Shame vegetables lurking at the bottom of the fridge

Photograph of beans, mushrooms, courgette and red pepper

Venture into the world of sustainable living, and you’ll quickly hit upon the idea of seasonal and local food. There is much that can be good about low-impact food. A confidence about how it has been produced. Freshness. Investing in smaller businesses and a food system that works for people and planet. We don’t have an exclusively plant-based diet, but our food ethos attempts to be, in the beautiful words of Yasmin Khan, ‘seasonal, abundant, plant-focused, and communal’*. And so a weekly vegetable box delivery forms the backbone of our meal planning. 

But here is my confession: 

I do not want to eat a seasonal british diet. 

I want to fill my plate with Mediterranean vegetables, with extra virgin olive oil and its simple ancestor: juicy fat olives stuffed with garlic. Or happily rubbing shoulders with sun-dried tomatoes and feta. I want to dip roasted peppers in salt and feast on summery salads all the year long. 

But, I live in the UK so…this is doesn’t work. Summer succeeds, but winter staples are something else. And I have not yet opened the fridge door and thought, ‘can’t wait to cook up something with that pointed cabbage.’ I have never looked at the list of vegetables coming in our weekly delivery and declared, ‘ah glorious kohlrabi, we meet again!’. No. I have a more complicated relationship than this with our vegetable box. I champion everything about it (the ethics, the investment in a positive farming future….). Except, sometimes, the food itself. 

And so we have become familiar with what I call ‘shame vegetables’. Perhaps, if we are anything alike, you know the ones I mean. They linger in the fridge longer than they should, tugging on your heartstrings but never your taste buds. These are the ingredients you procrastinate over. Your hand skips past that broccoli and pulls out the favoured courgettes. Cauliflower in your fridge grows smaller, sadder; a pale imitation of the peak specimen that first arrived. 

Well-intentioned principles risk turning to waste. 

So, here is what I’ve learned about dealing with shame vegetables:

1 You can do a lot with a strategic cube of butter or pour of olive oil. Likewise, a dollop of yoghurt or an egg can elevate all manner of meals. (I tend to soft boil or fry eggs; poaching I’ve only done on one occasion and, given those three poached eggs were a surprise success, obviously can’t risk ruining my perfect record by doing it again). 

2 Stock up your spices. The ‘hungry gap’ – the time when overwintered vegetables are running low but spring’s offering has not yet arrived – is often repetitive. But that doesn’t mean your meals have to be. Seasonal, local vegetables don’t have to exclude a varied spice palate.

3 Spring, summer and winter greens are all. the. same. Let’s just be honest about this, and ditch the pretence that they are heralding in a new season. They are generic green leaves and I’m done hearing otherwise. This doesn’t really have anything to do with shame vegetables, beyond making me slightly less resentful about cooking the things when they are oversold as ‘new in this month’.

4 Soup is your friend. You can make something delicious out of pretty much anything when you include onions, stock and some strategic spices. Maybe a dash of milk thrown in for extra creaminess. Soup is extra friendly because it is a bastion of bulk cooking and therefore good for both using up multiple shame vegetables and for maximising wallets and time; the latter being particularly necessary as the price of pretty much everything in the UK rises. As I type this, my palms and nails are tinged yellow because I swapped so many sad-looking carrots for the wonderful alchemy that is a pot of soup. 

5 If you fundamentally do not like the vegetables, do not let them in through your front door. This should maybe go without saying. But this is where those over-realised principles used to kick in. Our wonderful supplier selects which in-season vegetables will be part of the box delivered each week. In the summer months, we are in accord about what’s good to eat. But things start to fracture in late autumn. When I first signed up for a weekly delivery, I had a determined mindset: whatever came, I would make it work. But I was sending myself on a fool’s errand. It benefited no one (well, occasionally our old neighbours who, bemusingly but helpfully, were big Brussels sprouts fans). So I have learned to swap or cancel the weeks of options that we don’t like. 

Those are the moments to look elsewhere. 

Open tins of butterbeans and get liberal with the smoked paprika. Dig in the freezer for the last portion of aubergine curry. Or the tomato sauce you made months earlier; a taste of summer, saved in a Tupperware pot, for an autumn day like this one.  

*Yasmin Khan, ‘Ripe Figs: recipes and stories from the Eastern Mediterranean’ (of course)

I hope it’s clear that our weekly veg box supplier is brilliant, and that me and my foolishness are the focus of these words. This post isn’t sponsored, but if you do fancy signing up with this code then we’ll each get £15 credit, Riverford will get a new customer, and they’ll plant a tree on organic farmland to support their agroforestry project. Win win win. 

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