Winter at the Farmers' Market
Seasonal produce isn't just for the summer months: root vegetables, squash and fruits like apples and citrus from California and Florida are common in farmers' markets across the U.S. during winter months.
"If it's in season in the States and not coming from Argentina or Mexico, you can support farms on a family-level scale," says Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest, which connects family farmers and consumers. "U.S. shipping companies are getting more efficient, but it's more about buying directly from U.S. farms than reducing your carbon footprint in the winter. You're supporting more of a rural lifestyle that a lot of people have an affection for, as opposed to agribusiness. And you are able to ask the farmers questions about the food."
Indeed, supporting local farmers is becoming more important to U.S. consumers -- in 2008, 4 million people used LocalHarvest.org to find locally grown foods, up from 3 million in 2007. (You can too, using the LocalHarvest "Get Local Info" tool on the homepage of The Daily Green.) LocalHarvest lists 2,000 community-supported agriculture programs, around 100 of which sell direct to consumers through its site; if you want to stay local, you can also find 10,000 farms and almost 4,000 farmers' markets.
How do you know true change has come to Washington? By the new administration's embrace of broccoli. Famously derided by George H.W. Bush ("I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!") and similarly shunned by Bush the younger, the cancer-fighting cruciferous was on the outs for many years in D.C. That all changed when Barack Obama came to town -- it's reported the 44th president ate broccoli nearly every night while on the campaign trail. It appears that broccoli has received not only a presidential pardon, but a ringing endorsement.
Broccoli-Cheese Polenta Pizza
Broccoli and Cheddar Kugel
Warm Quinoa and Broccoli Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
Szechuan Shrimp with Mango Rice and Sesame Broccoli
Whole Wheat Pasta with Garlicky Greens
The old saw "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" has been proven time and again: Scientific studies show that the crunchy, fiber-filled fruit reduces risk for colon, pancreatic and breast cancer and heart disease, and may protect against memory loss. It may be the world's only substance that is not only great for your heart and your brain, but also makes a mean strudel. Remember to eat the peel -- about two-thirds of an apple's fiber and many of the antioxidants are held in the natural "wrapper."
Though they're harvested primarily in late fall, apples store well and are available throughout the winter across the U.S. And if you're tired of the same old Granny Smiths and Red Delicious, don't dismay: The United States grows more than 2,500 varieties of apples, many of which you can find at local farms or markets.
One of the best things about beets is that they're high in folic acids, which protect against birth defects. So a bowl of borscht or an heirloom-beet salad is the perfect prescription for a healthy pregnancy.
Fresh beets offer more than just crunch and a variety of colors -- the greens attached to the beets are also tasty, and can be sautéed with garlic and some olive oil and be eaten just like spinach, or used in soups to provide some extra texture and nutrition.
Brussels sprouts -- first cultivated in large quantities in Belgium and imported to Louisiana by French settlers in the 1800s -- have gotten a bad rap. The columnist Dave Barry once wrote: "We kids feared many things ... werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School -- but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts." Poor Mr. Barry's mother probably served the frozen variety of this cute mini-cabbage, which can be bitter and mushy.
Fresh Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, are firm, tasty, easy to prepare and packed with nutrients -- only four little sprouts deliver more than a day's recommended vitamin C and tons of fiber. So even if you too fear the Brussels sprout, it's worth giving fresh varieties of the veggie a second shot.
Though claims that garlic prevents cancer and lowers cholesterol have recently been challenged, there's one thing that's indisputable: It's delicious. You don't need a recipe to enjoy garlic in its most basic form: Cut off the top, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tin foil, and roast at 400 degrees until the cloves (only 4 calories apiece!) are soft and spreadable.
Roasted Garlic Soup
Cabbage, which can be grown in cold climates and stored for weeks at a time, was popular among ocean explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries for warding off scurvy -- a single serving provides about half your daily dose of Vitamin C.
Scorned at different points throughout history as a poor man's vegetable, cabbage regained popularity in the 1980s with the (not recommended) cabbage soup fad diet. Though it's tasty and tender served steamed and salted, many cultures also make use of pickled cabbage, which appears in such popular derivations such as German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi -- both of which are considered effective hangover remedies.
Asian-Style Cabbage Rolls
Cole Slaw with Creamy Mustard-Ginger Vinaigrette
Cabbage and Walnut Salad
Chicken Soup to Soothe Your Soul
Rice Noodle and Vegetable Stir-Fry
Originally, wild carrot varieties ranged in color from white to purple. In the 1600s, Dutch agriculturalists developed carrots that emphasized orange tints and phased out purple.
The tinkering didn't stop there: Researchers at Southern Illinois University report that the British developed high-carotene carrots during World War II in order to enhance pilots' night vision. Today, geneticists are breeding carrots in a wide color spectrum, including purple, red and yellow, all with slightly different nutritional properties.
