Food 31 May 2024 4 MIN

Still using regular salt and sugar? Boring!

Salt + green garlic = chef’s kiss

When celery-flavoured salt meets vodka, Tabasco hot sauce, and tomato juice, it’s a match made in Bloody Mary heaven, especially on a Sunday afternoon. And cardamom pods in a jar of sugar add a spicy-sweet undertone to masala chai for a much-needed pick-me-up on Monday mornings. 

Besides being the flavouring bases for almost every dish we cook, salt and sugar have another thing in common—they’re voraciously absorbent of other flavours, and this opens up a whole wide world of elevated pantry staples. So why go for plain when you can be phenomenal?   

Most home chefs are familiar with the pain of throwing away a not-quite-finished vanilla bean stalk. But what if I told you that you can use it to upgrade pantry essentials, guilt free? Next time, bury the stalk in your sugar box to make a vanilla-flecked sweetener or stir it straight into your macchiato. Squeezed the perfect jar of OJ but cannot face the pile of orange peels staring you in the face? Just remember to zest the peels and add them to salt to make the perfect rim for an orange margarita.  

Using all parts of an ingredient is exactly what chef-mixologist Arina Suchde advocates in her book The No-Waste Kitchen Cookbook. “Don't look at it as waste. If you look at it as a new ingredient, you'll be able to think more creatively,” she shares. Her favourite not-really-waste ingredient, coriander stems, is ideal for a mean all-purpose Asian-style chilli oil (recipe below) that goes with just about everything. And you don’t need to be Carmy Berzatto to make it.

Apart from transforming you into a zero-waste ninja or mixologist with an enviable collection of flavoured cocktail salts and sugars, zhuzhing up your pantry essentials is also a great way to preserve seasonal produce and save leftover peels, roots, and stems from the compost bin. Palate and planet, it’s a win-win!

Another way to think about this is by going seasonal. Chef Niyati Rao, who heads Mumbai’s ingredient-forward restaurant Ekaa, won my heart when she talked about every Surti’s favourite ingredient: green garlic, a winter special that she’s made perennial with her pisyu loon, a traditional Garhwali green garlic salt (recipe below).  

Even ghee, that most quotidian of pantry staples, can be jazzed up with a bit of creative zero-waste thinking. Vanshika Bhatia, chef-owner at Petite Pie Shop and chef partner at Omo, has created a spice-tinged version for Indian cooking (recipe below) and a herbed one for European cuisines.   

And if you really want to channel your inner Martha Stewart, you can also use these flavoured salts, sugars, and oils as gifts—buy a few pretty jars, fill them up, and you have a handmade present that your friends can use for months.   

Coriander chilli oil by chef Arina Suchde  


  • 1/2 cup coriander stems, tender green parts
  • 2 tbsp ginger
  • 2 tbsp garlic
  • 2-3 tsp chilli flakes (use depending on heat preference and type of chili)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil (sunflower/canola/rice bran)
  • Salt to taste


Finely chop the ginger, garlic, and coriander stems. Add all ingredients, except the oil, in a large heatproof bowl and mix well. Heat the oil until it almost reaches smoking point. Let it cool for about 30 seconds and pour the oil over the rest of the ingredients evenly, making sure it covers the entire surface. Mix well. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and store it in a jar in the refrigerator.

Uses: As a base for a quick stir-fry, dipping sauce, salad dressing, marinade, or something to drizzle on noodles or fried rice.

Spiced ghee by chef Vanshika Bhatia


  • 1 kg ghee
  • Small bunch of coriander roots
  • 2 tbsp ginger scraps
  • Small bunch of spring onion greens
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorn
  • 1-2 dry chillies
  • 2 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 star anise


Heat the ghee in a deep pan. Keeping the heat on low, add the spices first and then the coriander root, ginger scraps, and spring onion greens. Mix well and cover with a lid for 1 minute. Switch off the heat. Let the mixture come to room temperature. Strain and store the ghee in a jar.

Uses: As a tadka, for your dal fry, marinade ingredient for your chicken curry or even as a flavour enhancer for sautéed vegetables.

Pisyu loon by Chef Niyati Rao


  • ½ cup green garlic
  • 1 cup salt


Crush the green garlic, and blend it with salt to form a coarse paste. Dry out this paste in the oven at 130°C for 10 minutes or sun dry for one hour (ideally late afternoon). Blend it again once it is completely dry. Store in a dry jar.

Uses: Sprinkle it on fresh fruit like strawberry or pineapple, open sandwiches, chaat, salads such as a Thai som tam salad. It can also be used in an Indian-style tadka, and on various Indian sabzis.