Saturday, 28 March 2009

earth hour: low-carbon cooking

This is my entry into my own food blogging event celebrating Earth Hour 2009 by cooking recipes with low-carbon footprints that can be enjoyed by candle light.

With full disclosure, I am heavily involved in organising Earth Hour in Australia and now that the day has arrived I am more than a little nervous as to whether the lights will go off across the country tonight. I just hope everyone remembers to switch off at 8:30pm!

Being so involved in Earth Hour inspired me to bring it to my food blogging pals, hence my invitaton to this blogger event.

But the challenge I set my fellow bloggers was a really difficult exercise.

It made me realise that every country is so interdependent on each other for food and products. I went through my cupboard and found that my rice came from Thailand, crushed tomatoes from Italy, dried fruits from Turkey, pepper from India and salt from Australia.

Think of all the processing, packaging and transport they each took to get from its natural state to its final product in my pantry. It’s mind boggling.

So what could I make that reduced packaging and transport? Something fresh, in season and very local. Living in the inner city, that becomes quite difficult. And even if I did purchase fresh vegetables at a farmers’ market, I needed to mix them with something (packaging/transport) or cook them (energy consumption).

For those that want to be sustainable, this puts us in a bind. No one wants to live in the dark ages, munching raw vegetables we pulled from the earth so how can we find a balance?

Other bloggers have found their balance by using ingredients from farmers’ markets or growing vegetables in their own gardens. I decided to show another way we can all reduce our carbon footprint: using leftovers.

I took leftovers from multiple meals to make one mighty delicious dinner and reduced the waste and landfill of my home. It’s a simple option that so often people neglect.

When food is plentiful, people are often extravagantly wasteful. I think I’m worse than most due to my craving for new flavour sensations and my disdain for reheated food. Since I started working for a conservation organisation and had a lot less personal time I have become quite adept at turning leftovers into a meal in their own right.

In this case I took:
- avocado and a tomato halves remaining from making sandwiches
- some cherry tomatoes leftover from a salad
- potato and feta mash leftover from a previous dinner
- half a zucchini remaining from making a pasta sauce
- a few olives from an antipasto platter
- basil grown in my garden

And I turned it into Potato & Feta Cakes with two toppings of Caponata and Tomato & Avocado.

Potato & Feta Cakes w Two Toppings
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 1.
1 cup potato & feta mash
1 egg, whisked
Olive oil, for frying
Avocado Topping
Tomato half, cubed
Avocado half, cubed
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon shredded basil
Caponata Topping
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ zucchini, finely sliced
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon shredded basil
1. To make the potato cakes, combine the egg and potato & feta mash and mix well. Form into two patties. Refrigerate while you prepare the toppings.
2. In a bowl add avocado and tomato cubes, the remaining basil and season with salt and pepper. Dress with a little olive oil and white wine vinegar and toss to combine. Set aside at room temperature.
3. In a frying pan, heat olive oil. Fry the garlic and zucchini until softened.
4. Add the cherry tomato halves and squash. Add olives and capers and fry until tomatoes are soft also.
5. Remove from heat, add 1 tablespoon basil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
6. In a frying pan, heat olive oil. Fry the potato patties until crispy on the outside.
7. Plate patties and spoon the toppings onto each patty. Serve immediately.

For those who want to do more to improve their carbon footprint in the kitchen, although I do not profess to be an expert, here are some sustainable tips:
* Reduce your consumption of meat and fish and choose animal products from local, ethical and sustainably-focused farmers.
* Educate yourself about aquaculture and learn which fish are endangered. Try to buy fish from plentiful stocks caught with sustainable methods.
* Shopping at farmers markets, butchers or a green grocer (rather than the supermarket) means you can ask questions about the produce and know where it came from and how it was grown. Prices are higher but the quality usually is higher too.
* When buying fruit and vegetables, use your sense of smell. Large, scentless produce is usually mass and often unsustainably produced. Smaller, less perfect specimens with fragrance are often the result of smaller scale farming techniques.
* Better still, grow your own food. Everyone has space for a pot of their own herbs, chilli plants and perhaps a citrus or tomato plant.
* Wash vegetables in a sink, not under running water.
* Cook with your leftovers. Turn baked potatoes into a frittata, leftover takeaway rice into fried rice or roast chicken bones and scraps into soup.
* Compost bins or worm farms are perfect for kitchen scraps, makes good fertiliser and reduces landfill. Just make sure there’s proper aeration or your compost may produce methane and undo your good work.

WWF has a great carbon footprint calculator. I took the test and came out at 3 planets - thanks to my vegetarian husband and not having a car - but even that is still too high. Take the test and see where you can cut down your emissions!

I hope to see many more of you participating in this event. For details click here.

And if you don't have time to join the food blogging event, please join Earth Hour: turn off your lights at 8:30pm (your own time zone) on Sat 28 March and cast your vote for the future of our planet. Register online to be counted!


  1. Wow! This looks delicious! I think it is a cool idea to create your own blog event.

  2. have you tried sweet potatoes or yams for this recipe instead of potatoes. I cant wait to try this recipe. Thanks

  3. I got 1.8 planets - thanks for that link it is pretty good. Who made it?
    I think I got a low score (though still not good enough) because I dont live near a supermarket that I rarely buy meat, and that there is only a little indian grocery near my place so oI buy a lot of local farmer market vegies and I have been getting into indian cooking with lentils and vegies. I also dont have a car. When Daniel and I move to the country together we want to be almost totally sustainable - with more room ill be able to grow a lot of vegies, raise chickens (for eggs and meat) and also have solar power.

    Ill forward that onto some of my friends.
    Nice recipie Anna! I am making a frittata tonight for dinner - they are also great with leftovers.
    Seeya :)
    Rachel M.


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