Consumers have been told time and time again: eat locally, eat what’s in season, and eat organically. Following these principles are easier for some than others, as organic food prices are typically higher than for their non-organic counterparts, but the one healthful suggestion that almost all people can follow is to eat (and cook) seasonally. There are a number of benefits to eating seasonally, but three of the most cited advantages include the low price of seasonal goods, their better taste, and the variety that a seasonal diet facilitates. Cost-conscious consumers should especially consider giving seasonal eating a try because it is noticeably easy on the wallet and waistline.
The healthiest foods come from the ground, and their costs are dictated by the crux of economics: supply and demand. When produce is in season locally, the relative abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive because the supply is up, so farmers will charge lower prices. This explains why berries are much cheaper in the summer than in the winter; they’re in greater abundance during the warmer months. The same can be said for something like citrus in the summer. Oranges are still available in grocery stores during July and August, but they taste much less appealing, and are considerably more expensive.
That brings us to our next point: the taste advantage of eating seasonally. Gaiam Life helps explain that food in season usually tastes better than that not in season, because when food is not in season locally, it’s either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the world, and both effect the taste. When produce is grown in other parts of the world, the crops need to be transported, which means they must be harvested early and refrigerated so as not to rot during transportation. Thus, they may not ripen as effectively as they would in their natural environment, and as a result, don’t develop their full flavor.
The last major advantage of a seasonal diet is the variety is provides. Eating an assortment of different produce is healthy for consumers because every fruit and vegetable provides different nutrients, and to obtain the nutrients and other substances needed for good health, consumers are often instructed to vary the foods they eat.
Susan Barendregt, Nutrition Therapist of Holistic Health Center, even explained to Trusan Cuisines, “Different foods have different energetic qualities and these qualities more often than not reflect ‘phases’ that we humans go through during the seasonal cycle. In the winter we tend to go inward and need more warming, grounding foods such as the root vegetables that are available then to us. In the hot summer we need more cooling foods such as fresh greens and fruits to help us keep in balance, etc.”
Many consumers are more than happy to eat seasonally in the summer when the berries are the ripest and the freshest, but they all too often forget that the other seasons yield fresh and tasty produce as well, and that’s why today we’re reminding you what winter produce currently lines the shelves of your local grocery store or farmers market. Now that the holiday season has officially concluded and consumers are ready to jump back on the healthy bandwagon, we’re encouraging you to take advantage of fresh winter produce before it’s too late. Here are seven seasonal food items for the cold winter months, and some examples of recipes that you can use them in.
First up: squash. There are many varieties of winter squash that you can choose from, but some fan favorites you may want to check out next time you’re at the market include butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and kabocha squash. All three types of squash are nutrient and fiber-rich, and each pack a sweet and creamy flavor, but today we’ll zero in on butternut squash, as this is the fruit that can be found easiest in stores, and is arguably featured in the most well-known recipes.
Butternut squash is not only rich in (sweet) flavor, it also packs a serious nutrient punch as it low in fat, high in fiber, loaded with potassium and vitamin B6, carotenoids, and also boasts very high levels of beta-carotene. Many consumers are deterred from trying this squash because it requires a sharp knife and some patience to crack into the fruit (technical classification, since it contains seeds), but the extra grunt work is worth it for this crop, as a simple cutting job will yield rich flavor and endless recipe possibilities.
If you’ve got your squash, cut open and now don’t know what to do with it, give this recipe from Real Simple a try. The butternut squash soup with sage and Parmesan croutons is the perfect mix of sweet and savory, while also providing key nutrients, and it’ll give your taste buds just enough reason to never even consider not eating seasonally, ever again.
1 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (5 to 6 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 stalks of celery, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (about 6 large leaves)
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Sage and Parmesan Croutons
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and the pepper. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn the cubes over and continue roasting for 15 minutes or until they are caramelized; set aside.
In a Dutch oven or a large stockpot, heat the butter and the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent and tender for 10 minutes. Add the squash, broth, and the remaining salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid is flavorful. Remove from heat. Using a blender or a food processor, blend the soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and keep warm. Top with sage and Parmesan croutons and the grated Parmesan.
