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Vegging out

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of her upcoming demo showcasing some of its veg-centric recipes, Celia Brooks talks about the pivotal role of Borough Market’s greengrocers in the making of her newly-released cookbook SuperVeg

As the self-proclaimed Queen of Veg, Borough Market is essential to my work. Nowhere else in London is there such a variety and abundance of the freshest seasonal, local and exotic produce. Vegetables are the paints to my palette and the pleasure on my palate, so having access to my muses is paramount. Borough Market played a very important role in the creation of my latest book called SuperVeg, which was roughly two years in the making from conception to its release in April 2018.

SuperVeg celebrates the joy and power of the 25 healthiest vegetables on the planet. I chose these 25 vegetable heroes first for their nutrient density, but also for their versatility and deliciousness. Eating plants protects us from the dangers of the environment, as well as the potential for disease already within us, and supports every essential bodily function on a molecular level. The 25 SuperVeg in my book are the most powerful of all.

I designed the 100-plus recipes to convey how they also deliver joy to us through cooking and eating. The 25 SuperVeg are not rated in order. They are equally super, for different reasons. They are categorised in three chapters by general botanical type (not strictly technical, but perceived): roots and bulbs, shoots and leaves, and veggie fruits.

SuperVeg book cover

Testing and retesting
From developing the recipes through testing and retesting them; through sourcing model ingredients for the photoshoot with Jean Cazals, the vegetables of Borough were key players and I ploughed through a lion’s share.

Every food stylist in London worth his or her salt knows that Turnips is the place to go to find model vegetables for photoshoots. It’s here I sourced many of my hero veg for their title page portraits: a bunch of multicoloured heritage carrots complete with frilly tops, a characterful celeriac, glossy-skinned onions, buxom purple garlic, sexy striped courgettes, a hefty ridged pumpkin, patent-leather aubergines, and an enormous, curvy sweet potato that some would say only a mother could love—I say a thing of humble beauty.

I’d make Jock Stark & Son my first stop for the current seasonal superstar—such as asparagus in May and June—at the best price for recipe testing. He always has magnificent fruit, so it’s here I was grabbing my perfectly ripe hass avocados and multicoloured heritage tomatoes (for the veggie fruits chapter).

Perky green leaves
Paul Wheeler has a small space but a perfectly formed selection. He’s my favourite source for fennel, white chicory, peppers and chillies, mushrooms, globe artichokes and fresh peas in the pod. He’ll almost always have the only slightly esoteric vegetable in my book, kohlrabi, at its optimum apple size (larger ones can be tough) and so fresh that the skin of the bulb barely needs peeling and it still has its perky green leaves attached to its stems.

Elsey & Bent supplied many of my picture-perfect leafy veg including the ultimate oak leaf lettuce the size of a kitchen sink, blindingly bright rainbow chard, a glorious bunch of beetroot with its delicious leaves (such a shame to waste and a sign of freshness when attached), and bristling bunches of squeaky spinach with their pink stem ends intact.

For me it’s always Ted’s Veg for the best brassicas—nutritional royalty and princes of versatility. It’s here I sourced my purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflowers with plenty of edible greenery, veiny savoy cabbages, brussels sprouts, cavolo nero, kale, and the most nutrient dense vegetable of them all: the mighty watercress. Happily, Ted’s Veg is always British and seasonal, as most of its produce is from the family’s own farm in Lincolnshire. Chegworth Valley is also a great source for British veg from their own Kent farm.

Join Celia for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 29th June in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm

SuperVeg, by Celia Brooks (Murdoch Books)