A season for giving, receiving and overindulging – Christmas dinner is meant to be a feast, right? The truth is that in terms of keeping a green kitchen, it’s normally one of the worst meals of the year. But by following two simple rules (and a few pointers), you can turn that around, boost your culinary kudos and create new family traditions at the same time.
RULE 1: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SIDES
If cooked well, the side dishes really are the best things on the plate. So why not ditch the meat altogether? As long as you have an amazing gravy, it’s a very easy thing to do, and people really aren’t going to miss the meat (hands up if dry, bland turkey is your favourite meat?).
If you love turkey, go for a free-range or organic option. This is the same advice I’d give for eating any meat at any time of the year, and it stretches to seafood too: eat less, eat better. Better means your source is better and the supply chain is shorter and less mass-produced.
Eat less, eat better. This is a simple rule for a more sustainable way to eat meat.
Always look up the farm your meat comes from. Is the farm a real place or actually a quaint brand name? Is it within 500km of you? By checking where your meat or seafood comes from, it does a lot towards making your diet more sustainable. Seek out sustainably certified seafood. If you’re looking for smoked salmon, the blue MSC tag is still the most widely used label, and you can now find it at Hong Kong supermarkets.
Try using Omnipork instead of pork for stuffing balls. Mixed with breadcrumbs, chopped dried fruit and some fresh herbs, fry them up and no one will be the wiser (and you’ll actually get compliments!). You can choose whether or not you actually reveal that they are, in fact, meat free.
In terms of side dishes, go to town here. For me, a good Christmas dinner is like tapas – everything complements everything else with contrasting flavours. Think about sweet, spice, salt, acid, savouriness and heat and consider different textures of smooth, crunchy, crispy and silky-soft to make your Christmas dinner exciting to the palate.
When you can, buy your veg from local farmers’ markets. In Hong Kong, check out the Sunday farmers’ market at Pier 7 in Central or the seasonal Tong Chong Street Market.
Beetroot, broccoli and cauliflower are often great in December, but if you have to go to the supermarket, you have the trade-off between buying more local loose-packed vegetables rather than plastic-wrapped organics, which may be more sustainably produced at the source before hopping onto the plane.
Use local sweet potatoes instead of air-freighted Idaho spuds. If no one likes sprouts – don’t cook sprouts! Add a little spice and honey to your root veggies and make sure you’re not underseasoning anything. From my 20 years of experience as a chef, most people don’t use anywhere near enough salt and pepper to make their cooking tasty. It’s probably the biggest thing you can do to reduce wastage – especially for big meals like this one – as food wastage will significantly drop if your food is tastier!
RULE 2: SHARE!
The more, the merrier, they say, and this is doubly true around the holidays. Cooking for two people produces proportionally more kitchen waste than cooking for 20, so inviting friends and family is more fun and reduces waste. Plus, there are more people to take home any leftovers you do have.
Of course, you don’t want to run out of food, so planning a smaller main course along with lots of small starter dishes and desserts that can be delayed is a great idea. Keep some cheese in the fridge that can fill a gap or be saved for another time without creating wastage.
If you have cooked turkey, give the bones to someone who will make a soup out of it. Wash and recycle your foil or turkey tray. Freeze any leftovers you’re not likely to eat within three days so that they don't end up pumping nitrogen into a landfill.
If you’ve cooked too much or overbought snacks you won’t end up eating, start looking close to home and plate up a few extra meals for domestic helpers to share with friends.
Use less meat, cook better veggies, reduce wastage, make better use of your leftovers and share the love. You’ll not only be doing your bit for the world, but you’ll be loved by those in your own little world too.
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