Bargain hunt: vegetables

Categories: Expert guidance

Tom Hunt, author of The Natural Cook, uses high quality ingredients to create a balanced meal for under £10, focusing on a different food group each time. This month: vegetables

Vegetables are what I truly love to cook. Uncountable species and ever-changing seasons provide us with an endless source of inspiration for the kitchen. Their shape, form and texture are almost infinitely diverse, ranging from a meaty mushroom—umami rich, savoury and satisfying—to a crisp apple—sour, awakening and crunchy.

Borough Market has a remarkable selection of vegetables divided between its stalls, many of which are locally grown, organic and seasonal. Others are exotic, exciting and new to the eye. Each stall has its bargains and some prime ingredients that really stand out, and all are worth a visit.  

Turnips has mountains of beautiful Italian produce and wild mushrooms; Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies is a traditional stall that always has a good bargain; Ted’s Veg is full of wonderful homegrown brassicas; Chegworth Valley sells organic produce from its farm in Kent and from a partnered farm in Spain; Elsey & Bent has a brilliant variety of fresh produce and Paul Crane and Jock Stark both sell a range of very affordable ingredients.


Root to fruit
There are a few things we can do that will help make these ingredients as accessible and affordable as possible. To start, follow my ‘root to fruit’ eating philosophy, which means wasting nothing. The average household wastes around 30 per cent of the food they buy in. We all waste food in one way or another, whether it’s carrot peelings, stale bread or mulchy salad. I highly recommend looking in your bin at the end of each day, checking what is in there and having a think about how you could have used that food, or even pulling it out again to use if it is clean. If we can reduce our weekly shop by saving some of this waste, it will help considerably when it comes to budgeting for better quality produce.

My second tip for buying better quality vegetables for less is to buy locally and seasonally. Ingredients that are in full season are abundant, which pushes the price down, and locally-produced ingredients are better tasting, as they will not have been picked when under-ripe and transported long distances. It is important to value our food and reconnect with its origin—shopping in markets like Borough Market, where we can meet the people who make and grow our food, is a good way to do this.


The whole ingredient
On today’s shopping trip I decided to create a recipe that incorporates this philosophy, and makes use of the whole ingredient. The first vegetable I came across was a romanesco broccoli, surrounded by its protective leaves. These leaves are a delicious green, wonderful when cooked in a similar way to kale—just cut the thick stalk into slivers to make sure it cooks quickly. I picked one up and continued to shop.

As I walked around Chegworth Valley, I found some beautiful tomatoes reduced to £1 a kilo. They were cheap because they were very ripe—too ripe to eat raw, in fact, but perfect for a sauce.

After purchasing the tomatoes, I decided to make turlu, a Turkish dish similar to ratatouille, which I first learnt from Sam and Sam Clark’s cookbook, Moro. This dish is great because it is very adaptable—you can add any combination of seasonal vegetables. I carried on my hunt and found a beautiful striped courgette, some big spring onions and a bargain pack of reduced oregano for 10p!

Vibrant squashes
To complete my meal, I popped over to Ted’s Veg to buy one of his tiny, vibrant onion squashes. While at Ted’s, some British grown baby aubergines caught my eye—I bought them, enthralled by the idea of cooking a dish with vegetables which for me represent such different seasons. September and October are the most abundant months for vegetables, as the end of the summer produce is harvested, as well as the new autumn veg.

If you want to buy better quality vegetables on a budget, make the most of your ingredients—use the whole thing, from root to fruit—buy seasonal, buy local, and buy organic wherever possible.

Read Tom’s recipe for turlu