Swiss chard, despite its name, is a Mediterranean relative of the beet known for its hardy and colorful leaves instead of its root. The vitamin-packed vegetable, which tastes a bit like spinach, is an important component of Rosh Hashana seders in the Middle East. While Jews typically eat sweet foods to celebrate the new year, a New York Times article last year noted that Iraqi and other Sephardic Jews traditionally eat Swiss chard, the Hebrew word for which means "remove, throw out, or cause to disappear." The blessing recited before the dinner asks that God remove adversaries.
Sauteed Swiss Chard
Teriyaki Salmon with Gingery Chard
Sauteed Swiss Chard with Golden Raisins and Capers
Cauliflower and Swiss Chard over Mushroom Couscous
Portobellos with Potato and Swiss Chard
Sicilian Stuffed Pork Chops
Whole Wheat Pasta with Garlicky Greens
Apple Cider Braised Greens
Spring Greens with Wheat Berries
Lovers of mushrooms, be glad you weren't born in ancient Egypt. According to the Mushroom Council, pharaohs decreed the delectable ground-dwellers were the food of royalty and were not to pass the lips of commoners, essentially hogging entire crops for themselves.
Mushrooms are an important food for vegetarians, as they provide a few key nutrients typically found only in animal proteins -- including riboflavin, niacin and selenium. Mushrooms are also the only fresh vegetable or fruit containing Vitamin D, which is good for bones and teeth. Recent studies show mushrooms may also aid the immune system and that's good news for kings and paupers alike.
The Southern New Year's tradition of eating collard greens with black-eyed peas dates back to the Civil War, when troops destroyed most crops but left the collards and black-eyed peas untouched. The green, leafy crop represent dollars -- and the story goes, the more you eat of the former, the more you get of the latter in the year to come. Even if the superstition doesnt hold true, one thing you are sure to get with a plateful of collards is eight times your daily dose of vitamin K. Maybe they should have been named kollard greens.
Americans consume about 20 pounds of onions per capita every year, and it's no wonder: You get a lot of flavor for your calories (something they're obviously aware of in Libya, where the average person eats 67 pounds of onions a year).
A serving of onion has only 45 calories and can transform the taste and aroma of casseroles, sautés, salads and sandwiches -- and just about anything else. If you're too busy to prepare a dish, whip yourself up a Gibson -- one of the few cocktails that's garnished with an onion.
Get your avocados while you still can -- unseasonably warm weather may cut into this year's California crop, causing an avocado shortage and driving up prices of the savory fruit most people know as the star ingredient of guacamole.
Avocados have about 30 grams of fat per fruit (earning it the nickname "butter pear") -- about the same as a hamburger -- but most of that is monounsaturated -- the "good" fat that lowers cholesterol.
Winter does magical things to parsnips as frosty temperatures convert the starch in the root vegetable to sugar, lending a subtle sweetness to the flesh.
High in fiber, vitamin C and folate, parsnips make a nutrient-rich alternative to the potato when mashed or roasted as a side dish. Look for small- to medium-sized roots, as larger parsnips can be woody.
Though it's most often relegated to the buffet steam table or Chinese takeout box, bok choy really is the king of cabbages, with a higher concentration of beta carotene and Vitamin A than any of its cabbage cousins (as well as a healthy wallop of Vitamin C). When shopping, look for the tiny baby bok choy varieties, prized for their tenderness.
The average American eats 126 pounds of potatoes per year, and while Super Size fries may have a lousy nutritional reputation, don't blame the spud itself: fresh potatoes have more potassium than bananas, spinach or broccoli and are full of fiber and Vitamin C.
There are as many ways to prepare potatoes as there are pots to cook them in, and they're so cheap that there's no reason you can't experiment with all of them.
Farmers Market Potato Surprise
Smashed Yukon Golden Potatoes
Potato Latkes with Pear Apple Sauce
Portobellos with Potatoes and Swiss Chard, Twice-Baked Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes with Celeriac
Baked Mashed Potato Casserole
Gorgonzola Potatoes and Peas
Creamy Potato Soup
Rutabagas are like a cabbage-turnip hybrid. They're easy to grow and, once you pull them from the ground, they can keep in your cupboard for up to three whole months -- enough for nearly a full winter. The big, yellow root vegetables have a stronger, more peppery flavor than their mild-mannered turnip cousins, and have more vitamin A and beta carotene, as well.
Radicchio, part of the chicory family, grows only in cool climates and will brighten up any green salad with its beautiful maroon- and cream-colored leaves. Mild and slightly bitter, radicchio also stands up well to bold cheeses or citrus flavors and pairs well with sweet fruits like apples.
These tiny orange "mini footballs" -- about an inch high -- have an explosive sweet and sour flavor and are the only citrus fruit intended to be eaten rind and all. The sweet-flavored skin of a kumquat (which is native to China, but is grown in U.S. citrus states during the winter) offsets the sour pulp and juice inside. Kumquats are a special treat simply eaten whole but can also be used to garnish drinks or make preserves or desserts. Kumquat Growers Inc. has an extensive list of creative kumquat recipes.
