Every Friday, unless it is a National holiday, means veggie box delivery day. Around 3.00pm I head off down to the Cooperative in Colares and pick up my black plastic tray of veggies, still damp from the ground and occasionally take home a few hitch hikers in the way of slugs, snails and the odd worm. Proves the freshness though!
Each week there tends to be the usual staples of a lettuce (so big it can take up the whole of one salad box in fridge), bunches of parsley, coriander, spinach, watercress, and about a kilo of carrots. Alongside these I may get a red peppers, turnips, beetroot, cabbage, a slice of pumpkin and whatever else is in season.
The first time I got beetroot I did eye it up with some suspicion. This was a proper root vegetable; long greenery attached to a rather grubby looking round thing. This was not from a jar - whole or sliced - in a strong vinegar solution. Hmm. Beetroot used to be a staple of salads when I was a child. Most of us have vivid memories of the old style classic English salad - flat (Webbs) lettuce, a radish or two (burp), sliced over-ripe tomato, cucumber and a few slices of vinegary beetroot that stained everything in its vicinity bright red, not forgetting the ubiquitous sliced, hard boiled egg. This was served along with a couple of slices of boiled ham or tinned salmon. The only way to cope with this was to dive for the bottle of Heinz Salad Cream before your mother - who only allowed polite spoonfuls - whereas if you got it first and hammered the bottom of the bottle correctly, you could cover the plate in a puddle of the stuff - you had to suffer the telling off for manners but it was worth it. I have had a hatred of tinned salmon since those days and it took me a long, long time to like vinegary beetroot.
As I had never done anything with 'real' beetroot it was lucky I had just treated myself to the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall book, River Cottage Everyday, and had seen a recipe for Beetroot and Cumin Soup with Spiced Yoghurt. Now would be the right time to experiment. However the recipe called for more beetroot than I had got so I trotted off to my local shop in Colares and bought a couple more. Following Hugh's words diligently I produced an amazing brightly coloured soup which is now a firm favourite. I have also mastered simply boiling it and serving dizzled with olive oil and lemon. Fresh rules. There is a side effect which can be a bit startling if you are unaware. I will just say, do not panic, you are not bleeding to death in the loo!!!
The huge bunch of watercress brought back memories of the peppery leaf being used in egg mayonnaise (bit of an exaggeration as everything was Heinz Salad Cream in those days) sandwiches but it was better than the fiddly, wispy fairly tasteless mustard and cress popular of that time that we grew at primary school. As this watercress has large leaves it lends itself beautifully to mixing with the crispy lettuce for a great green salad. In fact, watercress features in all my salads now, the added bonus being it is also incredibly healthy for you.
Carrots have always been a favourite but having so many meant a bit of research for something different to simply boiling them or grating for salads. This called for re-reading my handwritten recipe books (carefully noted down over the last thirty years), browsing my extensive selection of hardback recipe books and the odd browse on the internet and various chefs on Twitter.
Carrot and Ginger, Carrot and Tomato and Carrot and Apple Soup have all turned out to be popular as well as a lovely winter coleslaw recipe which uses carrot, cabbage (both red and green), onion and sunflower seeds. This dressed with a lovely vinagrette is a welcome change from our usual lettuce and watercress based salad in the evenings and goes well with fish and poultry. Yesterday I found an old Rose Elliot receipe, in my first vegetarian cook book from the 70's, called Golden Slice that uses carrots and oats so that is down for a reboot later this week as well as one Nigel Slater posted via Twitter today. In fact there are so many ways with carrots it becomes quite fun choosing a new one.
Pumpkin is very versatile. Pumpkin and Chilli soup, that takes hardly any time to put together, certainly warms the cockles - especially if I have been a bit liberal with the dried chilli seeds! I have also experimented with Pumpkin and fresh Ginger Soup - again a winner. I also love roasting it along with other winter veggies like turnip, beetroot and carrot. The turnip wins not just a side vegetable, but goes beautifully with roasted aubergine, peppers and onion and grated in a coleslaw adds a bit of bite.
All in all, my box of locally grown veggies at 7 euros is a joy and challenges me to come up with something new and healthy each week.