Next up: beets. Most consumers have at least heard of beets, but the question is: have they tried them? Many like to pretend that these deep pink-red vegetables were only meant to be enjoyed by their ancestors, but the beet is actually making a comeback both on the dinner table in homes and in restaurants these days, and it’s a good thing, considering the vegetable is low in fat and rich in nutrients like calcium, folate, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, fiber — and the list goes on.
The key to beets is finding a good recipe to cook them in and not getting disenchanted by their soft yet somewhat fluffy texture. Beets are a great example of winter produce, and are readily available at grocery stores this time of year, conveniently at a relatively low price. Once you’re armed with your beet crop, check out this delicious, waste-line-friendly recipe for Beet Salad With Goat Cheese. The salad is not only vegetarian; it’s easy to prepare and can come together all within 30 minutes. If you’re looking for new salad recipes for your health 2014 resolution, this is the perfect one for you.
4 medium beets – scrubbed, trimmed and cut in half
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 (10 ounce) package mixed baby salad greens
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese
Directions: Place beets into a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook for 20 to 30 minutes — until tender. Drain and cool, then cut in to cubes. While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup. Cook and stir until evenly coated, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil to make the dressing. Place a large helping of baby greens onto each of four salad plates, divide candied walnuts equally and sprinkle over the greens. Place equal amounts of beets over the greens, and top with dabs of goat cheese. Drizzle each plate with some of the dressing.
3. Brussels Sprouts
In the No. 3 spot is another vegetable that intimidates many mainstream eaters, but is now one of the most popular vegetables featured in dishes at the most highly-visited restaurants. The peak season for Brussels sprouts is anywhere from September to February, and during that time, the little green vegetables aren’t only the cheapest — they’re also the most flavorful.
The best way to really bring out the savory flavor in Brussels sprouts is by roasting them. This caramelizes their edges but keeps them tender inside. Some consumers prefer to remove the sprouts’ shell before roasting, while others enjoy its crispiness, but with or without the outside of the vegetable, eaters benefit from brussel sprouts’ high fiber, vitamin, iron, folate, and protein content. If you’re a Brussels sprouts first-timer, or even if you’re an avid sprouts eater, try out this recipe for Brussels sprouts with bacon, garlic, and shallot. The dish is featured on CookingLight.com, and promises to ease consumers onto the Brussels sprouts train by luring them in with a fan favorite: bacon.
6 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
1/2 cup sliced shallot (about 1 large)
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon, and sauté for 5 minutes or until bacon begins to brown. Remove pan from heat. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan (discard the remaining drippings). Return pan to medium-high heat and stir in bacon, shallot, and Brussels sprouts; sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic, and saute for 4 minutes or until garlic begins to brown, stirring frequently. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes or until the broth mostly evaporates and the sprouts are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in salt and pepper.
We’re going easy on you with this next one and not pressuring you into trying something new — because who has never tried a pear? For that matter, who has ever tried a pear and not liked it? Arguably, no one. Apples steal a lot of the spotlight when fall and winter roll around because they, too, are in season, but consumers shouldn’t forget about apple’s cousin, the pear, because this crop is one of the highest fiber fruits, and also contains vitamins C, K, B2, B3, and B6.
In addition, pears contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, along with other nutrients. If that’s not enough to convince you to include a pear at your next meal, maybe its soft, sweet, buttery flesh will. Try this recipe for grilled Brie, turkey, and pear Sandwiches from Fine Cooking. We can promise that the combination of pear and grilled brie is a match made in foodie heaven.
One-half ripe pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded cooked turkey or chicken
1-1/2 teaspoons lightly chopped fresh thyme leaves
Eight 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick slices whole-grain bread
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces Brie, sliced
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
Directions: In a small bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Heat a large skillet or griddle over low heat. Meanwhile, toss the turkey and thyme in a medium bowl. Spread each bread slice with mustard. Arrange half of the Brie on four slices of the bread. Layer the pears over the Brie. Mound the turkey mixture on top of the pears, layer on the remaining Brie, and top with the remaining bread slices mustard side down.
