I first discovered fruit and veg boxes when I was working in a youth hostel seven years ago. As staff, we could opt to have a miniscule amount of money taken out of our wages each month so we could eat any food (within reason) from the fridges, freezers and buffet. Working the infamous hospitality hours, this usually meant fried breakfasts and luke-warm leftovers seven days a week. However, one girl – Louise – opted out. She had been a vegetarian for years and recently become a vegan, so she found it far easier to cater for herself. In her spare time, she volunteered at a local farm and each week brought home fabulous boxes bursting with dirt-covered vegetables straight from the ground. As much as I can remember the acrid smell of beetroot boiled dry, issuing from the tiniest kitchen you will ever see all over the staff house, and the huge bottle of congealing home-made shampoo on the edge of the bath, I have never forgotten Louise and her veg boxes.
Two more years passed working for youth hostels, eating fried breakfasts and luke-warm leftovers seven days a week, then another three years of hotel leftovers as I worked at a 3* hotel with the added convenience of living in walking distance of three large supermarkets. But I never forgot those veg boxes.
Now, I am living on a small university campus with my husband and two-year-old son, relying on the small shop, buses and grocery deliveries. When I first knew we were to move here I thought of those veg boxes again. Then, during our first week, what should happen but a leaflet from Abel and Cole landed on our doormat. So I signed up, and for the past nine months, every Friday morning has felt like Christmas as I have opened up the brown boxes and excitedly taken out each piece of fruit and each piece of vegetable, particularly thrilled when I received purple carrots, brain-like celeriac (an acquired taste, and one we have not acquired, but thrilling all the same) or one of what seems like every type of cabbage under the sun. I have always been enthusiastic to try something new, and the recipe cards they tuck into the boxes are a great help (as are the internet and my mountain of cookery books).
Over time, my order has increased to the occasional piece of fish or meat, a larger fruit box, jams and marmalades, and even a selection of organic beers that made a great Birthday present for my brother. Recently, however, this increase has been drastic following my purchase of Rachel de Thample’s ‘Less Meat, More Veg’, a cookery book that has now become my cookery bible as week after week I tick off more delightful dishes.
The book makes clear that it is not a book for vegetarians, but rather for those who want to cut down on meat because of the benefits to the environment and personal health. Mark Bittman, New York Times columnist and author of ‘The Food Matters Cookbook’ states that ‘This is the cookbook of our time’. It is certainly the cookbook of MY time, it is as though it were written for me: Before buying this book I never really consider how the amount of meat we eat affects the environment or my health, all I knew was that – especially with a toddler – my family was not reaching our minimal ‘five a day’. Additionally, we do not eat a huge amount of meat because my husband does not like it very much and the cost of it makes me cringe, so the book seemed perfect.
The balance of vegetables and meat in the book really suits our appetites. The quantity of beef in the beautiful ‘Maya Gold chilli’ is balanced with red kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes and peppers, and Green & Black’s scrumptious Maya Gold chocolate to create the most wonderful chilli I have ever tasted. Neither of us are big burger fans, but Rachel’s ‘Mushroom burgers with Asian slaw’ have us turned – there is enough meat in them to make them beef burgers, but not so much that they have that really meaty taste. The mushrooms make them really moist, yet the flavour was very subtle, and the Asian flavours – soy sauce, spring onions and ginger – created a perfect burger. Additionally, Rachel de Thample’s personal tastes seem similar to ours – she does not like shop-bought mayonnaise (my husband can’t stand any such condiments), she uses a lot of coconut milk, mushrooms, avocadoes, mangos and Thai and Mexican flavours (the ‘Mexican cold remedy’ and ‘Fish tacos’ are a must!).
One of the things I love most about this book is how it is structured. Each chapter begins with the ecological implications of eating too much of each meat, fish or diary product and how we can source this produce more sustainably. For each type of meat, Rachel then shows how a whole joint can be used to create 5 different meals, provides the recipes for these meals, and then a few more ‘stand-alone’ recipes (although most of these can also be created from the leftovers of a roast). So far, I have only tried the chicken, roasted on a bed of butternut squash, (my husband prefers chicken and fish, so I am leading him in gently). That night I stripped the carcass and boiled up some stock. The next day I used some of the meat and half of the squash to create a lush ‘chicken, coconut and butternut squash curry’. The rest of the week we enjoyed ‘Italian chicken soup’ (lunch and dinner), ‘Wholesome chicken pie’ (lunch and dinner – my sister also joined us for this one), and even homemade pate, accompanied by homemade rustic oatcakes.
The book moves on to offer a selection of game recipes, something I am excited to try once I have grown more confident in my meat-cooking ability and also convinced my husband, then a colourful multitude of vegetables sides – quick and easy ways to make boring carrots and peas more exciting – and soups, before leading on to my husband’s favourite section, the fish. This section I found particularly fascinating regarding the sustainability of fish – we particularly enjoy mussels, but I never would have thought they were so high in the sustainability charts, but this is so even if they are farmed because the ropes mussels attach themselves to attract lots of different seaweeds. Crabs, too, are surprisingly sustainable as they can have up to 5 million babies (of course, they need to have these babies before we eat them…). My favourite chapters of the book are the last two, which contain recipes that are egg and diary free. These recipes are mostly breakfast ideas, cakes and desserts and from these, my particular favourite are the ‘honeyed carrot cupcakes’ (made with coconut milk as a binding agent) and the ‘tahini dip with apples and pears’. I love this dip so much that I am already on my second jar of tahini. I also have never eaten so many apples in my life.
As much as I would love to say ‘Go out and buy it NOW’ I know it is not for everyone. I have recommended it to my sister, but I would not recommend it to my mum (although I have bought it for my dad for his Birthday). However, I have talked my head off about it to anyone who will listen long enough.