Coping With The Christmas Vegetable Shortage

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Shortages of sprouts, parsnips and other winter vegetables are predicted to drive up prices at Christmas, but James Ramsden has some bright ideas to turn disaster into triumph

Christmas dinner. What’s to be surreptitiously fed to the dog if there are no sprouts?
Photograph: Peter Huggins/Alamy

Those with a nervous disposition about cooking Christmas dinner may want to look away now, for shy of a turkey apocalypse the worst could be about to happen. We are, apparently, going to be without vegetables this December. Due to this year’s torrential rain and subsequent crop failure Tesco and Sainsbury’s are predicting a shortage in home-grown potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and swede. Chuck in a brandy embargo and a ban on bread sauce and we might as well cancel Christmas altogether.

“We’ve definitely noticed a downturn,” specialist grocer Andreas Georghiou tells me. “It’s not like we’re going to run out, but the cost is going to become more prohibitive. It’s very much intertwined with the broader financial situation, and now that people are so used to paying 2-for-1 for vegetables they’re reluctant to pay the correct price.”

So, in the event of a drop in vegetable availability and an increase in prices, what can we serve alongside the chosen protein this Christmas?

As a cheerleader for beetroot I would say this is always a good start – whether roasted with garlic, thyme and olive oil, pureed with a hefty wallop of horseradish, or gently spiced and served with yoghurt, it’s a fine vegetable. Leeks, chopped and sweated in butter and a little curry powder before being finished with cream are a favourite round ours, as is my mum’s particularly American scalloped corn.

A meat as, erm, subtle as turkey will always benefit from having sides with a bit of swagger about them. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem artichokes with manouri and kuman oil are delicious, as are his stuffed onions. Indeed, the humble onion should not be underestimated: it can play a lead role with aplomb – I bake them with anchovies and breadcrumbs.

Food writer and chef Anissa Helou recommends Moroccan salades variees: “Cook whatever root vegetables you have and dress them with herbs, chilli, and spices, or stew aubergines in tomato sauce. There’s lots of choice.”

Many vegetables can be bought now, prepped, and frozen, though Norwegian food writer Signe Johansen prefers pickling. “You could have pickled beets or pickled cucumber, the sort of thing that is traditionally made earlier in the year and used throughout winter”.

No cause for alarm, then. There is no need to rely on the anonymous delivery of an organic veg box from some munificent ex-skinflint to fill our bellies this Christmas, just a little diversion from the safe and familiar sphere of carrots and sprouts. And no one likes sprouts anyway, do they?


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