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Blog: Cooking upside down

Blog: Cooking upside down

Blogger Claire Coggan writes about her journey with food

The other day I realised I cook upside down. Not in a sense of starting at the end of a recipe and working backwards, or standing on my head whilst I cook. What I mean is, about five years ago, when I was deciding what to have for dinner and wandering around a bleak supermarket, tired after a day at work, hoping that something would jump out and inspire me, I always used to pick up the same veg and put them in my basket, regardless of what time of year it was. Every week.

It didn’t require any brainpower and meant that I could make a few staple dishes with what I’d bought. That was the weekly shop, done. At the weekend I might mix it up by digging out a nice-looking recipe and buying something different; but that was the extent of my food shopping. It was easy.

But it was season-less and pretty flavour-less too. Tomatoes and cucumber tasted watery in winter, but I felt I ought to eat them to be ‘healthy’. I did not know where my food came from, where it was grown or how fresh it was. It was ‘convenient’.

Fast forward a few years and it wasn’t until the other day that I realised that the way I shop and cook has done a hundred and eighty degree turn. For a number of years I’ve bought veg from my local farmers market. The veg are seasonal, fresh and good quality, harvested a day or so before, from farms not too far away from my home in London. And they taste good.

You never know what they will have at the market, but I always look forward to what I might find. A few weeks ago it was some spring onions lurking near the leeks. A little sign of spring, promising warm weather and sunshine to follow, nestled amongst the dark depths of winter.

Once I’ve bought my veg, I choose meals to cook based on the veg I’ve discovered and voilà! I end up eating a brand new vegetable I would never have had the courage to try before.

Each vegetable has it’s own little story to tell; it’s own little language if you like. By learning to prepare or cook each vegetable in a way that works for that particular vegetable, rather than relegating it to the side of a dish through the over-boiling or frying I used to do, it brings them to life. It makes them taste so much better and is a never-ending source of enjoyment. The flavours are intense and the results are worth it. After all, there is a reason that the top chefs cook with seasonal ingredients; they know what it takes to make a delicious dish.

The veg are now doing the talking, and I like what they’re saying!

Most of the time it works; every now and then it doesn’t. I’ll be honest. I learnt the hard way that I don’t like tarragon for example (yuck!). But on the flip side, I’ve discovered I do like cabbage (something I thought was ruined by my overcooked school dinner days) and celeriac along with a variety of other veg I would never have thought to pick up in a supermarket.

If you’re not sure about a vegetable, try eating it another way: raw, grated, chopped, steamed, sautéed, boiled, seasoned, with butter, in a sauce, or if it still all goes wrong, ditch it completely and move on. Life’s too short to eat food you don’t like.

Rather than deliberately deciding to switch to eating seasonal veg, I ended up cooking this way because I ditched the supermarket and changed where I shopped. But what I’ve found is that by buying locally and seasonally you get the best veg available right now, better tasting food, better quality food and you get to explore a whole new range of foods that are exciting and may just give you the morale boost you need after a hard day at work. In fact, you might even find that cooking upside down turns out to be the right way up.

You can follow Claire Coggan on twitter


The Slow Food blog is welcoming contributions on the topics of Food, Farming and Agriculture. The contents may not entirely match the views of Slow Food, but reflect the journeys of the authors. To write for us please click here

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