Just how many creative dishes can you create with a bag of watercress? This is the question I ask myself, as I stand in my kitchen for what feels like the hundredth time, trying to plan a delicious evening meal from the bag of organic watercress that’s been staring me in the face everytime I open the fridge, threatening to wilt very soon unless I stop avoiding it.
My watercress conundrum is one of the downsides of my organic vegetable box delivery, sent to me by Abel and Cole. Like many a Londoner, I love the idea of fresh, farm produce grown far from the city smog, and in the past I’d been tempted enough by it to sign up to a regular delivery of organic produce, sent straight to our front door every week, sharing the contents with my then-housemate.
Back then, when we first joined, we attempted to be healthy young professionals living an overpriced dream whereby we could pretend to justify spending over £50 a month on a weekly box of vegetables which we’d never quite get around to finishing.
But the overpriced dream came to an end when we were both flummoxed by a delivery containing black salsify. “Black what?” we both said to each other, neither of us having ever heard of the stuff, let alone knowing how to cook it. A quick Google search helped – but the results were paltry and tasteless. We cancelled our weekly order and embraced eating out and cooking adventurous meals of pasta, baked potatoes and more pasta.
Fast forward a few years, and I finally feel sufficiently more mature in my kitchen and cookery skills to give the vegetable box routine another try; I have visions of myself creating hearty, wholesome dinners, something new every night. Domestic goddess, eat your heart out.
Unpacking the delivery on Monday morning (which arrives, thankfully, at 8am, rather than at 4am as the customer service representative said it might), I feel a little like I’m on Ready Steady Cook, opening a surprise goodie bag of ingredients and thinking of recipes on the spot. I’ve got long, thick, earthy leeks; a bundle of fresh asparagus; a few knobbly carrots; big fat courgettes; two chunky onions; a little box of pearly white mushrooms and the bag of watercress. Admittedly, it’s not all a total surprise (the Abel and Cole website does give an indication of what you may receive, although it’s not always guaranteed), but I was hoping for Portabello mushrooms and tomatoes instead of the forsaken watercress. Hmm.
The leeks, potatoes and onions easily go together so I assign them for an easy soup supper; I add the asparagus and mushroom to risotto. But the carrots seem a little lost on their own without other salad staples, and, along with the watercress (I’ve never found watercress soup fulfilling), I’m not entirely sure what to do with three courgettes either. Two onions won’t be enough for a week’s worth of meals, so I still have to go out and do an extra shop for vegetable basics, which to me defies the point of getting a delivery in. I end up spending most of every lunch hour Googling recipes and making lists of extra ingredients I need to buy everyday to turn the vegetables into proper meals – I lose count of how much more expensive it is than my normal shop.
Will I be making my organic vegetable box a regular routine? No. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking with fresh ingredients that aren’t wrapped up in supermarket plastic and the recipes I found (see below) turned out to be delicious. But I just don’t find it practical. Of course, it’s great to break out the cookery comfort zone and end up with a mix of products I mightn’t ordinarily pick up but it’s time consuming to plan after you’ve got your ingredients, rather than before, in the way you normally might with online grocery orders. As for the watercress, it made its way into a light, fresh and tasty asparagus recipe, but I won’t be buying an entire bag again!
If you go get stuck for recipe ideas, check inside your vegetable box to see whether there’s a recipe card that might be able to help you. “If you’re really stuck, contact us by phone or email. I’m here as a vegetable agony aunt of sorts, to help you with ideas. We try to inspire – when we put something unusual like a kohlrabi or an enormous pumpkin in a box, we send a recipe card with it,” explains Rachel DeThample, from Abel and Cole.
It can be time-consuming to look through all your recipe books for a particular recipe containing a particular vegetable. If you’re short on time, just try the power of Google – it’ll throw up search results from all sorts of food websites and blogs with imaginative and creative recipes you might not otherwise find.
Be organised - check with your vegetable box company whether you need to be in to receive delivery, and if not, make sure there is a safe place where your box can be left. Try abelandcole.co.uk, riverford.co.uk and redappledelivery.com.