are more productive,” she said. “If it’s too crowded and overwhelming, then it’s missing balance.”

Some tips from Lipa, beginning with functionality:

Feel free to lose it. If there are foods or tools that aren’t being used or are out of date, get rid of them.

“Don’t leave your kitchen with things that aren’t functional,” she said. “If it’s stuck in your kitchen, it will be stuck in how you operate in your kitchen. You don’t want five-year-old ice in your freezer, because you wouldn’t want five-year-old ice in your cup.”

To buy or not to buy. Purchases for a kitchen are very individual, depending on who lives there — a student, a single adult, a young couple or an older couple, a family with kids. Everyone needs to think before buying, particular now that money feels much tighter.

“Ask yourself two questions before you buy something,” said Lipa. “If it’s for the fridge, will it get finished? If it’s something that will be cooked or eaten soon, then that’s fine. but if the answer is just maybe, then don’t buy it.”

A word on spices, particularly as Passover is approaching and those who change over their kitchens over tend to buy new spices as well.

“You don’t need every spice in the store, just what you cook with,” said Lipa. “You want to turn our purchases to smart ones and not impulsive buys.”

Especially this Passover, when it will be harder to get to the store because of the coronavirus and not all items are in stock, “the goal is to think before we buy, according to need,” said Lipa.

Location, location, location. Lipa has a term she likes to use, FUFL — first use, first location — which gives prominence to the items used more. If it’s chicken rather than fish, the chicken gets the first row in the fridge. If you stock white rice and brown rice, but white rice is cooked more often, make sure the white rice container is in front of the brown rice.

(Which brings Lipa to containers. She says it’s always better to store legumes and rice in clear containers, and glass is better than plastic, because bacteria can sometimes grow in the tiny bubbles that can form in a plastic container. Pour the rice or beans into the jar, and label it with the name and date.)

What’s cooking?

Now that you’ve organized your kitchen, what’s cooking for that next meal?

Marni Mandell, who founded Facebook group ‘Real Food in the Time of Corona’ to stave off bad food choices while she was in quarantine (Courtesy Marni Mandell)

A lot, according to Real Food in the time of Corona, a Facebook group formed by Marni Mandell, a Tel Aviv-based executive who created the group when she entered quarantine on March 16, 2020, following a work trip to the US.

Two weeks later, there are 983 members, and about 100 new members every day, said Mandell.

Mandell, who says she isn’t necessarily a foodie but was looking to eat properly during her quarantined period, was thinking about making good food choices during her time at home.

“What would happen if you looked at this as a choice we were making and to have the resources to go and say, this is what I’m thinking about making?” said Mandell.

The Facebook group took on a life of its own after the first few days, said Mandell. She makes an effort to put up one or two posts each day to get members talking — what are you cooking for dinner? What was your cooking failure of the day? — and hundreds of people are posting what they cooked or want to cook, sharing recipes and asking questions.

It’s a global group, with members from all Europe and Asia, the US and South America, Israel and several Arab countries — including professional chefs who share information and recipes.

“I have people thanking me for opening the group because it’s a light in their lives right now,” said Mandell. “People are so stressed out about so many things. As things have gotten more and more chaotic and scary, there’s a place that is not ignoring the situation, but is making the best out of it. It’s hard to be both cognizant and yet find a little bit of joy.”

The kitchen garden

With all this time at home, it’s a great opportunity to make kombucha (fermented tea) or sourdough bread.

However, it might be a little hard to put your hands on some scoby, which stands for the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (although you can make your own), and social distancing makes it nearly impossible to borrow some of the neighbor’s sourdough starter.

Enter illustrator Ilana Stein, with her heavily foraged menu and focus on the natural wonders one can find in one’s kitchen.

Illustrator Ilana Stein in the garden near her home  (Courtesy Ilana Stein)

Stein, the illustrator and creator of “A Year in the Garden,” a charmingly illustrated calendar charting the seasonal growth and vegetables of the Israeli garden, rents a small stone house on the grounds of the Ein Kerem National Park, where she lives with her husband, Davidi Maller, and their two children, amid ancient farming terraces thick with greens, grasses and flowers. But for the purpose of these activities, she didn’t leave her doorstep.

“I took a ride in the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and pantry and took out everything that could grow into food,” wrote Stein. “Abundance exists everywhere, at any time, even in these unusual times.”

Food can be grown from herbs, beans and fruit seeds, said Stein. It may become sprouts that can be consumed after a few days, or seeds that begin growing right away and will become a tree in a few years.

One of Ilana Stein’s illustrations of what’s found, and grown, in her kitchen (Courtesy Ilana Stein)

She offered us some examples to follow from her own kitchen collection:

Start with beans, any bean. Lentils, beans and any “whole” seeds can grow into plants that can be consumed as sprouts or kept growing in a pot or earth into mature plants that produce their own seeds. Think “Jack and the Beanstalk,” said Stein. “It’s a story based on the marvelous growth capabilities of beans.”

The spring season is the best time to start growing beans of all kinds. In order to get a good crop going, plant them in a pot with a depth of 30 centimeters or more. When the plants grow tall, tie them to sticks or poles to support them.

Corn can always be popped into popcorn, but if you skip the snack and water it instead, it germinates quickly, like green grass. Corn plants grown from those seeds will provide corn with hard seeds that are suitable for making… popcorn.

Spices. Most spices are derived from seeds, said Stein, naming mustard seeds, fenugreek, chia, coriander seeds, sesame, cumin and many more. All can be planted and sprouted, creating a host of health and culinary benefits that are perfect for adding to salads. The seeds can also be planted in pots, creating a new generation of spices after a few months of growth.

Fruits and their seeds. Fruit are the parts of plants that contain the seeds for the fruit’s next chapter, including the fruits purchased at the supermarket and placed in the refrigerator or in a bowl on the counter.

After squeezing a lemon, peeling an avocado, chopping a tomato or eating an apple, take the seeds and plant them. The seeds will yield an entirely new generation of plants and fruits. Ditto for nuts and almonds still resting inside their peel.

Ilana Stein illustrates and explains how to regenerate greens without soil (Courtesy Ilana Stein)

Onions. The onion is a bulb, hoarding water and food that enables it to grow, sometimes growing leaves while still sitting in the kitchen basket.

Onion leaves are edible and delicious, said Stein, and can be grown by placing the bottom of the onion (with the roots) in a glass with water (replace the water once in few days). Within a few days, green leaves will appear. The same can be done with garlic, leeks, the bottom of scallions or half of a withering onion.

Roots. Ginger and turmeric are large and sturdy, with magnificent plants that yield additional roots, said Stein. Just place them in a pot (preferably a large or medium-sized pot) in a warm but not too sunny spot and wait for them to grow big leaves.

What about your scraps? Stein likes to take the edible scraps from vegetables and plant them for regrowth.

Another waste-not, want-not expert, clinical nutritionist, herbalist and naturopath Lyn Manor, suggests making oven-baked chips out of the peels. She usually combines white potatoes, sweet potatoes and parsnip with olive oil and salt, and bakes them until crispy.

Manor also cooks with many vegetable leaves that others generally discard, combining leaves from cauliflower, beets, broccoli for a stir fry or in soup. Other tips? She crushes her egg shells and scatters them, along with coffee grounds, around her potted herbs to mineralize the soil, and reuses chicken and meat bones to make broth.

And as for those dandelions growing in the garden or along the sidewalk? Pick some of those weeds, said Manor, and eat the greens in your salad. They’re full of nutrients and perfect in times of scarcity.

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