Growing up in his parent’s fruit and vegetable store in Springvale, Thanh Truong learned to love seasonal produce and has devoted his career to sourcing the freshest food. As the soaring fruit and veg prices continue making news, Thanh (AKA ‘Fruit Nerd‘) has amassed a loyal following on social media for his food shopping advice. Some of his video tips have been viewed more than 25 million times, leading to appearances on ABC TV and partnerships with companies like Mazda. So if you’re looking for ways to save money on produce this winter, here are Thanh’s top five tips for sourcing the most delicious – and best value – winter fruit and veg.
What is a refreshing crunchy substitute for lettuce? Celery! It’s abundant this winter which means it’s good value, crunchy, juicy, and has all the similar textural qualities of lettuce. But instead of being neutral in flavour, celery has a beautiful bitterness that cuts through dishes. Slice it finely and combine it with julienned carrot to balance the mild bitterness with the sweetness of the carrot. Add any dressing (my favourite is roasted sesame kewpie dressing), and you’ve got yourself a refreshing side dish for dinner, an excellent veg element for an egg salad, or a light meal with some beans, carbs and protein. Celery can also be kept in the freezer for weeks if stored in a bag or container. Celery is my produce of the moment this difficult winter.
There aren’t many fruits in season in winter, but one that is in season and Mother Nature intended for us to eat now is citrus. It’s the vitamin C hit we need whilst hibernating from the cold and sun, but the zestiness of the fruit gives us the kick we need to fight the cold. There’s a reason why oranges are served at footy halftime breaks. You might be thinking oranges and mandarins aren’t exciting, but the kingdom of citrus is far greater than these two. If you love grapefruit, try pomelo. If you love navels, try blood oranges. If you love afourer mandarins, try honey murcotts. If you love imperial mandarins, try tangolds. Each variety has its unique zesty fragrance. If you’re unsure what this aroma is, scratch the citrus skin after purchasing it, and the perfume should burst into the air. I change up whatever citrus my family eats each winter to keep my kids interested and on their toes. My tip for choosing juicy citrus is to feel the weight of a piece of fruit and compare it with another similar-sized fruit; the heavier citrus will have more juice and will be less dry.
3. Sweet potato
Let’s all admit it, we all get tired of pumpkin during winter. It’s not pumpkin’s fault; they are so large that by the time we get to the end of a pumpkin, we’ve just had too much pumpkin in too short of a time. That’s where sweet potato can be your friend. Not only do sweet potatoes come in smaller, easier-to-handle sizes, but there are also multiple varieties, each with varying flavours that will keep things interesting. Gold sweet potatoes, which are orange skin and orange flesh, are the most common variety, and they are a mix of carrot and pumpkin once cooked. Purple skin with white flesh is another readily available variety, and it’s denser in texture than the gold. You might also be able to find other varieties at your fruit and vegetable store. My tip is to use the air fryer and to cook them on high heat (200C) for 45 minutes for small to medium-sized sweet potatoes. The extended cooking time will allow for the core of the potato to cook, and for the sugars to caramelise inside, you’ll have a far more complex sweet potato if you do this. Once cooked, your options are plenty, eat them hot out of the air fryer as a snack, store them in the fridge for the next day or make a full dish out of them by cutting them in half and adding salty and crunchy condiments like pickles and peanuts.
4. Asian Veg
Mainstream leafy veg like lettuce is in the spotlight due to a shortage of supply, but Asian vegetables have gone under the radar, and they are great value. The plethora of available varieties at speciality Asian grocery stores give you options for soups, stir-fries and baked recipes. If all else fails and you don’t have easy access to a specialty Asian grocer, Bok Choy or Pak Choy is your best friend. Stir-fry over a high heat for 2 minutes with a white protein or boil as a side-dish with some good soy sauce. Chinese Broccoli, or Gai Lan, may not have the florets, but its stems are far tastier and crunchier than broccoli, similar to broccolini. Best eaten in a stir-fry, my tip is not to overcook them as they go soft and lose moisture and flavour. When buying Chinese Broccoli, look for short bunches with little buds at the top; this represents a young vegetable that is both more tender and sweeter than mature bunches. Green mustard vegetables are another must-try if you’re making chicken soup this winter. Unlike neutral vegetables like Bok Choy, green mustard adds a complimentary flavour to the soup, making it not just savoury but refreshing and sweet.
5. Box it
The best way to preserve the environment, your money, and the fruits and vegetables you’ve just bought is to take your produce home in a used cardboard box. Boxes are designed for carrying produce and are sturdy enough to handle the weight of a pumpkin, potatoes and all your herbs and vegetables combined in one box. By placing them in a box, they won’t crush whatever was destined for the bottom of your reusable plastic bag. Some fruits need air to breathe, like mangoes whilst others are sensitive to being bruised, like Nashi pears. A cardboard box allows you to Tetris your way into fitting it all neatly and snug. There will be no rolling produce in the boot. Plastic bags, even if reusable, take years to break down, while cardboard can be crushed and re-used or broken down in nature. Lastly, they don’t cost you a cent, and your fruit store or local supermarket will be more than happy to hand you one. My favourite fruit box is an open tray with internal corner angle supports. These can carry heavy weights up to 10kg and ensure heavy produce won’t crush sensitive fruit or vegetables.
For more tips from the Fruit Nerd, check out his website.