Moonira’s MasterChef mission to cut food waste

Published Thursday 18 April 2019 at 12:50

How many times have you thrown ‘perfectly good’ food in the bin?

That chicken you just didn’t get around to cooking, the veg that has clearly seen better days and there’s always the odd banana that just didn’t make it into a lunchbox.

You’re not alone.

You may be surprised to know that every year; the average family in the UK throws away around £700 of edible food – enough to pay for a family holiday for some.

Here, in Blackburn with Darwen, shocking figures show that food waste can account for almost half of what we send to landfill – and it costs the Council £100 for every tonne.

So, who better to help inspire change than Blackburn’s MasterChef finalist and passionate foodie – Moonira Hinglotwala?

The mum-of-two shot to fame in 2018 when she wowed judges, John Torode and Greg Wallace, with her Indian fusion cooking.

She’d had a very good teacher – her mother, who she used to watch from a stool in the family kitchen.

As the eldest of five siblings, Moonira would happily pitch in with the cooking – turning her hand to the families’ favourite Gujarati recipes, which had been lovingly passed down from her grandmother.

Today, despite being a trained pharmacist and running three different businesses plus hosting fine dining events, Moonira stills cooks every day for her family – including husband Riaz, son Ibrahim and daughter Alisha.

And, she’s passionate about reducing food waste.

“It’s such a big problem,” she said.

“And, as well as the huge impact it’s having on our environment, it’s sad to think so much food is wasted when some people don’t have anything at all.”

To cut down on the food she throws away each week, Moonira tries to avoid supermarkets.

“I try my very best to shop local,” she added. “I use shops that sell loose foods.

“Not only can I buy just enough of what I need, I can cut down on plastics and packaging and also support local businesses.”

Moonira, who scooped Woman of the Year at the 2018 Fusion Awards, also plans the meals she’s going to cook and makes sure she buys the right amount of ingredients that she needs.

“If there ever is any left over, we use it for lunches the next day,” she said.

“And, if I make a big batch of curry, then I’ll freeze it in case I’m ill or find that I’m really busy.”

Moonira also chops her fresh herbs and mixes them with oil to freeze them.

“I don’t tend to use the coriander all in one go and it doesn’t always last very long so I’ll make sure I freeze it rather than having to go out and buy more,” she said.

“I also freeze my stocks using an ice cube tray and just pop them out when I need them.”

Sharing her top tips, Moonira added: “People can often feel overwhelmed at the thought of preparing good meals from scratch, but the main thing is to overcome that fear.

“To me, cooking is all about experimenting.

“If you open your fridge, there’ll be ingredients in there that can be thrown together and will create a really good, hearty dish which is full of goodness.

“You don’t need a recipe either – you can rely on your senses – what things look like, what they smell like, what they feel like too – although I do suspect that’s the scientist in me!”

“Be adventurous,” she added. “Cooking fresh foods has so many benefits compared to relying on ready meals.

“Importantly, it can cost very little.

“You can chop veg and throw it into a pot with pasta and it’s a really healthy meal that is delicious and packed full of fibre and vitamins.”

Moonira herself admits that she hasn’t always been confident and it was her son, Ibrahim who really pushed her to apply for MasterChef.

“I’ve always loved the show,” she said. “I used to watch it all the time with my husband and I used to love putting myself in the contestants’ shoes.

“My son was absolutely adamant that I should apply – he even downloaded the application form and pestered me for a week to fill it in.

“I only actually did it to keep him happy; I didn’t really think anything would come of it.”

Back home, husband Riaz gives John and Gregg a run for their money and Moonira says he’s her toughest critic.

“He’s really helped me refine my recipes,” she added. “He doesn’t believe in cutting corners and he can tell straight away if I have.”

Despite recently taking on a new Post Office in her Granville Road pharmacy, Moonira still dreams of one day owning her own restaurant.

“I really enjoy hosting fine dining events,” she said. “I hosted one with Lisa-Goodwin Allen at Northcote and it was a fantastic experience.

“I’d love to open my own restaurant – it’s just about finding the right place where I can serve really good, healthy food and provide a great, fine dining experience.”

For now, Moonira is passionate about educating others on food – how they can prepare healthy meals and reduce waste.

“For me it’s about small changes making a big difference,” she added.

“If we all take just a little bit of time to think about the foods we are buying and the meals we are preparing, it could have a really big impact for our families and our futures.”

Moonira’s top tips:

Understand food labels

Best before: This is about quality and not about food safety. It’ll be ok to eat the food after the ‘best before’ date – it may just not taste its absolute best.

Use-by: This does refer to food safety and the food should not be used after that date. Even if it looks and smells fine, it’s not ok to use!

Plan meals

Spend a bit of time before going shopping to plan ahead for meals you’d like to cook. That way you’ll only buy ingredients you really need – cutting down on waste and cost.

Write a shopping list

Keep a notepad and pencil in your kitchen or start a list on your phone so you know exactly what you need.

If you’re dashing out and don’t have time to write a list, why not take a picture of your fridge so you know what you already have?

Shop local

Try and use shops that sell loose food so you don’t have to buy a whole packet. Also, avoid putting fresh fruit and veg in plastic bags, if possible.

Use leftovers

If you do cook too much, why not use the leftovers for lunch or if you can, freeze them to use at a later date?

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