I’ve recently finished a month’s trial of Kentish Town Vegbox and thought I’d tell you why I’m staying on with them. I’m in love. We’re going steady.
Vegbox is my local organic vegetable box scheme. It’s collectively run by members of the Kentish Town community who source and maintain relationships with small-scale growers located as close to London as possible. Each week, members collect a bag filled with a basic selection of seasonal vegetables from their chosen pick-up point.
I was interested in it because I like being a part of positive community things in a quiet way (it’s one reason why I did the Prince’s Trust ‘Team’ course). Also, the range of vegetables available included the basics I already use plus some interesting seasonal stuff, all for a much better price.
While people are right to emphasize making a choice and effort, it’s also important to be aware that what food available to you is largely based on your location and many other factors which go far deeper than personal laziness or ignorance. Your ability to travel (mobility requirements, energy, money), your ability to carry items home (do you have a chronic illness and/or disability? a car? strong limbs? a helper?), your home’s capacity for storage (secure spaces, reliable refrigeration) amongst many other factors shape what resources are reasonably available to people in the first place.
Food deserts are a deeply unjust reality faced by many across the whole world, a whole collection of factors that make poverty cyclical. There is also the issue of money. I know first-hand that it is not a great feeling to have to pay for your groceries precisely to the penny, and the shame-spiral when you can’t even manage that (just that single pence more…)–and the bitterness of realising that you’re still luckier than a lot of people. Things can be, not to put too fine a point on it, rather shit.
But there is still, thankfully, capacity for change which is inclusive and pragmatic. Changing the very structure of things to make them more accessible–both the actual food and infomation about and the means to prepare and store it–is the right direction to go in.
From what I’ve seen, Vegbox delivers change that goes deeper. I count myself extremely lucky that I live where I do–not only can I just walk past any corner shop and there’ll be cheap and fresh fruit and veg, but also where the community has mustered the resources to bring about something like the Vegbox scheme. Starting at £5/week for a small bag of organic vegetables (enough for 1 – 2 people; they go up to family size, many larger mainstream companies charge 2 – 3 times that), it’s genuinely one of the more affordable options–and the money is invested back into the local community. The organisers of Vegbox are also understanding towards people who aren’t paid regularly and are willing to discuss alternate payment schemes. That is how you make things more accessible.
They’re always very quick to respond to you via text and e-mail, too. Each bag comes with a little newsletter which tells you about where the veg has come from, how the growing season is coming along, and a selection of recipes for the home cook. Everything is useful, friendly, fit to purpose. It is exactly what you expect when the people who create the service are also the ones who use it!
So now you know that Vegbox do great things, let’s see what you can do with your vegetables. I’ve made random jumbles of veg, Thai-style stir-fries, latkes, included them as part of a traditional Thai chili relish set, various pasta dishes. It’s all good.
Below the jump are 4.5 weeks of vegetable bag contents so you can have an idea of what you get, plus recipes in quick jotted-down style.
- Stir-fried Kale with Chilli and Garlic
- Potato and Courgette Latkes
- Pasta with Chorizo, Garlic, and Mixed Greens
You may also be interested in these blogs on frugal cooking:
- Frugal Feeding – obviously! delicious and beautifully photographed, with costings
- The Skint Foodie – a really, really good resource on cooking as well as you can on a limited budget. Super funny, too.
- North/South Food – these two people know their stuff. Miss South seems to be the more frequent updater and her frankness and knowledge is very important.
1. 3rd JULY VEGETABLES:
- Big bit of kale
- 2 big spring onions
- 4 new potatoes
- Bit of thyme & rosemary
Stir-fried Kale with Chilli and Garlic. For 2 with rice. Kale replaces Chinese morning glory in this simple, deeply flavoured Thai stir-fry.
Get out a big bowl and dump into it the following: 250g kale, roughly shredded, 1 clove garlic and 2 fresh red chillies all squashed flat with a knife, 1 heaped teaspoon each salted yellow soybean paste (see here), fish sauce and oyster sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 2 tablespoons stock or water. Heat a wok/skillet over a medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; once oil is smoking, add all the contents of the big bowl at once and stir-fry to cook everything and coat with the sauce. Add more water if it’s too dry. Immediately plate and serve.
Mixed Vegetable Whatnot Thing I Don’t Know. For 1. One of those ‘BUNG ALL THINGS IN A PAN’ meals.
Bit of oil and butter heated in a pan on low-medium. Sweat chopped onion and then wilt spinach, season, immediately take off heat. More oil and butter on a higher heat, handful each of roughly sliced mushrooms and potatoes, fried til both are cooked and caramelised on the outside. Mint leaves ill-advised in that quantity (leftover from making larb). A little lemon juice recommended. I said ‘a little’.
2. 10th JULY VEGETABLES:
- New potatoes – Ripple Farm, Kent
- Courgettes – Calabaza Growers, Sutton
- Stir fry bag – Calabaza Growers, Sutton
- Bunched carrots – Hughes Organics, Norfolk
Potato and Courgette Latkes.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. For 2 – 3 with something on the side. I could eat mountains of these.
