Eating the vegetable scraps that we usually discard may seem absurd, but it is not only possible – it can be tasty and nutritious. In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shanty towns), ex-maid Regina Tchelly quickly created a name for herself as a food waste entrepreneur when she opened Favela Organica in 2011 – a kitchen that creates dishes out of otherwise wasted foods like banana skins, and trains residents how to afford nutritious and delicious food on poverty incomes.
“We work with food that is discarded, such as the stalks, husks, leaves, seeds,’’ said Regina. ‘We teach people that’s it is possible to make tasty dishes with what is usually discarded at home.” Ingredients used include watermelon rind, banana, passionfruit and pumpkin skins, and broccoli stems.
Favela Organica’s commitment to sustainability has won over customers such as universities and corporate catering, and has attracted famous guests, among them Harrison Ford and Prince William. Most importantly, it is popular with local residents, and workshops are spreading from Babylon favela, where the project began, to the city’s other favelas.
In 2012, Regina attended Slow Food’s Terra Madre meeting in Italy with the Brazilian delegation of cooks, farmers and educators.
Here is one of her recipes. Use organic watermelon, as the rind from conventionally grown types can contain large amounts of pesticides.
Watermelon Rind Rice Recipe
3 cups cooked rice (about 1.5 cups of dry rice)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
¼ of medium watermelon rind, washed and grated
200 ml of water
2 tomatoes, washed and diced
2 bell peppers, washed and diced
300ml of sour cream
250g of Requeijão (or cream cheese)
1 bunch of parsley, washed and finely chopped
salt and pepper
Chimichurri to taste
Pre-cook the rice in a pot of salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden brown, then add the watermelon rind. Sautee for a few minutes the add the water and cook gently until the rind becomes tender. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers, sour cream and cream cheese and allow to cook on a low heat for a few minutes, stirring continuously. Add the rice, remove from the heat and mix until you get a creamy consistency. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with chimichurri to taste.