Chef on a Budget: Vegetables

Recipes | | June 16, 2010 at 7:00 am

Vegetables aren’t usually the most expensive ingredient on your shopping list. Still, there are ways to save money and make the most of your nutritious choices:

  1. Buy seasonal produce when possible.
  2. Buy heavy nutritious vegetables.
  3. If it’s edible, eat it!
  4. Don’t peel vegetables.

Buy in season

Most fruits and vegetables are a lot cheaper when they’re in season and obviously, shipping in produce  is not ecologically or economically good practice. Stick to seasonal produce when possible! Support your local farmers markets, which are usually cheaper and always seasonal. Wherever I am in the world, I always look up the local markets before I go shopping. I have come across some of the most amazing places that shame the inflated prices and often irradiated produce of the big stores. It is also great fun to wander around with a coffee and make a nice morning of it.

Waste not want not

Vegetables are one of the worst areas for waste in a kitchen. By the time that you have peeled, trimmed and prepared most vegetables, there is nothing left! After a good wash, there isn’t much that can’t be eaten, and often you’ll get more nutrition.

  • Carrots: for example, up to 15% of the nutrients is in the skin. So don’t peel them, simply wash, slice and cook.
  • Cauliflower: is another wasteful vegetable. More often than not the green leaves growing around the head equal the actual cauliflower. Keep these dense green leaves and slice and use as you would cabbage.
  • Broccoli: don’t trim the stem off! Leave it on when steaming. It’s full of nutrients.
  • Beets: Use the beet leaves- they are very similar to red chard. 
  • Cabbage: Don’t be tempted to throw away the outer leaves on cabbage, dark green savoy leaves are excellent sliced into a rich Tuscan bean soup or hearty winter casserole. The dark green leaves are also a lot more nutritional.

Part of the points achieved in chefs’ exams comes from how little waste you have left at the end of a cooking session. Unfortunately, that training usually goes out of the window in a commercial kitchen where mountains of waste are generated. When I first started out as a chef in Europe, we had ‘pig bins’ which we would put all the food waste in which would be collected and used by the local pig farm as cheap nutritious feed. For his trouble the chef would get a couple of beers from the farmer. This sensible economic practice was recently outlawed and now all this ‘waste’ goes out with the garbage. Even a modest sized restaurant will produce dozens of tons of ‘garbage’ a year, that could be put to good use. It’s a crying shame.

Tasty to the root

One of the simplest ways to make your money go further is to think of food in terms of weight. The more you get for your dollar, the further your money goes. This is especially true of root vegetables. Dense, heavy, cheap and packed with nutrients, root vegetables are amazingly healthy and wholesome. They also have a reputation for being bland and boring–not so!

One of my favorite ways of using root vegetables is to roast or grill them. Use carrots, parsnip, sweet potato. Toss in olive oil, season well, scatter on an oven tray with thyme rosemary and whole garlic cloves. Roast in a moderate oven until golden and soft. (You will have to do the carrot separately as it takes a lot longer). Mix this with roasted zucchini and peppers. Serve on a big platter drizzled with balsamic syrup and parmesan shavings. A meal in its own! Seriously I have had many customers come into the restaurant just for a large plate of oven roast vegetables. Some other ideas:

  • Carrots: Ideal for soups, sauces and casseroles, or grated into salads.
  • Rutabaga (Swede): Use to bulk out casseroles or stews, like grating into Shepherds Pie. Can be mixed with carrots, butter and a little nutmeg, and pureed as a side dish (kids find this very acceptable!)
  • Parsnips: Excellent for soups (try a lightly curried parsnip soup, delicious!). Roasted along with potatoes for roast dinner, or pureed like mash to go with lamb, a perfect match.
  • Sweet Potato: Brilliant for soups, puddings, roasting grilling and baking. The sweet potato doesn’t need much to make it appealing.
  • Beets: Quite possibly the healthiest vegetable on the planet. Wrap in foil and bake until soft and sweet. Boil and slice into salads. Thinly slice on a mandolin and fry for rainbow ‘chips’ along with sweet potato and parsnips.
  • Celeriac: Combine with potatoes for celeriac mash or puree and serve with roast beef. It is also excellent grated in a remoulade, or mixing in with coleslaw.

MagnusMagnus Mumby is a British chef with a mission: enable diners to easily and inexpensively create healthy and delicious dishes. He was awarded the Top Ten New Chefs of the Year award by Esquire magazine, among numerous other accolades. To find out more and try his wholesome recipes, visit his site

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  1. Dr. Orna Izakson says:

    This is terrific! Quick question: What temperature qualifies as a “moderate” oven?

    • Magnus Mumby says:

      Hi most chefs usually refer to oven temperatures as Low, Moderate or Hot! This isn’t always useful t the layman. The temperatures for a moderate oven are, 325-425f or 170-220c. Anything below is low, and anything above is high!
      Hope that answers your query.