A Feast for All Seasons
Embracing the Rainbow Year Round
by April Thompson
No matter where we live, eating seasonally in winter doesn’t have to be boring or limiting; a culinary adventure awaits the home chef that’s willing to leave avocados and asparagus to their rightful seasons and embrace the winter rainbow of bitter greens, sweet potatoes, sunny citrus and fuchsia beets, among other timely delicacies.
“Sometimes people think of winter foods as brown and soft and boring, and it’s absolutely not the case. Winter brings bright things like pomegranates, beets and citrus, which offer color and acidity,” says Brigit Binns, the Paso Robles, California author of 30 cookbooks, including Cooking in Season: 100 Recipes for Eating Fresh.
Eating seasonally is especially important in winter, says Shannon Stonger of Texas, author of Simple Food for Winter: 30 Grain-Free Recipes to Get You Through the Dark Days. “Winter foods like fermented vegetables, root vegetables, squashes and hardy greens are especially helpful in the colder, darker months, when our bodies are in need of comfort foods as well as pre- and probiotic foods,” says Stonger, a homesteader and founder of the blog NourishingDays.com.
There are plenty of other reasons to
stick to a seasonal diet in winter, adds Binns. “Food always tastes better in the season it was intended to be eaten in. Seasonal foods are naturally ripened, rather than harvested early and trucked in. In addition to enhanced flavor, eating seasonally helps minimize use of fossil fuels to bring our food to us, and is likely to be less expensive.”
Winterizing the Kitchen
Much of the fall harvest, particularly root vegetables, stores well through the winter (hence the idea of a root cellar), extending produce across seasons, according to Steven Satterfield, chef and author of Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons. There are lots of root vegetables beyond just carrots and potatoes to be enjoyed in winter, including sunchokes, parsnips and turnips, which can be used creatively rather than “boiled to death,” says Satterfield. For example, the Atlanta
restaurateur incorporates parsnips into an upside-down cake with winter spices like nutmeg, black pepper and ginger.
Binns likes to add texture to winter dishes with nuts, color with herbs, and crunch with a winter vegetable like fennel. Warming soups are always comforting during the coldest season, but she also likes warm salads, like a beet and escarole salad drizzled with a warm sherry vinaigrette.
Satterfield suggests that specialty citrus like blood oranges, Meyer lemons and cross-hybridized varieties such as tangelos and pomelos are fun to intersperse with winter vegetables to maximize brightness and freshness. A lot of winter produce can be great in raw form as well, he adds, including Brussels sprouts, rutabaga or daikon radish, shaved thinly or julienned into a salad.
Winter squash is a favorite staple of the Stonger family in the cooler months. “It is easy to grow, easy to store and so deliciously sweet and rich. We roast it as a side dish, mash it as a sort of breakfast porridge or make soups and curries from it,” says Stonger.
Satterfield suggests using all the parts of winter vegetables to maximize the harvest and minimize food waste. For example, the seeds of winter squashes can be roasted with herbs and spices and eaten as is, churned into other dishes such as a squash seed granola or blended and strained into a homemade broth to add some texture, fat and flavor. After roasting carrots with Moroccan spices, Satterfield suggests taking the leafy carrot tops and chopping them with cilantro and garlic to make a green sauce to crown the carrots. Swiss chard stems can also be chopped and cooked into Portuguese bread soup, with leftover stale bread made into olive oil croutons and egg whites stirred in at the end.
Winter Health Boosters
Beyond selecting seasonal produce, chefs recommend a few key dietary tweaks in winter, such as stepping up vitamin D consumption. “Since you’re not seeing a lot of sun this time of year, it’s more important to get it through colorful vegetables like carrots, cabbage or radicchio. Watermelon radishes are another winter vegetable full of vitamins,” says Binns.
“You can grow your own sprouts throughout the winter as a great microgreen option. Sprouts are incredibly high in enzymes, something often lacking in other winter dishes,” suggests Stonger. “Fermented vegetables and other fermented foods can make up the difference in winter.”
April Thompson is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Connect at AprilWrites.com.