As high inflation and supply shortages continue to affect food prices, getting a good buy on fruit and vegetables is becoming even more essential.
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 make sure you’re getting nutritional punch.
If you’re trying to stretch the budget, Soulis also suggests considering less-than-perfect-looking produce that is always available, but may be even more plentiful now because of bad weather.
“A mark on a piece of fruit, or vegetable, won’t affect the flavour,” he says.
Director of Coastal Hydroponics in Queensland, Belinda Frentz, agrees: “In a frost, rocket, for example, can go a little purple on the ends. But there is actually nothing wrong with it.”
Her 80-hectare business, that produces baby leaf salad lines and herbs, was devastated by the Queensland floods and, more recently, three heavy 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 ever we had empty shelves.”
But, very soon, says Frentz, harvesting will return to up to 20 tonnes a week until November.
While mixed salad greens may become a little more plentiful, don’t expect too much joy on the lettuce front, says Soulis.
“The price has come down from $12 to $7 (if you can find one) but these are prices never experienced before by baby boomers.”
While supermarkets have warned of extreme shortage of produce for at least six weeks, mostly due to poor weather conditions, Nuccio Camuglia, from Fruity Capers and Deli, at Brisbane Markets, wants consumers to focus on the positive.
“There is no shortage of fruit, and vegetables such as carrots and celery are very plentiful,” he says.
Expect to pay about $2.50 a kilo for carrots and $4 for a bunch of celery at supermarkets.
Cauliflowers are now in better supply, but still retailing for about $4 to $5 each, while silverbeet prices remain high at $6 a bunch, if you can get it.
Chinese greens are about $2.50 a bunch and herbs are up about $3 a bunch.
If you like capsicums, this antioxidant-rich veggie should be in abundance – keep your eye out for the mini ones, which are slightly sweeter, and expect to pay between $3 and $10 a kilogram, depending on quality.
Celebrity chef Peter Howard and author of Maestro of Madness advises removing the seeds before tossing capsicum in grapeseed oil and roasting them to a light brown.
“Finely slice lemon zest and make a dressing from lemon juice, grapeseed oil, chilli and salt flakes,” he says. “Then serve with lemon zest spread over capsicums and topped with dressing.”
Supplies of broccoli are also starting to improve with prices at about $6.99 a kilo and makes a versatile starter, or accompaniment to a dish, says Howard.
A favourite recipe: “Remove the flower part and julienne the stem, then combine the julienned stem with chopped garlic in very hot sunflower oil in your wok. When the stems are relaxed and supple, tip in the broccoli florets and a few drops of sesame oil and hoisin sauce to taste. Quickly toss to cook the broccoli and serve sprinkled with deep fried garlic and torn coriander leaves.”
If you’re a ginger lover, the good news is that supply is improving and prices should be coming down from the $50 a kilo being charged at supermarkets.
You can use it for a tea, or in stir-fries and soups, while Howard has a way foodies can take maximum advantage of it with cauliflower.
“Make a baste from finely grated ginger, vegetable oil, oyster sauce, cracked pepper and salt.
“Then take cauli florets and mix with chopped red onion.
“Roast or pan fry, generously basting twice as the vegetables cook.”
Top with ripped fresh mint and serve.
While there are few true bargains in the veggie aisle, there are plenty to be had in fruit.
Soulis says some bananas are down to 99c a kilo and oranges and mandarins as well as apples are in good supply.
For a family breakfast everyone will love, Howard suggests peeling and slicing ripe Cavendish bananas and piling them on freshly made french toast.
Frozen veggies: a good substitute for buying fresh when produce is simply too expensive or not available
Iceberg lettuce, still high at about $7, and not widely available
Silverbeet: two floods and heavy rain has seen a shortage and high prices
Out of season anything, unless you have an unlimited budget