Kale is hearty, grows in cool climates and is available in most of the U.S. during winter months. It gives heft and texture to soups and can even be eaten roasted like a (very) healthy potato chip. Like blueberries and pomegranates, kale has been crowned a superfood and is enjoying a surge in popularity not seen since World War II, when the U.K. encouraged residents to plant the peppery, cabbagelike vegetable in Victory Gardens that supplemented diets impoverished by war rations.
Rich in calcium and antioxidants, the leafy green cabbage -- cousin to both Brussels sprouts and collard greens -- packs a veritable wallop of vitamins in each serving, delivering 400% of your daily needs for vitamin C, 2,000% of vitamin K and 360% of vitamin A. Take that, orange juice.
A ripe Meyer lemon has a thin, easy-to-peel skin the color of an egg yolk and a unique sweetness attributed to its lineage -- the fruit is a cross between a traditional lemon and a Mandarin orange. Meyer lemons were imported to the U.S. in the early 1900s by an employee of the Department of Agriculture and are now grown in U.S. citrus states.
They are good for more than just eating -- the trees are relatively easy to grow and can be decorative (as well as sources of delicious fruit). For lots of ideas for uses for Meyer lemons, see the L.A. Times's 100 suggestions for Meyer lemons.
Frittata with Meyer Lemon Zest
Dates are the oldest recorded cultivated crop, originating at least 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Dates are much-loved by bakers looking to incorporate their caramel-flavored sticky-sweetness into breads, cakes (most famously, the fruitcake) and bars. A popular 1970s dish, Devils on Horseback, is enjoying a new generation of fans and is a good way to use dates as savory appetizers. Stuff dates with cheese (Stilton is a popular choice), wrap in bacon, secure with a toothpick, and bake.
Unlike the the date, grown in orchards for thousands of years, the grapefruit -- a hybrid of the pomelo and sweet orange -- is a mere youngster in the fruit family. The first grove was planted in Florida in the 1820s an it was more than a decade before the half-a-grapefruit-at-breakfast craze caught hold. Fun fact: Most American families were introduced to the grapefruit during the Great Depression, when it could be obtained for free with food stamps. A common complaint was that, after hours of boiling, grapefruits were still "too tough." Note: Don't eat the rinds. And don't boil. Today, grapefruits are moving beyond the breakfast, frequently popping up in salads or in Latin American dishes.
Winter squash, be they butternut, acorn, Delicata, spaghetti, Calabaza or pumpkin, all have thick, inedible rinds that make them easier to store than delicately-skinned summer squashes like zucchini. Rich in vitamin A and fiber, all varieties of winter squash are low in calories and simple to prepare -- just cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast in the oven until the flesh is tender. Add a pat of butter and maybe some brown sugar and the squash is ready to meet your spoon. When purchasing squash, look for dull (not shiny) rinds free of punctures, and store in a cool, dry room or the basement to let the starches in the squash convert to sugar. Don't refrigerate -- it can speed up deterioration.
Simple Roasted Acorn Squash
Acorn Squash stuffed with Rutabaga and Pecans
Baked Acorn Squash with Red Quinoa and Pumpkin Seed Stuffing
Heirloom Pumpkins and Squash
Winter Squash Casserole
Butternut Squash Soup with Smoked Paprika
The orange is ubiquitous in the United States, the world's second-largest producer after Brazil. A carton of juice in every fridge, a piece of fruit in every lunch bag. But it wasn't always so. Oranges are grown primarily in Florida (for juice) and California (for fruit), and before the advent of modern shipping, oranges were a rare treat eaten only on special holidays, especially Christmas. Pause to remember this the next time you're peeling back the skin, and it'll taste that much better.
Leeks, which look like scallions on steroids, have a bigger bark than bite and impart a pleasantly mild onion flavor when used in soups or other dishes. On an unrelated note, leeks are the unofficial symbol of Wales for apocryphal reasons on which no one can seem to agree, though it's been suggested that Welsh warriors wore leeks on their helmets to distinguish fellow soldiers from enemies. Apparently spotting angry-looking hordes of men wielding swords wasn't cutting it.
The humble turnip today is gaining popularity as an alternative root vegetable. Try blending some into your next batch of mashed potatoes, and you'll see why -- turnips have a sweet flavor and plenty of vitamin C.
Smashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Parsnips and Turnips
Mâche and Pea Shoot Salad with Chervil Vinaigrette
Root Cellar Salad
Smoky Root Vegetable Gratin
Mashed Russet Potatoes with Root Vegetables
Homemade Vegetable Soup
Tangerines, a variety of mandarin orange, are petite, sweet and easy to peel -- for a unique treat, try popping them in the freezer and eating them frozen later. Despite its small size, one tangerine will deliver half your daily dose of vitamin C.
In terms of going green, there's probably no easier step to take than to trade in bottled lime juice for its more natural alternative (no packaging required!). Freshly squeezed lime juice has a bright flavor that bottled juice just can't touch -- so buy a bagful of limes and squeeze away.