Spring is here, and with it an abundance of fresh produce to enjoy, as farmers hope that a third La Niña does not materialize.
“Brass vegetables are really good value, as is cauliflower and broccoli,” says Christina Kelman, a grower at Rita’s Farm organic vegetable farm in Wallacia, west of Sydney. “Cauliflower is now $2 or $3 a head.”
Not to be ignored, cauliflower can be roasted with salt and spices, or form the center of a dish like Thomasina Miers Sri Lankan Cauliflower Curry. Broccoli also lends itself to bulking up salads or serving as an easy side dish. Broccolini still commands a slightly higher price in supermarkets, around $3.50 a bunch.
“But stay away from cabbage, both red and green,” says Kelman.
The wet weather caused most of the cabbages to become soaked with water and rot inside. Don’t despair though, as one of the best buys of the leafy variety in September is the wombok, also known as Chinese cabbage.
“Wombok is big right now and we have a lot of it,” says Clare McCulloch of Thriving Foods Farm, southeast of Melbourne.
Popular for making kimchi, the wombok has a subtle flavor, making it incredibly versatile for use in stir-fries and salads. Palisa Anderson calls her the Norah Jones of the cabbage kingdom. You can find it whole in supermarkets for around $4.90.
Kelman says that Asian vegetables, which grow in cycles of six or seven weeks, recover faster from humid weather. Baby bok choy, choy sum, and Chinese broccoli also sell for $2 to $3 a bunch.
Given the abundance of alternative leaves, McCulloch encourages shoppers to shop at markets to get the benefit of being led by farmers. “A couple of years ago nobody bought bok choy, but tastes have changed. People… are trying more interesting things.”
The big spike in the price of lettuce has finally subsided, with romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce dropping in price to $2 or $3 each.
McCulloch also recommends Brussels sprouts. Thriving Foods is selling organic Brussels sprouts for $14 a kilo, down from $24 a kilo in August.
Whether you’re going back to basics or adding them to your favorite dishes, there are plenty of easy ways to bring out their nutty flavor.
“With Brussels sprouts, you can’t go wrong with a little butter and leek, or you can add bacon and a little thyme,” says McCulloch, who sells them loose and on the stem.
“You can sauté the stem or steam it with a little coconut oil, herbs, tamari, garlic, and ginger.”
Another vegetable worth experimenting with is the artichoke, says Damian Galluzzo of Galluzzo’s Fruit Market in Glebe, Sydney.
“The artichoke is coming now,” he says. “They are coming down in price and are of good quality with a good fixed stem.” Galluzzo is selling two for $5.99.
While you may need to think a bit more about what to do with them (see an artichoke manual here), you can use it, leaves and all.
The beans have come down in price, selling at Galluzzo’s for around $10 a kilo, down from very high prices last month (a Guardian staffer spotted them for $39.99 in early August).
If you’re hanging out for garnish, you still need to choose your herbs carefully. While parsley, cilantro, and mint are in good supply and cost about $3 a bunch, more sensible varieties like dill and sage are still difficult to grow, reflecting prices.
The cream of the crop: strawberries
Best of all, this September is for strawberries, says Kelman.
Thanks to several weeks of warm weather, strawberries cost about $2.50 a basket in supermarkets. But consumers may need to act fast.
“Strawberries are one of the first things to feel the weather,” he says.
“Let’s say we have 20mm of rain, that means when we pick the strawberries they will be damaged…which means we won’t pick them, and that will drive up the price.” With that caveat in mind, it might be time to try your hand at homemade jam.
“People make their jams and marmalades now,” says Galluzzo. In that sense, citrus is still a good buy. “Blood oranges you don’t want to miss right now.” He is selling the fruit for $5.99 a kilo.
While Seville oranges are in short supply for jam enthusiasts, Galluzzo says there is an alternative: “Kumquats are around $15.99 a kilo…you won’t see them much cheaper.”
Lemons are ripe for making curd, while the best fruit to snack on, tangerines, are cheap at $2 or $3 a kilo in supermarkets.
iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce
Parsley, coriander and mint
Asparagus: too early
Blueberries: supply is tight
Cabbage: too wet
Sage, dill and basil: weather sensitive