Lightly spread the tops of the sandwiches with half of the butter and set them, buttered side down, in the heated skillet (if necessary, cook the sandwiches in two batches). Set a large heavy skillet right on top of the sandwiches and put 2 lb. of weights (canned goods work well) in the empty skillet. Cook the sandwiches until golden brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Remove the weights, butter the sandwich tops, and turn the sandwiches over. Replace the skillet and weights and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown and the cheese is oozy, about 4 minutes longer. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.
On to the citrus. Orange is our next featured example of winter produce, even though some unknowingly consider it a summer fruit. Regardless, we’re probably not the first to tell you that oranges are high in Vitamin C, but did you know that they’re also fat free, saturated fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, and high in dietary fiber? Oranges are thus the perfect fruit to pack into any lunch box, especially during the winter months, and even better, they keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Consumers will sometimes choose the apple over the orange for convenience sake, considering they can’t exactly eat the skin of an orange, but many are often pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoy oranges when they take the time to peel them. Once you’re armed with your oranges after you’ve made your weekly trip to the grocery store, try this waist-line loving dinner recipe for salmon with orange-fennel Sauce. Even if you don’t have an appetite for a simple orange at a meal, this is a great way to sneak in the fruit that not only is bursting with flavor, but also nutrients.
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Directions: Combine first 4 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add fish. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 20 minutes, turning once. Prepare broiler. Remove fish from bag, reserving marinade. Place fish, skin sides down, on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Bring reserved marinade to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Serve sauce with fish.
Moving back into what some may consider dangerous territory, we come to parsnips. This root vegetable can get a bad rap from white-bread-and-rice eaters because all too many consumers associate parsnips with the dishes their grandparents were forced to choke down. However, people shouldn’t sell these poor vegetables short. As long as they’re prepared well, parsnips actually yield a great deal of flavor, and the fact that they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients doesn’t exactly hurt their cause either. Parsnips are now considered a natural weight-loss food, and at a time when many consumers are trying to do exactly just that, it’s a shame that not as many take advantage of them during their peak season.
This year, don’t forget about this hardy, cool-season crop. Give this incredibly easy recipe for baked parsnip fries with rosemary a try and convert every one of your staunchest parsnip haters. These fries may not be on McDonald’s level, but they’re certainly close, and these ones aren’t laden with saturated fat and calories. In fact, they’re even healthy.
2 1/2 pounds parsnips or carrots, peeled, cut into about 3 x 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 5 sprigs rosemary
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon (or more) ground cumin
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix parsnips, chopped rosemary, garlic, and oil on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread out in a single layer. Scatter rosemary sprigs over. Roast for 10 minutes; turn parsnips and roast until parsnips are tender and browned in spots, 10–15 minutes longer. Crumble leaves from rosemary sprigs over; discard stems and toss to coat. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon cumin over. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more cumin, if desired.
Last but not least: kale, since we can’t draw together a winter produce list without the mention of this super superfood. Kale is in season during the fall and winter months because the hardy green is able to survive severe frost. In fact, after a frost, kale is sweeter. The dark green might be intimidating for some, but it is loaded with Vitamins A, C, and K; cancer-preventing compounds sulforaphane, isothiocyanate and indoles; and fiber. It also packs a significant punch with Vitamin B6 and calcium.
Kale is certainly increasing in popularity these days, especially for those who “juice” — make their own fruit or vegetables juices from home — and who gravitate toward the health eating side of the consumer spectrum, but even those eaters who aren’t interested in eating plants for dinner can be convinced to get their greens down the hatchet via a more enticing way. Here’s a recipe for whole grain spaghetti with garlicky kale and tomatoes that is the perfect comfort food during the winter months, but also serves as a nutrient-packed meal. Parents and spouses can easily hide the kale greens within a big bowl of whole grain carbs, and kale-haters won’t even know what hit them.
6 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
1 bunch kale, thick stems removed, and leaves torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/4 cup grated Pecorino (1 ounce), plus more for serving
Directions: Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the kale and cook, tossing frequently, until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, tossing frequently, until the tomatoes begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the kale mixture, almonds, Pecorino, and reserved cooking water to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve with additional pecorino.