Ed Smith explains why simple salads sometimes deserve to be the star of the show
It’s relatively easy, I think, to be thrifty when basing your shopping around fresh fruit and vegetables. Indeed, I strongly advise the occasional meal where plants are the star. You can feast on salad while spending a fraction of the money you might fork out at the butchers or fishmongers—though you might consider spending the money you save on a special piece of meat or fish next time around.
Borough Market houses a number of different greengrocers or ‘costermongers’ (technically a costermonger sells from a trolley, and I’d say most of ours are by necessity pretty mobile), so my first ‘savvy’ suggestion is that you shop around.
The fact that a few stalls sell similar products means there must be an element of competition, a proper marketplace. As you wander round seeking inspiration, take a note of the per kilo prices and find out who’s providing the best deal.
A red pepper
An advantage they all have over the supermarkets is that few things come wrapped in plastic, so if you want a red pepper, you don’t need to pick up a yellow and green one as well. Make sure you have a very good idea of the quantities you need for your meal, then shop accordingly.
The grocers won’t thank me for writing it, but the other day I bought literally a ‘small handful’ of fresh peas from one of them, because that’s all I needed for the recipe I was cooking. This meant absolutely no waste, and also that I could spend my cash on other ingredients (four figs from the same stall, as it happened, so neither of us felt short changed).
My next suggestion is so well versed that it seems almost too obvious to state. But I’ll write it anyway: shop seasonally. By doing so, you win on both the taste and cost front. For example, cherries, berries and tomatoes are extortionate and frankly disappointing in early spring but in July and August, greengrocers are faced with a glut, which means they buy for less and they sell for less.
So right now think peas, salad leaves, courgettes and kohlrabi, not parsnips, celeriac or Jerusalem artichokes. Basically, whatever the likes of Ted’s Veg and Chegworth Valley have stacked high is likely to be the best value for money.
Finally, be innovative. Make a hero of a vegetable in a way that you might not be used to (cheesy chard gratin as the main dish, for example), or try slicing vegetables like fennel, kohlrabi and radishes (in various forms) extremely thinly, as they go really far that way, for added bite and variation. Moreover, make sure you use everything—fronds and tops.
My savvy shopper meal this month is a feast of salad platters for you and your family or friends to dig into. Front and centre is that cheesy chard gratin, topped with breadcrumbs to add a little bulk and crunch.
Feisty, peppery radish
On the side there’s a feisty, peppery radish and fennel salad, lifted a little with fennel fronds scattered as a herb. There’s a (seasonal) mixed tomato salad too, where the bite that might sometimes be provided by rocket or watercress is instead found in the tops of the radishes.
Last but not least, a simple green salad dressed with nothing more complicated than extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. I love the wonderful bags of mixed salad leaves from Chegworth Valley and, as I’m feeding just a few mouths, it’s sensible to spend £2.50 on a small packet. If I were catering for more, then a couple of interesting lettuce heads would be the best value.