At last spring is here! Hands up; who’s excited about all the fresh veg? Just me? Not that we all don’t love a muddy turnip or beetroot, but the dense, sweet, earthy flavours of winter are now too hearty for the season. So long to soups, stews and pies (unless you live in Manchester where it’s cold enough for that necessary layer of fat on your body all year round) and time to enjoy the colourful vegetables of spring. There is something unexpectedly satisfying about grabbing a bunch of crisp rhubarb sticks in the kitchen at work and managing to incorporate a couple of leeks into the bundle without realising. *Ahem food-nerd*
With this new selection of seasonal goodies, I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate them into my diet, thus aiding my five a day – hopefully to counteract all the cake I eat. I know a lot of people struggle with this healthy lifestyle thanks to busy schedules, meals on the go, restaurant dinners and naughty afternoon snacks. So, first thing’s first: how do I eat my five a day?
Well, I don’t.
And with that, I’ve fallen at the first hurdle. Five fruit and vegetables a day isn’t easy! (It’s allegedly seven a day now but let’s not think about that).
Things should get off to a good start at breakfast with two portions of fruit alongside my porridge or granola. Lunch is different for everyone – most office workers buy a meal deal, the most health conscious grabbing a small bag of apple slices with a measly couple of grapes at the bottom, or, the money savers, bringing in homemade sandwiches along with plastic tubs of chopped raw carrot and pepper. These are the people I aspire to be. Working in a busy kitchen, lunch is eaten on the move usually in the form of toast with peanut butter. By dinner time, I’ve only eaten the breakfast fruit and need to work hard to reach the lofty heights of five.
There I am, every day after work, roaming aimlessly around a local supermarket, gazing at the plastic-wrapped vegetables in a clueless stupor. When it comes to dinner, there must be something ‘vegetal’ on the plate, ideally in a shade of green. There is something so uninspiring about a couple of soggy pieces of broccoli or limp courgette on the plate next to your sausage and mash. Calum, my resident carbnivore, simply needs that; meat and carbs and he’s content (albeit he does rustle up some sumptuous stuffed peppers). Any addition of greenery is inconsequential in his eyes, the meal perfectly delicious without.
So, you see dear reader, vegetables have made little presence in my diet as of late. Last month, before leaving London, I stayed with my friend, Sam, who lives with a lovely group of friends, nearly all of whom are non-meat eaters. The numerous delicious and interesting meals Sam and her friends concocted would offend any carbnivore. Vegan burritos and shepherd’s pie filled with lentils, sundried tomatoes and fragrant herbs, platters of crisp salads, creamy white bean dip, nutty quinoa and enormous homemade flatbreads, macaroni cheese with roasted cherry tomatoes and a side of wilted greens, as Sam (like myself) becomes concerned when there is a lack of greenery on a plate. The imagination she put into her food was inspiring and something I now wish to emulate.
Therefore, I turn to Anna Jones. Her new cookbook, ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’, sits next to me on the sofa, ready for a quick flick when I need ideas for colourful fresh food. Likewise, Tom Hunt’s book, ‘The Natural Cook’, is regularly pulled off the shelf. Categorised by season – my favourite kind of book – both cookbooks describe the range of vegetables available with relish, enthusing over adventurous cooking methods and how to transform flavours and textures. A side of soggy broccoli is no longer welcome and vegetables can become the meal’s star.
Simply sauté blanched broccoli with finely chopped garlic and lemon zest, or roast chunks of cauliflower and radish until buttery soft and charred. Melt coconut oil and gently fry slivers of chilli, the enveloping scent filling the room like an warm hug. Along with freshly grated ginger, chopped spring onions and garlic, you can stir fry a pan full of crisp vegetables – peppers, asparagus, tenderstem broccoli, onions or greens. Tossed with juicy pink prawns or strips of steak served with noodles and soy sauce, you have a dinner fit for a carbinvore.
Vegetables offer so many possibilities and this week I’ve been cooking in a bid to enjoy the new range available – conquering my five a day as I go. For a simple lunch at the weekend I threw together a noodle bowl. Stir fried chilli and peppers tossed in a marinade of ginger, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame seeds mixed with noodles and wilted pak choi. Served on top was a fried egg with a softly-set yolk and crunchy pickled radishes. Three out of five ain’t bad.