Coarsely grate a total of 450g – 500g unpeeled potatoes and courgettes in whatever proportion you like. Put grated mixture in a square of muslin and twist til you have wrung out as much liquid as possible. Put grated mixture in bowl with 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley (o any herb you like), 100g roughly chopped onion, 1 egg, 50g flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly. Heat large frying pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and fry teaspoonfuls of the mixture for 1 1/2 minutes each side til golden and crisp. Serve right away or make in advance by holding them in a warm oven. In the unlikely event you have leftovers, store in the fridge and reheat at 180 degees Celsius for 10 – 15 minutes.
Pasta with Chorizo, Garlic, and Mixed Greens. For 2. Nutty crisp veg and deeply flavoured chorizo. Yes, good.
Bring a big pan of salted water to the boil. While that’s happening, thinly slice 2 cloves garlic and cut up about 200 – 300g fairly sturdy mixed greens of your choice (I got sprouting broccoli and other leaves; you can also use spinach or cabbage) into bite size sections. Cut 125g chorizo into thick slices. Cook 225g pasta (shape of your choice) according to packet instructions.
In the meantime, start the sauce: heat a medium pan and fry the chorizo in a little oil for a couple of minutes until it gives off its own fragrant orange-red fat. Add the garlic slices and fry for a few more minutes until both the chorizo and garlic slices are cooked and just turning gold. Remove to a plate, leaving the fat behind in the pan. Then, fry the vegetables until just tender-crisp, adding a little stock or wine to help steam them and make a sauce, around 5 minutes. When everything is cooked, drain the pasta, tip into the vegetable pan and add the fried chorizo and garlic slices. Toss very well, season to taste and serve.
3. 17th JULY VEGETABLES
Rainbow chard – Ripple Farm, Kent
White mushrooms – Langridge Organics, Suffolk
Broad beans – Ripple Farm, Kent
Red spring onions – Ripple Farm, Kent
Red lettuce – Calabaza Growers, Sutton, London
Broad beans, fresh tomato, raw garlic and shallots, basil, shell pasta. (V) For 2. (No photo as we were too busy eating it.)
This is basically pasta with raw tomato with added broad beans. A lovely cool meal for summer. So: a little more than an hour before you want to eat, start the sauce. Get the best tomatoes you can, about 200g (100g per person). Wash them, blanch them to remove them of their skin if you like, then cut them in half and scoop out all seeds and juice. Put the flesh into a bowl with 1 finely chopped garlic clove and 1 finely chopped shallot, and pour over 3 – 4 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil. Leave for at least 30 minutes, ideally 1 hour.
4. 22nd JULY VEGETABLES
Big spring onions – Ripple Farm, Kent
Milva new potatoes – Ripple Farm, Kent
Green lettuce – Calabaza Growers, Sutton, London
Cucumber – Langridge Organics, Cambridgeshire
Cherry tomatoes – Langridge Organics, Gloucestershire
Very basic Thai chilli relish set with rice (and British sardines and vegetables), khao gab nam prik ข้าวกับน้ำพริก. For 1.
To learn more about Thai chilli relishes, read this post by Leela.
To make the nam prik, roughly pound together 1 clove garlic and ¾ teaspoon Thai shrimp paste. Then, add 1.5 teaspoons palm sugar, freshly squeezed juice from ½ – ¾ lime, and 1 teaspoon fish sauce. Pound until a fine paste. Add 5 small fresh bird’s eye chillies, pounding only until roughly broken up. Taste: it should be deeply savoury-salty, then sour, and just perceptibly sweet. Add more of each seasoning until you get the nam prik you want. Scrape into a little dish and set aside.
For the rest of the set: thoroughly wash and then cook your rice (usually 120ml rice + 160ml water for 1). While the rice is cooking, take a fresh plump sardine (about 200g 300g is plenty), gut and clean it with your fingers and a sharp knife. Rinse in cold water, pat dry, lightly dredge in rice flour and shallow-fry on a medium-low heat til completely cooked through and golden outside ( about 2 – 3 minutes each side). Drain on paper towels and let cool slightly while you prepare the vegetables.
Rinse and drain a handful of cherry tomatoes, as much cucumber as you like, and a few leaves of lettuce. Slice the cucumber and tear lettuce into smaller portions. Arrange vegetables and fish attractively on a platter. Enjoy it with the chilli relish and hot white rice.
5. 29th JULY VEGETABLES
Carrots – Hughes Organics, Norfolk (400g)
Spinach – Ripple Farm, Kent (200g)
Green courgettes – Ripple Farm, Kent (300g)
Broad beans – Hughes Organics, Norfolk (400g)
No photos as we were very busy this week, but I enjoyed the fresh sweet crunchy carrots sliced into a salad alongside several cheese toasties with dippy eggs and sriracha, while the spinach was delicious barely wilted with some shallots and a little crème fraîche stirred into it, served with some excellent sausages (The Black Farmer’s Daughter).
Unfortunately most of the courgettes froze in our fridge as we were away over the weekend (we have a dodgy little fridge), but the remaining three-quarters of a courgette were fried, tossed with the cooked double-skinned broadbeans and some balsamic vinegar, flaky sea salt, and garlic oil to make an accompanying salad for some butter-roasted garlic and potatoes.