With the recent cold snap across central Europe affecting the supply of lettuce to the UK, many supermarkets have been ‘rationing’ their produce, banning bulk purchases and implementing a ‘three-lettuce’ limit. While this humours some, and merely frustrates others, it does show us a major flaw in our system. We are ‘over-reliant’ on foreign imports, spoilt by their availability all year round, and dismissive of our own seasonal products like ‘spring greens, carrots and parsnips.’

According to Lord Haskins, the former chairman of Northern Foods, our expectation of all-year-round produce makes us a ‘slightly strange group’. We are accustomed to having our light, crispy salads even in the depths of winter, when the only national vegetables to survive the British climate are hidden under ground, protected from the frosts by quilts of soil.

The media has published many articles suggesting ways to ‘cope’ with this lettuce ‘crisis’. Many efforts have been made to promote the sale of British substitutes and urge the population to try more seasonal recipes. James Sherwin, a contestant on Masterchef and judge on The Taste advocates the use of celeriac and brussel sprouts in salads, just like those served at his restaurant ‘The Dreyton Gate’ in Wem, Shropshire. Even the Mediterranean chef Aldo Zilli, famous for his Italian cuisine, is enthused rather than anxious. He nominates chicory his a lettuce substitute, suggesting a range of other tastes with which to complement it’s slightly bitter flavour in a salad.

It is true that we need to ‘get out of our comfort zone and try new ingredients‘. Alan Titchmarsh, the celebrity gardener, says, British, homegrown produce is available at a ‘reasonable price‘ and provides a ‘varied diet.’Appreciating seasonal produce in our own country is not only more economically and environmentally friendly but also healthier. Root vegetables in particular are at their peak this time of year, sweeter, juicer and more plump with vital vitamins and minerals that our bodies crave during the colder and darker months. My recipe below for TGIF stew uses butternut squash, carrots and parsnips, so I’ve done a bit of research to find out exactly what nutrients they provide.

Carrots: bursting with vitamin A which maintains eye health, keeping them clear and free of mucus and helping them adjust more efficiently to changes in light.

Butternut squash: also high in vitamin A, boosting our vision at the darkest time of year. Vitamin B6 and the mineral potassium are also present, respectively strengthening our immune system and bones.

Parsnips: a good source of both vitamin C and E, which help boost our immune system in the colder months. Vitamin C also contributes to healthy skin and vitamin E to the creation of red blood cells and balancing of our hormones.

Ingredients

Half butternut squash

4 carrots

2 large parsnips

2 tsp curry powder

3 cloves garlic

1sp cinnamon

400ml coconut milk

200ml vegetable stock

400g lentils (canned)

Chop all the vegetables. Sprinkle over spices and crumble in a vegetable stock cube.

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Pour in the coconut milk and add water until vegetables are covered.

Leave to cook for 7-8 hours on low

Add the lentils at the end and turn the slow cooker up to high, leaving the lid off to evaporate any excess liquid. Serve with chopped coriander (or rocket) and plain yogurt.

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