Insights by Goldie
'Tis the season ... for eating produce "in season!"
Sound Consumer | December 2003
by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist
The creative winter pantry and kitchen make liberal and imaginative use of gnarly tubers and roots, dark sturdy greens, all of the alium (onion and garlic) family, and an array of multicolored, whimsically shaped hard-shelled winter squashes.
Cold-weather vegetables are true multi-taskers, capable of nourishing and sustaining us in fragrant pots of warming soups and casseroles, or simply steamed, roasted or baked. The brilliant colors, assertive flavors and crisp textures of winter vegetables and fruits used raw or marinated in salads and slaws are also outstanding.
There are many compelling reasons to "follow the seasons" in our kitchen as we continue to learn more about healthful and responsible eating. In this country, on average, most food has traveled some 1,500 miles to reach us, all powered by petroleum. Eating seasonally means eating more regionally grown foods as they come into season, supporting local agriculture, economies, the environment and our health. And it's delicious too!
Let's talk tubers
Bless all the potatoes! I love the familiar, mealy Russet Bakers (preferred for mashing), as well as the more waxy-fleshed Reds, Yellow Finns, Yukon Golds, Fingerlings and types that are red- or purple-hued outside and inside.
Sweet potatoes are in a different family. They include the dark Red Garnets and Jewels (which are called yams, but are not) and a lighter-skinned variety just called Sweet Potato. It is easiest to just bake them naked (but on a pan, since they ooze sticky sweetness). I open them while hot and drizzle a bit of herbed oil (or Rapunzel toasted pumpkin seed oil), or butter, yogurt or sour cream.
Refrigerate extras for three or four days. They're wonderful with mashed black beans and steamed chard, wrapped in whole-wheat tortillas. Add salsa and sour cream or cheese. Yum! Or toss them into a blender with a pinch of pumpkin pie spice and a few drops of vanilla, and blend with or without the fully edible tender peel. Add tofu, yogurt or milk to the blender for added protein and calcium for a rich, thick or thin instant "pudding" or beverage.
Beige or purple Jerusalem Artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem. They're in the sunflower family. "Girasole" is Italian for "turning to the sun," which morphed into "Jerusalem." According to some studies, their unique starch, inulin, may possibly help improve colon function and may also help stabilize blood sugar levels. Skip peeling; just boil, steam or roast, whole or sliced, and serve whole or mashed, hot or cold — just like potatoes. Raw slices are great in salads.
Stand-bys are carrots and beet roots, and the indispensable garlic and onion bulbs, leeks and shallots. Now try parsnips, the cream-colored, tapered, carrot-shaped roots. PCC delis mash boiled parsnip and potato together for a winter treat. Or slice and sauté them briefly, which brings out their sweetness.
I like to dice raw parsnips, toss with olive oil, salt and minced rosemary, and roast them (singly or with other roots) at 375 to 400 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes.
Don't pass by the all-white, crimson or purple-topped turnips, the long white Japanese Daikon radish, or the venerable softball-sized rutabaga. These are powerful elders of the family of cancer-fighting vegetables known as crucifers or brassicas (which includes all cabbage and mustards) and all can be eaten raw (grated or sliced, in salads or slaws) or cooked.
Horseradish roots can become your own sauce or relish. Celeriac is a celery grown only for its pungent root, used in puréed soups. The long, brown burdock taproot is called "Gobo" in Japan, and is valued as a blood purifier. I scrub briskly, trim, slice, sauté with carrots and shiitake mushrooms, add a splash of Japanese mirin (cooking wine), water and soy sauce, sometimes some ginger, simmer till tender, and serve with brown rice. Or just slice and add burdock to any winter vegetable soup, stew or stirfry.
A field of greens
A dark greenish-black, bumpy-leafed popular green at PCC is Lacinato, or Dinosaur kale — or simply Dino-Kale. There's Red Curly kale, a larger, oak-leaf shaped Russian or Red kale, and Curly Green kale. All can be braised, steamed or boiled (for soup purées) or minced, raw, for salads and slaws. Try to use stems and all for maximum flavor, nutrients and value. Very large, older leaves take longer to tenderize. Toss any yellow parts. For raw salads, look for smaller leaves. PCC delis use these all liberally, as well as the light green mustard greens. Try their Emerald City Salad.
Nestled next to the kale are bundles of medium dark greens, with long white, thick stems; the fabled collards — a serving of which provides calcium about equal to a large glass of milk. In fact, this family of greens is high in vitamins A, C and E, plus iron and calcium. And don't forget to try their relatives: Napa, Red or Green cabbage, arugulas, bok choy, pak choi, broccoli, broccoli rabe or brocollini, red radicchio, escarole, cauliflower and mustard greens. All are super-hero, cancer-fighting, ultra-nourishing members of their extended family.
Serve steamed or braised greens with a splash of red or white balsamic or apple cider vinegar and a bit of olive, sesame, hazelnut or walnut oil. Another treatment is to serve with Japanese plum or ume plum brine vinegar, which somehow sweetens these greens.
Here's a secret: Since they're grown in colder climates, the sulfur compounds common to their clan are not bitter, as happens when this family experiences a heat rash in the garden. Because these greens are Northwest-grown with plenty of cool days, they are quite popular in our area.
The Swiss chards are tender-leafed greens in the beet family. They are as brilliantly plumed as a Bird of Paradise, with long stalks and veins of bright colors attached to large flattish green leaves. The contrasting stalk and vein colors — some in white, red, orange or bright yellow — make dramatic presentations served raw in salads, or just lightly steamed or sautéed and splashed with a light vinaigrette or lemon juice and oil. Their flavor is delicate and smooth, similar to spinach, but lower in oxalic acid than spinach.
Emperors of the garden
These are the magnificent hard-shelled squashes and pumpkins. As with potatoes, there are two basic textures found in these exceptional vegetables. The long tan variety with a bulb on the end is the Butternut and it has smooth, creamy and waxy sweet-golden flesh. A similar texture and flavor are found in the Delicatas. The others mostly are richly mealy. All are good baked whole, or split and baked, or steamed, or boiled, or ... well, you get the picture.
The Spaghetti squash needs a different treatment: sliced lengthwise or crosswise, baked cut-side down, or steamed. When tender, use a fork to "rake" the squash, which separates into a golden mountain of "spaghetti" — just perfect for topping with anything from a simple bit of butter, salt and pepper to clam sauce to a typical red marinara sauce. This is a real kid-pleaser too!