Chinese New Year
Here are a few suggestions with an oriental flavour that may inspire you and help make your Chinese New Year festivities go with a bang, most of which are UK grown and and all of which are readily available from us. Firstly there are the now familiar leafy green, cabbage-like Pak Choi, plus the perhaps less familiar Choi Sum (similar to the other two, but with longer, thinner leaves and longer, slenderer stalks which taste rather like Tenderstem Broccoli). In ad-dition, there’s the versatile Chinese Leaf Cabbage, which can be used as a salad, a soup or a stir-fry ingredient. Consider also Curly Kale and Cavalo Nero (Black Cabbage), both of which can not only be used in oriental-style soups and stir-fries, but can be finely sliced and deep-fried to provide pretty good substitutes for crispy seaweed. Then there are Mouli (Daikon Radish) and Galangal (looks a bit like ginger, but with smoother, paler, harder flesh which has to be sliced rather that grated and possesses a sharp, citrusy, almost “piney” flavour). And of course there are the ubiquitous Beanshoots, which are available in both 250g packs and 4kg bags. Finally, there’s our oriental selection of Mixed Cultivated Mushrooms, which will normally include Enoki, Shimeji, Oyster (both Pink and Grey - and sometimes Yellow as well) and Shitake.
Moroccan Sanguina Oranges should arrive early in the month. As the name might suggest, San-guinas are similar to blood oranges but possessing instead a smattering of red flecks rather than a concentration of full-bodied bloodiness and whose flavour is mostly sweet but with a kind of sher-betty tanginess. Very nice.
Sapphire Plums are large, golden-fleshed, grainy-textured and citrusy, becoming red-fleshed and mellow as they mature. The first of them should start arriving early in the month from South Afri-ca, with Chilean imports arriving a week or so thereafter.
Usually available in 125g punnets containing approximately 30 in number, Chilean Kiwi Berries are a grape sized fruit possessing thin, smooth, opaque green skins which are entirely edible. Their overall flavour is very much like that of regular kiwifruit, but less citrusy and with a more concen-trated, vanilla-like sweetness. They’re considered somewhat of a delicacy and usually only on sale in limited numbers for about a fortnight a couple of times each year (with mid-February being one of those times), which means you can expect them not to be cheap.
New season South African Green William Pears should be in the market no later than week 3.
New season English Roquette should be available by around week 2 of the month.
English Watercress should come into season about the same time, however availability will be fairly limited initially (and prices relatively high) until they become fully mainstream by around mid-March.
Dutch Cucumbers should arrive by mid-month to join the Spanish ones already in the market, which should hopefully result in a drop in price.
If the weather in southern Italy at the moment is mild enough we’ll likely see the arrival of the first of this season’s Globe Artichokes. They’re usually quite small but perfectly formed, but be advised that initial supplies may be somewhat limited.
New season Spanish Bunched Medium Carrots are due to arrive early in the month and should be very tender, succulent and full-flavoured. Furthermore, their vibrant and juicy sprouting green tops shouldn’t be discarded but instead used to flavour stocks or as an aromatic garnish.
Spanish Romanesco should be excellent throughout the month, possessing a combination of fla-vours reminiscent of both broccoli and asparagus. If you need reminding, Romanesco is the one that looks like a fluorescent green cauliflower with peaked florets that resemble a Swiss moun-tainside.
Due to arrive by about week 2, French new season Purple Top Turnips (Navets) will be crisp and sweet with a juicy, radish-like flavour that makes them ideal for grating and adding raw to winter salads.
The first crops of Egyptian Fresh Peas and Bobby Beans will be being harvested as we move into February (weather permitting), which means they will hopefully start arriving before the end of the month.
Italian Agretti, also known as Monk’s Beard (Barba Di Frate) is a seasonal highlight due to arrive by week 2 of the month. It’s a long, tuberous green veg not dissimilar in appearance to chive but with a chard-like flavour and slightly bitter aftertaste. It needs to be blanched or steamed and is then often tossed in olive oil and lemon juice and served as a side dish. It’s season is very short, so it’s unlikely to hang around far beyond the middle of March.
French new season White Asparagus is likely arrive by about week 2-3 of the month.
English Wild Garlic (Ramsons) wouldn’t normally come into season until around mid-March, but the fairly mild winter we have thus far enjoyed means there is a realistic chance that they might appear as early as mid-to-late February.
Kentish Outdoor Rhubarb should arrive in the market around mid-month and provide a cheaper alternative to both Yorkshire and Dutch indoor-grown (forced) varieties.
The availability of Wild Mushrooms can be a bit patchy during February but you should be able to at least rely on Chanterelle, Pied De Mouton, Trompette and a few Ceps (Porcini) to ap-pear with reasonable regularity throughout the month.
February Fruit Bowl
February is traditionally a month full of possibilities for those compiling fruit bowls, displays and platters.
However, very much depends on the prevailing climatic conditions in the southern regions of the globe, which will determine the quality and quantity of their summer fruit harvests.
Furthermore, unusually cold and damp weather in many parts of Europe in recent years has meant that certain types of fruit crops haven’t always been as good or as plentiful as one would hope.
There should nevertheless be some good Peaches, Nectarines and even Apricots early in the month and Cape Plums will continue to delight.
Clementines and Satsumas will likely become scarce, scruffy or dry-fleshed, at which point it will be time to switch to alternative easy-peel citrus varieties such as Nardorcotts, Mineolas and subsequently Ortalinas as alternatives.
Navel, Blood and newly arrived Sanguina Oranges on the other hand will be juicy and flavour-some.
After many weeks in storage, English Cox’s, Russet and Braeburn Apples will have become mellow and nicely ripened and good throughout the month, as will UK-grown Comice and Con-ference Pears. New season South African Green Williams Pears will be available from about week 3 of the month.
Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious Apples should continue arriving in good shape from France and Spain.
Banana plant yields are usually low at this time of year, resulting in higher prices, variable quality and shortages of fully-ripened fruit.
As well as using fresh Exotics such as Rambutans, Dragon Fruit, Sharon Fruit and Grana-dillas to add visual interest, consider also Dried Apricots, Dried and Fresh Figs, Dates and Prunes to provide even greater variety.