I was amused by Stuart Heritage's account in the Guardian of his attempt to clock up his ten-a-day of fruit and vegetables. He felt, he said, like a sentient composter. Five a day is not so difficult if you cook at least one meal from scratch. Ten is trickier, and part of the art, as it eventually dawned on Stuart Heritage, is that it's almost impossible to get there by having fruit or vegetables with your food. The fruit and especially the vegetables have to be the food.
I did well for several days last week with a black eyed bean stew that originally derived from Rose Elliot's useful Bean Book. Since I started making it I have gradually modified the method and the ingredients to the point where it is not really her recipe any more, except that it is a stew and contains beans and vegetables. Black eyed beans are fun, such a dinky size and quite sweet and nutty. I no longer cook them with the vegetables except in the final stages of preparation. Instead I boil them by themselves so that I can stop when they are soft, without having to wait for any other ingredients to be ready. They are perfectly edible if cooked to a mush, but I've decided the texture of the stew is more interesting if the beans are still whole.
Another deviation from the book is that I now start by frying the chopped celery, onion and carrot in butter. The books just says to simmer them, but I have got tired of being caught out by celery in various recipes that remained obstinately hard and stringy even when chopped into tiny pieces while the rest of the dish turned soggy or burnt around it from over-cooking. And frying in butter brings out the flavour of the ingredients splendidly and is the foundation of many dishes. Then I add a tin of tomatoes, a chopped red pepper, some garlic, and some tomato paste if I remember. Last time I forgot and it was fine. This mixture can be simmered until the pepper is just cooked, and them kept warm and mixed with the beans when they are just cooked, so that the finished stew still has some texture.
The latest deviation from the Rose Elliot original is to add some diced sweet potato at the carrot and onion stage. The sweetness works well, and the orange colour. So that is five chopped vegetables, plus the tomatoes makes six, and the beans count as one so that's seven. Seven out of the day's target of ten in one bowl, not bad. Eight if you count the garlic. Quantities are up to you but six ounces of dry beans, a couple of celery sticks, a couple of carrots, a single pepper, a smallish sweet potato or half a big one and a couple of smallish onions or one giant Spanish one will provide several helpings of stew. It is nice cold, to the point where if I were doing a cold buffet for a lot of people I would think about making one as a salad, and goes well with a gherkin or two, in which case you would be up to eight vegetables.
After making the stew I was left with half a sweet potato because Tesco only had large ones and I was trying to keep it in proportion with everything else. I wasn't immediately sure what to do with it so put it in the fridge in case inspiration struck, and last night it did. Worried that the defrosted pot of Two Greedy Italians' meat stew looked rather stingy for two I was casting around for ideas to bulk it up beyond making an awful lot of mashed potato, and hit on the idea of roasted vegetables. I chopped the half sweet potato and a couple of carrots into largish pieces, boiled them until just soft and roasted them in olive oil along with a few shallots left over from a bag I bought to make a Thai red curry. The shallots were there partly for flavour and I'm not sure two each counts as a portion, but it must have added two and half to our daily vegetable tally.
In the interests of clearing old food out of the freezer I simmered an ancient packet of blueberries, since I don't believe plain fruit frozen without any added fat actually goes off. Probably if an ancient mammoth had been frozen along with some blueberries you could still eat them. These were dated 2011 and they were fine. I dutifully put them on my breakfast porridge, but they weren't honestly as nice as golden syrup would have been. And the black currants I stewed with Bramley apples added two to the daily score, except that the amount of sugar that you have to add to black currants rather ruins the effect.