Eating with the seasons

Eating with the seasons

Confessions of a greengrocer (and a cucumber curry)

Our shop turned five years old this week - holy cow! How did this happen? And who knew being a shopkeeper would be so much fun? (and a lot more hard work than I ever imagined...)

As some of you know, life as a shopkeeper at Health & Food in the tiny Welsh town of Llanrwst has been a journey of many learnings, inspiring the birth of The Intuitive Cook. Probably the biggest learnings about the true value and secret life of fresh food came along when we became a greengrocer: adding a weekly election of fresh organic fruit & veg to the shop's offer. We decided to do it mostly out of pure self-interest, because organic produce was so hard to find in our neck of the woods. It also seemed like a good gap to step into: plentiful veggies are available in our town, both in shops and at the weekly market on the town square. But they are not organic, and this is becoming increasingly important to us.

So we hooked up with the lovely people at Organic North, a hardworking cooperative sourcing and distributing organic produce from across the country and beyond (little did we know back then that in the face of the multiple challenges food networks have faced this last year, these peeps would turn out to be no less than real heroes, never ever letting us down). Back then when we started, I was worried of being able to fulfil the minimum order, these days our veg orders are easily five times that.

People don't just come in because the veggies are organic: they come in because they have experienced the superior taste first hand and don't want to go back to watery supermarket veg.
They come in because we have a range of seasonal varieties that these days you'd only find at a fancy urban farmers' market. And they come in because we always have (or will look to find) answers to the many questions that come up: How do you cook kohlrabi? Or chard? Can I substitute kale for spinach?...

We are all so used to standardised supermarket produce, people are often surprised by the huge variation in looks, size and price our veggies come in: fennel bulbs or red peppers may arrive huge or tiny, avocados are rarely 'ready to eat', the best apricot variety is spotty, cucumbers are 300% more expensive in the winter, summer lemons are always green, and you can't stop old season potatoes from sprouting, because that's what they naturally do (if they don't, you got to ask yourself what has been put on them).

Which brings the benefits of seasonal eating into sharp focus all the more:

  • Seasonal produce is freshest, cheapest and at the peak of taste and goodness.
  • Out of season produce is clocking up massive food miles, is far more expensive and likely of lesser quality.
  • Seasonal variation is good for you: our body (as well as the ecosystem of our gut) has evolved to thrive on a varied diet (including cycles of fat and lean times). For example: fruit and their abundance of natural sugars would only be seasonally available in late summer/early autumn, allowing us to put down stores of fat for the leaner times of winter (yes, it's sugar (not fat) that triggers the deposit of fat in the body - more about that some other time!)
  • Allowing the seasons to dictate your cooking can be a catalyst for creative cooking and experimenting with new flavours and new ideas. Embrace unfamiliar ingredients and you'll be surprised at what you find: I used to be a cabbage hater, until cooking from a veg box 'forced' me to look for interesting ways to cook with it - I had no idea about all the tasty variations possible, until I went looking for them (hint: never boil!). Now I love cabbages :)

How do you cook seasonal ingredients? I'd go for gentle cooking and gentle spicing to bring out the peak season flavours. But otherwise, you cook them like everything else. Think about the nature of the ingredient (is it a leafy green? a dense root? a delicate shoot?) and match with old favourites or new discoveries. 

Like, the other day I made a cucumber and cashew curry. Cucumber what?? Around here we don't think of cucumber as a cooked vegetable but on the Indian subcontinent it is frequently used that way. A recipe for a Sri Lankan cucumber curry by Meera Sodha caught my eye some time ago, and I already made it with courgettes once (loved it). This week, at long last I cooked it with the intended cucumbers, and it didn't disappoint: Creamy, gentle, flavourful yet fresh and crunchy. And really simple too - definitely one to try!

Here's my barebones recipe template - adjust to your liking!

cucumber cashew curry

Categories: EAT, EXPLORE


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