One of the things I hear a lot from people who want to lose weight, or who want to become vegetarian, or just generally want to eat better, is that they’d love to eat more fruit and vegetables, but it’s too expensive, too hard to find, or too hard to cook.
Well, I can’t argue with all of that. Knowing how to cook fresh fruit and vegetables well is a skill that seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. And while there’s endless blogs on the internet on how to become a good vegetarian or vegan cook, you have to know they’re out there. And you have to let go of any prejudices you may have about the ability of vegetarian food to be as tasty as satisfying. Or – maybe you don’t. Maybe you accept that you don’t think vegetarian food is as flavorful as is eating meat, but accept that you need to become vegetarian for health or ethical reasons.
I also accept that in large parts of the world, food deserts exist. I know that there are places where it’s hard to buy a piece of fruit a day, let alone five serves of vegetables. And in those places, fruit and vegetables are also expensive.
However, if you live in a city in Australia, and you’re using the above excuses, you’re wrong. And you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. Particularly in summer, it’s very easy to eat cheaply and well on fresh food in Sydney. And the trick to it is food markets. If you’re in inner Sydney, Paddy’s Markets sells cheap fruit and vegetables Wed-Sunday, so don’t tell me you don’t have time or they aren’t open at a convenient time. And if you have a car or motorbike and are any good at preserving food, you can’t go past Flemington Markets every Saturday for wholesale prices on fruit and vegetables.
The above picture was taken of our purchases one weekend in Flemington Markets, between three of us. All of the food on the table cost us $60 AUD total – and that’s after we kicked out $20 for the tray of mangoes (worth every dollar, for the record). We ate a lot of it fresh, but when you buy five kilos of cherries for $8, even with the amount you throw out, there are invariably a lot of cherries you won’t get to eat fresh. So I pitted three kilos of cherries and made them into pies (if you have custard powder at home, try substituting it for the cornstarch in some pie recipes – you get cherry ans custard pies, yum) and froze some – I still have a half kilogram in the freezer – and washed and chopped strawberries and froze them until the kitchen looked like a slaughter had gone on. We bought eighteen punnetsof strawberries for $5, you see.
A lot of the eggplant we ate roasted and grilled, more of it and the capsicums went into jar after jar of ajvar. Sadly the capsicums were not overly flavorful – I think they were grown too fast. But they also cost $5 for a box. The beetroots became dip, in line with my winning recipe (beet, chickpea and almond dip – to die for), the zucchinis became soup, and still more strawberries went into a kind of strawberry mousse my best friend makes. Apricots were eaten until they went squashy, then made into pie. It was a real fresh food bonanza, and I can’t wait to do it again.