During the winter, we tend to get lost in winter food, yearning for the sweet and fresh foods of spring and summer. Keep in mind that we don’t have fresh salad greens from the garden with juicy, sweet tomatoes and cucumbers. Nor do we have those delicious stone fruits of summer. Oh, yes I know all of those things are available in the supermarkets. But take a look at where those items in the supermarket come from. There’s a good chance that most aren’t even grown in the United States. Think of what those foods cost the environment. I’m talking about the amount of fossil fuels burned to transport the goods to our local supermarkets. More importantly, much of it is picked before being ripe and then artificially ripened in an environment of ethylene gas. If you buy it, taste it. It doesn’t have the joyful taste that summer fruits and vegetables do.
So what’s a person to eat?
We are blessed to have 4 seasons with foods that are fresh in each season. Furthermore, the foods of winter tend to be foods which strengthen the immune system. How cool is that? Let’s take a look at some of these foods.
- The squashes are rich and sweet. Currently, we can enjoy all the big squashes with the hard peel protecting them, i.e., butternut and acorn squashes among others. Simply roasting these squashes after peeling and cutting them is all you have to do. Of course you can make delicious soups with them. I’m including my recipe for butternut squash soup in this post.
- Greens. Now is the best time for those dark
, hearty greens of winter, i.e., kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard, turnips, etc. There are also the cabbages (including Brussels sprouts). Again, these greens are so easy to cook. The simplest way to cook them is to clean them, cut them and sauté them with some garlic and/or shallots in olive oil with a dash of vinegar or lemon juice and some salt. Like the squashes, they also make sumptuous soups like Caldo Verde.
- We can’t forget to mention other crucifers – Broccoli, Cauliflower and the beautiful Romanesco. There are so many ways to cook these. All are very tasty.
- Legumes. All the fresh beans and peas from summer, now dried, are really good in winter soups and entrees and provide protein (especially important with a vegetarian meal).
- Roots. These are some of my favorite winter foods. When my book was first released, I loved doing demonstrations of making rutabaga fries. That big vegetable, which looks like a turnip on steroids and is often covered with wax for storage, has a lot of natural sugar in it and when you roast it those sugars all come to the surface. Same is true with turnips. The most common roots in the American diet are potatoes and sweet potatoes. You might want to try celeriac for something different. Celeriac is perhaps the ugliest vegetable we have but also one of the best. Roast it, make slaw with it or a rich Celery Root Soup.
- Winter fruits are among the best of the year. Think Citrus! This is the time of the year for the sweetest grapefruit as well as oranges. Extra seasonal citrus – available only in the winter – includes Cara Cara oranges, Blood Oranges, tangerines, tangelos, clementines and mandarins, satsumas and kumquats. To me kumquats are the “candy” of winter fruit. They are small and look like tiny oranges but you pop the whole fruit in your mouth and chew it up. Don’t even try to peel it. The peel on the outside is sweet while the inside is very tart. Together it all works!
- We have pomegranates this time of year with their sweet ruby like berries.
- Persimmons. You have to eat these when they are perfectly ripe. If you try them before they ripen fully they will make your mouth feel like it’s shrinking! But if you wait for them to be ripe, they are sweet and rich with a custard-like texture. Yum!
- Don’t forget Apples and Pears are abundant and juicy. My favorite sandwich in the winter is made with apples and cheddar cheese with a tarragon mayo assembled on a baguette and toasted in the oven until the cheese has melted. So good.
So when it comes right down to it
, we have absolutely no reason to feel sorry for ourselves during the winter. We have a real abundance of fresh wholesome food to keep us well and sated.
I’m including a few of my favorites winter recipes here to get you inspired to explore winter’s fruits and vegetables.
- Butternut Squash Soup – to make the most of delicious winter squash
- Red Beans & Rice with Turkey Sausage – to bring some warm spice to your winter kitchen table!
- Rutabaga fries – using another great wintertime vegetable – rutabaga!
- Orange sections with Mint Leaves & Honey – one of my favorite winter desserts with lots of juicy citrus
Spoons with the Chef
Robert “Chef Bobo” Surles, Executive Chef at The Calhoun School