On Salsa and Also Gumboots and Those Empty Supermarket Shelves

05 Mar On Salsa and Also Gumboots and Those Empty Supermarket Shelves

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 27.2.23


There is a constant supply of homemade salsa at my place right now. Partly it’s because nothing says “summer” on a rainy day like a bowl full of spicy tomatoes (close your eyes and pretend) but also because I keep seeing coriander in the shops and cannot walk past without buying it.

Truth is, I am still recovering from The Great Tabbouleh Debacle of Christmas 2022. I say “tabbouleh” but the trauma included salsa.

These are my two favourite “salads” if you will. Fun to make, festive colours, fresh and delicious. They were to be a pivotal part of our Christmas lunch production – supporting acts to glazed ham in the starring role.

So imagine my accelerating panic in the week leading up to December 25th as I found, day after day, that key ingredients in both dishes were suddenly (I swear they’d been there the week before) missing from all stores in my local environs.

Coriander and flat leaf parsley? Too much rain, thank you climate change. Bulgur wheat? Supply chain issues, thank you Covid. Limes? Good luck finding them, bless you if you could afford them. Onions? Also rain, but red onions could be bought with any gold bullion you had left over from buying that solitary lime.

“It’s like living in the Soviet Union!” I texted hyperbolically to a friend who also had a need for limes, possibly (and ironically) for her vodka. I sent her a photo of a pouch of lime juice – twice the price it was a year ago – to see if that would do. It would, so I swapped that for a handful of parsley (curly, not flat, but needs must) from her garden.

Tip for anyone else attempting tabbouleh in these difficult times – couscous is a reasonable substitute, but also you might find a bag of bulgur on a lost shelf in the gluten-free aisle.

Ultimately, Christmas lunch was saved but it’s made me think how much we’ve assumed we could get anything, anytime. I understand about “seasonal produce” – we grew up with a vegetable garden, so I get it that stuff ripens for a little bit, and then disappears till the same time next year. No point hankering after fresh asparagus in May.

Though this does not apply to silverbeet. That nasty stuff is the vegetable equivalent of a post-nuclear cockroach. It just keeps on existing, even when you encourage the family chooks to peck it to death. Ugh.

But these empty shelves we’ve been seeing are new to us – the gaps where the tissues used to be, or eggs, or seasonal vegetables now battered by unseasonable weather.

Empty shelves, too, for things we wouldn’t usually need during this season, but now do. Even before the floods, I went looking for gumboots – something lighter than my red bands that would work for outdoor gigs in an already damp January, and which wouldn’t require a woolly sock.

“Gumboots?!” The lady in the store was incredulous. “Not now!” A few short, wet weeks later it is entirely possible someone in head office is rethinking what makes the perfect summer shoe and that “waterproof” will become a design feature.

In the north of Aotearoa it seems we are going to have to learn to live with more rain than we’re used to. So I’ve dug out my red polka dot umbrella, and found some light PVC boots, and now I’m walking to the greengrocer to see if they’ve got any parsley.