Location: Electric Avenue and Pope’s Road, SW9
Brixton Market Traders Association: http://brixtonmarket.net/
This is another post in our occasional series about food shopping in Brixton. By Brixton Market I mean the more traditional street market; the actual stalls in Electric Avenue and Popes Road (Brixton Station Road deserves it’s own entry). It’s just enjoyed/suffered a makeover but the six or so food stalls, mostly selling fresh produce, amid the others with a mix of hats, hardware and other stuff, are still there. It might even still be recognised as a traditional street market by your genuine costermonger, keeping up the ancient tradition of closing down by 5:30 pm or earlier, as well as observing early closing day on Wednesdays.
I’ve been shopping in the market for 30 years or more but I’ve never really worked out who’s there and when. So I don’t have a favourite stall to recommend. My practice is to have a shopping list vaguely in mind but to then buy whatever looks good on the day. And I may be wrong but the quality of what’s on offer and how it’s presented has improved in recent years. One thing I still try and do, however, is to pick out what I want myself, so I don’t end up with that mouldy tomato at the bottom of the bag.
This isn’t your posh or exotic market. There’s no great evidence of gentrification. Almost everything that’s on offer is what you can get most other places in Brixton, apart from the random one-offs. I sometimes suspect that these ‘specials’ are stuff that’s going cheap at the wholesale market that morning. Last week there was a stall of globe artichokes and last summer, seemingly at random, there were Kentish cobnuts and ‘Nap’ cherries, pushing their sell-by date at bargain prices. So, while it’s always worth having a look, you can’t depend on finding anything other than the fruit and vegetable basics. The only real difference between the stalls is that most don’t sell West Indian or African produce.
Unfortunately, I’ve never found that most of the produce on sale in the market is markedly cheaper than elsewhere in Brixton. And if it does look like a bargain, it generally means that in needs to be used quickly. For example, the three large avocados I bought for a pound the other day were great value but they definitely needed to become guacamole later that day.
The approach on our blog is provide an example of a recipe based on produce from the shops, or in this case, the stalls being discussed. In this case I’ve gone for minestrone soup, in keeping with the theme of vegetarian (almost vegan) January. All the main ingredients came from the market stalls, apart from the olive oil and the parmesan, both of which came from Lidl; the bay leaf, which came from my allotment, and some left-over farfalle (small pasta bows) from Tesco.
My recipe for minestrone is pretty generic but the ever dependable Felicity Cloake has one of her useful discussions in the Guardian – see here. The main difference is that on this occasion I’ve used vegetable rather than chicken stock. She also suggests using rice rather than pasta but this just seems wrong to me.
Ingredients – Note that no quantities are given. The greater the number of varieties of vegetable the better but don’t overdo the amount of each, or you’ll end up eating minestrone all week. The important point about the vegetables is that you can use anything you have to hand. For example, in the photograph below there’s a bowl of chopped up stems that were left over from when I had made some crispy kale.
- Carrots, chopped small
- Onion, chopped small
- Leek, chopped small
- White cabbage, finely shredded
- Celery, chopped small
- Fennel bulb, chopped small
- Turnip, chopped small
- Potato, chopped small
- Tomatoes, chopped small
- Garlic, finely chopped
- Fresh thyme
- Bay leaf
- Parsley stalks
- Fresh basil, shredded
- Small pasta or rice
- Good olive oil
- Parmesan cheese – freshly grated
- Seasoning to taste
The point to emphasise about the ingredients is that there’s no set list of what you have to use. Just use whatever is available in the market, or what you have left over at home. But the wider the variety, the better the minestrone.
The first thing to do is to make the vegetable stock. It’s true you can buy it ready made, I like the Marigold bouillon powder from Brixton Wholefoods, but recently I’ve got into the routine of making my own. It’s quick and easy. Just boil up a saucepan with a selection of whatever vegetables you have to hand, roughly chopped plus any peelings and onion skins, with the herbs plus some peppercorns. Simmer for around an hour and finish by just pouring the liquid through a sieve. Note that all the flavour from the herbs is in the stock and you don’t need to use any more.
While the stock is on it’s way, chop up all the vegetables and fry them in some olive oil. Start with the onions and garlic until they soften and then add the others in turn, except for the potatoes and cabbage, depending on how long you think each one takes to cook. This should take 10 to 15 minutes. Then you add the filtered stock and bring to a boil. The timing for adding the remaining ingredients, potatoes, cabbage and pasta, depends on how long each of them take to cook but this probably means another 20 minutes or so of cooking. You can make the soup in advance but keep in mind that both pasta and rice will swell up a lot if the soup is left to stand for any time, so less will be required.
When its ready to serve put in bowls and sprinkle the shredded basil and grated parmesan on top, plus a little good quality olive oil. Just leave out the parmesan cheese is you really want a vegan version.