As high inflation and supply shortages continue to affect food prices, it becomes even more important to buy well on fruit and vegetables.
Hopefully you’re looking at seasonal produce, says Ari Soulis, a buyer for The divine grocer in Bondi, Sydney. Eating what’s naturally plentiful is a great way to navigate high prices and ensure you’re getting a nutritious punch.
If you’re trying to stretch the budget, Soulis also suggests considering less-than-perfect-looking products that are always available, but may now be even more abundant due to inclement weather.
“A mark on a piece of fruit or vegetable won’t affect the taste,” he says.
Director of Coastal Hydroponics in Queensland, Belinda Frentz, agrees: “For example, in frost, rocket can turn a little purple at the ends. But there’s really nothing wrong with it.”
Her 80 hectare business, which produces salad lines and herbs for baby leaves, was devastated by the floods in Queensland and, more recently, three severe frosts.
“It was the perfect recipe for everything that could go wrong,” she says. “I’ve been running the business for 15 years and it was the first time we had empty shelves.”
But very soon, says Frentz, the harvest will increase to 20 tons per week until November.
While mixed salad greens can get a little more plentiful, don’t expect too much joy on the lettuce front, Soulis says.
“The price has dropped from $12 to $7 (if you can find one), but these are prices never experienced before by baby boomers.”
While supermarkets have warned against extreme shortage of products for at least six weeksmainly due to bad weather conditions, Nuccio Camuglia, from Fruity Capers and Deli, at Brisbane Marketswants consumers to focus on the positive.
“There is no shortage of fruits and vegetables like carrots and celery are plentiful,” he says.
Expect to pay about $2.50 per pound for carrots and $4 for a bunch of celery in grocery stores.
Cauliflowers are in better supply now, but still sell for about $4 to $5 apiece, while silver beet prices remain high at $6 a bunch, if you can get it.
Chinese vegetables are about $2.50 per bunch and herbs are about $3 per bunch.
If you like bell peppers, this antioxidant-rich vegetable should be in abundance — watch out for the minis, which are slightly sweeter, and expect to pay between $3 and $10 per kilogram, depending on quality.
Famous chef Peter Howard and author of Maestro of Madness advises removing the seeds before tossing bell peppers in grapeseed oil and roasting them lightly brown.
“Cut the lemon zest and make a dressing of lemon juice, grapeseed oil, chili, and salt flakes,” he says. “Then serve with lemon zest, spread over peppers, and topped with dressing.”
Broccoli supplies are also starting to improve with prices around $6.99 per pound and make a versatile appetizer or side dish, Howard says.
A favorite recipe: “Remove the flour part and julienne the stem, then combine the julienne stem with minced garlic in very hot sunflower oil in your wok. When the stems are relaxed and supple, add the broccoli florets and a few drops of sesame oil and hoisin sauce to taste. Stir quickly to cook the broccoli and serve sprinkled with fried garlic and shredded coriander leaves.
If you’re a ginger lover, the good news is that supply is improving and prices should drop from the $50 per pound charged in supermarkets.
You can use it for tea, or in stir-fries and soups, while Howard has a way that gourmets can take maximum advantage of it with cauliflower.
Make a string of finely grated ginger, vegetable oil, oyster sauce, ground pepper and salt.
“Then take cauliflower florets and mix with chopped red onion.
“Roast or saute, basting generously twice while the vegetables cook.”
Top with torn fresh mint and serve.
While there are few real bargains in the vegetable aisle, there is plenty to be found in fruit.
Soulis says some bananas have fallen to 99c per kilo and there is a good supply of oranges, mandarins and apples.
For a family breakfast everyone will love, Howard suggests peeling and slicing ripe Cavendish bananas and stacking them on freshly made French toast.
Frozen vegetables: a good substitute for buying fresh vegetables when products are simply too expensive or unavailable
Iceberg lettuce, still high at about $7, and not widely available
Silver beet: two floods and heavy rains have led to a shortage and high prices
Out of season everything unless you have an unlimited budget
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