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There’s no need to get creative when the produce is this good. (Photo: Getty Images)
There’s no need to get creative when the produce is this good. (Photo: Getty Images)

KaiFebruary 5, 2024

Got way too much summer veg? Just cook it

There’s no need to get creative when the produce is this good. (Photo: Getty Images)
There’s no need to get creative when the produce is this good. (Photo: Getty Images)

Think too hard about what to do with that surplus produce and it’s liable to start losing its freshness. Liv Sisson’s advice: cook it now, decide how to use it later.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

In 1967 my great grandmother “Mama Laura” boarded her first flight. She was on her way to meet my mother, her granddaughter, who had just been born. Mama Laura flew from North Carolina to Virginia to meet the baby. My grandad “Hoss” met her at baggage claim.

As her suitcase rounded the carousel, a bushel of sweet potatoes spilled from it. Tubers tumbled across the polished airport floor. Mama Laura had grown them, packed them, hustled them across state lines. Hoss’s favourite food. Her koha to him and the whānau in a tender moment.

And what did Hoss do with those sweet potatoes? Just cooked them, I imagine. They don’t need much help. Just a little butter and salt.

Just cook them. That’s really all it takes. Chef Adam Harrison taught me this last year.

Christchurch chef Adam Harrison. (Photo: Supplied)

We were catching up with some mates, all from the Eat NZ kaitaki crew, when subscription produce boxes came up. They’re a great alternative to supermarket produce – often more affordable, sustainable and delicious. Even with the benefits, Adam reckoned, the pressure of using up all that veg can be too much. I have experienced this feeling.

Adam is a wildly talented forager chef. The last time I got to eat his kai it was an acorn sourdough toastie with porcini-infused cheese, slow-cooked wild boar and foraged crab apple chutney. Cooked over an open flame.

On the fresh produce front though, Adam had some sage, simple words. “Just cook it.” Wash, peel, chop. Then roast, steam or boil. Add salt. Eat. You don’t have to make something new. Whether you bought too much, grew too much or are overwhelmed by your veg box, the best thing you can do is – just cook it. Worry less about recipes and more about getting the bounty into an easy, eatable format.

I’ve been trying a “just cook it” approach. It’s been fun and freeing. It’s led me to less waste, more freestyling and a repeatable process. When my produce box arrives, I just cook it. All of it. And usually in one go.

I wash, peel, chop, boil, roast, steam. Within an hour I’ve got all these lovely components ready to be eaten or added to something else later. This isn’t #mealprep. These are beautiful building blocks. Here are a few of my faves that have emerged in the process:

Broccoli snow

This one doesn’t even need cooking. Chop the broc finely, starting from the top. Rotate it often. The texture produced should be like broccoli snow/mince. Chuck it in a bowl. Add salt.

From here you can eat as is. A great lunchbox salad. Or you can consult the pantry. Add a half-vinegar, half-mayo dressing. Layer in crunch with nuts, seeds, crushed-up potato chips, pomegranates if the price is right ($4 last week!). Stir a grain through.

Sweet beets

Peel. Boil. Salt. That’s it. This cooking method amps up the beets’ sweetness and reduces the earthiness. This handy lil side adds a tasty pop of pink.

Green garden sauce

If you’ve got a green herb surplus (think parsley, basil, coriander) simply chop fine, smoosh into the bottom of a clean jar, add salt, cover in oil. Now you’ve got a salad dressing and/or marinade base. Boost the flavour with chilli flakes, pepper, garlic. This goes hard on any roast vegetable.

Carrot ribbons

This one is super simple. Shred your carrots with a cheese grater or cut into long sticks. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice (or pickle brine, or vinegar – any acid will do). A very punchy flavour!

These little methods have bubbled up as I’ve just cooked stuff rather than tried to make it into a recipe right away. Along the way I’ve gotten the hang of making more sauces, crunchy toppers, dips – yummy accoutrements that bring the cooked stuff all together.

And when I get a kūmara in my produce box, I think of the sweetest potatoes. The ones Mama Laura so carefully cultivated and transported. The proof is in them. When a vegetable gets delivered to you, it’s probably special enough, sweet enough to stand on its own. So just cook it.

Keep going!