The kitchen cupboards are full of butterbeans, lentils and chickpeas and the pot-bellied white wire basket on the counter kept loaded with eggs as much possible. There is mild panic when it starts to look empty, each one being precious. If I were to list things this kitchen should never be without, eggs would be right behind onions. It may even be a photo finish.
To keep things running smoothly, the fridge has become more organised. Things that can, such as celery and kale, sit in glasses of daily-changed water on the windowsill, keeping fresh and perky, leaving space free on the shelves. Soft herbs are wrapped and stored in damp kitchen paper in a bag in the crisper drawer and whole chickens are being jointed and portioned, the bones simmered for stock after cooking. Things no longer lurk at the back, those long forgotten jars of pickles or sauces never really destined to see the light of a plate. And if a carrot does occasionally get bendy it makes it’s way heavenward in stock, soup or juice.
These days there is no ‘popping to the shops’ when there isn’t a particular ingredient to hand and many things just aren’t available anyway. When not wasting anything becomes a mission (how many things can you do with a turnip?), everything gets used one way or another.
To make things interesting, the side dishes have taken on more of a senior role in the team. There has been grated carrot salad with raisins and cumin, loads of fresh parsley from the pots outside and plenty of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Or tomato and cucumber mixed with finely diced red onion, lots of fresh, chopped coriander, garam masala and nigella seeds.
Sometimes a small dish becomes the main event: warmly-spiced chickpea and tomato stew with a crisp-edged fried egg on top and a sprinkle of chilli flakes or daal with popadoms and aubergine pickle. There are marinades that mean you can chop stuff up and leave it to cook quickly later on such as chicken marinated in Korean chilli paste, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar; Or there is the emptying into a bowl approach, with very little chopping required, as in a butterbean and avocado salad with peanuts, courgette, pumpkin seeds and chilli powder or tinned, cooked chickpeas given a good spoonful or three of harrisa, heated quickly together in a pan with frozen spinach and tinned tomatoes.
On Tuesday night I made a dressing for some tuna I found in the freezer with coriander, God knows how old capers and olive, ginger, lemon juice, some slightly melancholy spring onions and drowned the lot in olive oil. The spice cupboard is really proving its worth, giving everything zing.
We do, of course, need to replenish our supplies. The vegetables we are getting come from Peter and Harmony who, for a while now, have been selling flowers from their stall outside Crystal Palace station, a grand Victorian brick building that looks rather like an old school but inside opens out into a cavernous and high ceilinged English version of Monet’s Gare St. Lazare on two deeply spaced levels. But as ‘Covid’ flew round the world, they, like many others, have had to adapt and evolve.
Early each morning they drive their van to Covent Garden market and load up the space that flowers used to fill with fruit and veg then bring it back to box up and deliver to the local area. This happens in the Alma, a usually lively and welcoming pub but now, like all the others, closed. What was, until recently a lively place full of social buzz is now a packing site and produce outlet. I’m grateful, that in these strange days, there are people like them working hard to keep food supplies readily available.
The kale they brought us last week was used up yesterday. I pulled all the leaves off the stem, crushing and massaging them a little to tenderise them. They went in a deep-edged roasting tray with a few cloves of garlic, the last few cherry tomatoes and wedges of sweet potato which had been tossed in olive oil and curry powder. Had I not forgotten about it in the oven, it would have been perfect. It was a little dark in parts, but still good. The kale having taken on the air of Chinese restaurant crispy seaweed and it meant we eat things that would normally skulk in the shadows while we used more glamorous and exciting ingredients, spoilt with choice like bratty children.
Kale and sweet potato wedges
A handful or two of kale leaves
Two large sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
A few cherry tomatoes
Two cloves of garlic
A tablespoon of garam masala or curry powder
Salt and pepper
A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Heat the oven to 180c or thereabouts
Toss the wedges in the oil and curry powder and season a little
Mix with the remaining ingredients and spread evenly on an oven tray. Give everything another pinch of seasoning to be sure
Cook for about 30 minutes, until the sweet potato wedges are soft and golden and just catching on the edges and the kale is crisp