With her Wheatberry salads, raw spreads and sprouts ever more popular, Vicky Turnbull threatens to turn proud pie-eating North Easterners healthy. Rosie McGlade checks out the key to the ultimate re and post-Christmas detox
I know at least one person who will still be the image of health and wellbeing even after the excesses of Christmas, and it’ll be largely thanks to a very different type of sprout from the usual served on Christmas Day.
That’s Vicky Turnbull – a woman for whom sprout, as in sprouting, dominates much of her life in her sprouting pulse-packed kitchen.
Just over half a year into her new raw veg business, Vicky Turnbull loves what she does, but you wonder, half way through another mountain of onions, all alone in her vegetable-packed kitchen, if the thought occurs that there are easier ways to make a living?
“I can spend full days peeling and squeezing lemons. I can now do 50 flatbreads or 30 chickpea pancakes an hour, and I have hundreds more to do. Then it’s the packaging. But I am enjoying it! I love it.”
Vicky’s energy is in itself a great advert for what she does. She has definitely hit a gap in the market, because while ‘healthy’ can sometimes mean limp and tasteless, her salads and spreads you want to pick at like sweets. They’re pretty, zesty, crunchy: they intrigue, even though much of what she sells you’ve never heard of.
Vicky dipped her toe in the water at one of the region’s ever-growing feast of food festivals in April (Bishop Auckland), after coming up with the idea for Wheatberry 10 weeks previously. All her stuff sold out; her salads, her wraps, her riotously colourful bowls you only have to look at to feel you have been cleansed.
“Everyone really loved it!” she exclaims, still delighted.
More food festivals, more empty plates, more sell-outs of nutritious gorgeousness topped with edible flowers and served in homemade wraps followed and here we are, sitting in a secluded sun trap in the allotment she and her husband waited three years to secure opposite their terraced house in Newcastle’s Spital Tongues, a huge long track of home-grown vegetables and herbs before us.
Wheatberry is a nicer way the Americans have of saying wheatgerm, meaning the whole grain. “It sounds nutritious,” Vicky says. “I like it. And 95% of our produce is gluten-free.”
Vicky’s is a quirky CV, including children’s TV marketing, children’s TV on-set catering, and a private chef at one of those amazing houses in the wilds of Scotland.
The inspiration for the business came from a trip to Austin, Texas a couple of years ago, where Vicky stumbled upon Wholefoods Market, a delicatessen packed with gorgeous fresh food; a midnight feast with a halo round its head. “It was like I’d died and gone to heaven,” she recalls. “It was huge, like a warehouse, stacked high with sushi bars, burrito bars and the most amazing salads and sprouts. There was nothing remotely this good here.”
As the proud owner of what she describes as a vegetarian and vegan streetfood company, people are often surprised to know she is neither vegetarian nor vegan. “Nor am I militant about healthy eating either. I just love salad. I suppose I could add goat’s cheese or feta or something, but I haven’t done that yet. Everything’s vegan.”
While her recipes might sound hardcore to the uninitiated, Vicky is constantly surprised by how well they go down.
“I think people really do like trying new things. There were a load of kids at the North Shields food festival who loved the raw hummus for example,” she says, referring to her dip made from sprouted instead of ‘boiled chickpeas.
Sprouting is central to the Wheatberry world. “So long as they’re not split, you can sprout any pulse or lentil apart from soya and kidney beans, which are poisonous,” Vicky explains.
The amazing thing is that those dried-up, wrinkled, rock-hard peas and beans you buy are still alive. They just need to be re-animated with water. So step one is soaking them overnight. Next, Vicky puts them in baskets lined with netting, so they have air flow. She stacks the baskets up on top of each other, and then makes sure they’re kept damp, though not sitting in water, by rinsing under a tap three times a day. In two to three days, your chickpeas will germinate.
“I bought a vegetable spiraliser a few months ago and that’s been a lot of fun. You can use any vegetable really, and they come out in these incredibly long spaghetti strings you have to cut with scissors. You can eat raw, or some, like courgette, you cook in place of pasta for a lower carb and calorie supper.”
In her dreams, Wheatberry competes with McDonald’s on street corners and transport hubs, taking healthy food to the masses. But she’s wise enough to take things step by step.
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tin black beans, rinsed & drained
3 tbsp dried or fresh pomegranate seeds (reserve a few for garnish)
3 tbsp maple syrup or honey
1 tsp cinnamon
Small bunch roughly chopped coriander
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 200C/Gas 6, toss the squash in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and roast for 20 mins until soft.
Place the walnuts in a non-stick frying pan over a low heat. Mix the maple syrup and cinnamon together and pour over the nuts with a pinch of salt. Stir gently until toasted and coated in the maple syrup mixture (around 5 mins). Transfer to a plate to cool.
In a large bowl gently combine the roasted squash with the black beans, pomegranate and coriander. Roughly crush the walnuts and sprinkle over. Garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds.