Eating Seasonal this Winter
Posted by May 14, 2012 in Cuisine, Featured Articles, Homepage, Recipes, Reviewson
Winter is on its way! This year, let your eating habits change with the season, and discover delicious, warming and comforting winter cooking.
In modern life we tend to ignore the seasons passing, especially with our food. Modern agriculture (and Australia’s stable climate) mean that seasonal variations – once so important for what would be made for dinner every night – now don’t impact our food choices much at all. The abundance of summer fruit disappears from our shelves, but besides that most of what we eat is available all year round.
Of course, all of this is mostly for the good. I’m certainly not advocating a return to agrarian seasonal dependence and annual winter scurvy, but there’s something nice about being connected with the seasonal variations happening around us. Learn about what’s in season, brush up on your classic winter recipes, and embrace winter for everything it has!
What’s in Season?
Unless you’re a gardener, you might not know what is in season over winter, so let me give you a bit of a guide.
Imperial Mandarins – While you might be able to find some hard-skinned, bitter mandarins throughout the year, winter is when the supermarket starts overflowing with sweet, juicy and delicious Imperial mandarins. Have them for breakfast, take them to work, add them to salads, eat them on the bus – just eat as many as you can before they go away again!
Pears – Pears are available from late summer, but it’s not until late autumn and winter when you can find the juicy and delicious Beurre Bosc & Packham pears. Don’t eat these on the bus, but they are amazing in salads.
Navel Oranges – Seedless, slightly but delightfully bitter and easy to peel, a bowl of sliced up navel oranges is a treat in the mostly fruitless winter.
Leafy Greens – Where a lot of people get scared with green leafy vegetables if that they need to be cooked, with recipes and other ingredients – these aren’t salad greens for throwing together. However, try your luck with a silverbeet pie, spinach quiche and kale soup and you’ll honestly be wishing next summer away. A great alternative to the usual potato-heavy winter slog.
Parsnip – You’ll either love it or hate it. Once only put up with as one of the few vegetables that grow in winter, it has an odd sweet-spicy flavour that adds something extra to mashed potatoes and roasted veges. Cook like you would a carrot, but flavour match with rich flavours of meat and seafood.
Swede – Don’t mistake it for a turnip (although your supermarket might), swedes are round and look very similar, except for their white-and-yellow colouring instead of the turnip’s white-and-purple. Nicely sweet and inoffensive, they boil and roast just like potatoes to add some extra flavour, and last forever in your fridge.
Celeriac – A very odd root vegetable, celeriac can be used like cabbage in soups, stews and coleslaw, or like potato in mashes, roasts and bakes. With a flavour somewhere between parsley and celery, celeriac goes well with all those creamy delicious winter comfort foods.
Broccoli, cauliflower & Brussels sprouts – The so called ‘cruciferous vegetables’, these sulphurous veges are very good for you, and don’t taste so bad once you’re used to them! Containing a whole host of vitamins, nutrients and cancer fighting compounds, smother with butter and plenty of seasoning if you need to, but try and get them on your plate while they’re fresh and delicious!
Hass Avocado – The most common avocado, Hass begins with winter and is available until the end of spring. An important part of Japanese dishes, and divine paired with chicken, bacon or both, now’s the time to start adding avocado to almost everything while they’re at their best.
Macadamia Nuts – Nuts usually store pretty well, but stale macadamias are a real misery. Buy them fresh in late autumn and early winter and enjoy their fresh, oily crunchiness in salads, in your muesli or freshly cracked and munched by the handful.
What’s on the Menu?
When you think of winter-specific meals, you think of rich, comforting foods that defrost your fingers and warm your cockles. Unfortunately for us, comforting usually means heavy, fatty and, at least, loaded with salt. Something about meat, potatoes, cheesy bakes and salty soups fill that hole in your stomach created by rain and cold winds. Here is a brief overview of what makes up a good winter meal plan, and some tips to keep it healthy.
The winter equivalent of a salad. Where salads are fresh and cooling in summer, soups warm you up quickly and make you feel really at home. Just like salads, soups vary from a light side dish or entree, to a full main with plenty of meat and vegetables. Enormous amounts of salt (or mostly-salt stock cubes) are usually used to make a soup taste “hearty”, but there are other ways to give a soup weight. Try using an instant Japanese dashi stock, dried kombu seaweed or shiitake mushrooms; these work by giving a salt-like flavour called unami, which activates the glutamate flavour receptors on your tongue. Ingredients like canned tomatoes, celery and even anchovies can also provide big flavour without needing to overdose on salt.
The name ‘stew’ covers a wide range of dishes, including bouillabaisse, cassoulet, tagines, goulash, ragout, chilli con carne, ratatouille, compote, etc., etc., etc. They’re an easy combination of meat and vegetables, normally served with bread, rice or cous cous. Stews are excellent for making a big batch of, then storing in the freezer to eat over the week. They’re also a great way to incorporate more veges into your diet, although meat and potatoes is an easy route. Fish stew is an unappealing name, but call it a bouillabaisse (pronounced buyebais) and you’ll love the classic seafood and tomato flavour combination.
Casseroles make fantastic cold weather food. Full of big flavours, a chicken of beef casserole served with fluffy mashed potato is the perfect dish to come home to after a cold day out. Cheap and usually fairly easy to put together, from slow cooker casseroles, baked casseroles, stovetop casseroles and super quick pressure cooker casseroles, poor quality cuts of meat are made tender and delicious, and most of the cooking time is simply combining and letting simmer. Baked casseroles, especially gratins and creamy bakes, are usually very high in fat and simple carbohydrates. Instead, look for simple, stew-like beef and potato casserole recipes, or try a tasty tomato-based Mediterranean chicken casserole.
Great for a cold, winter Sunday, a pot roast is time consuming but very rewarding dish. A classic braised beef and vegetable dish, pot roasts are all about long cooking times and flavour. Best with inexpensive cuts of beef like bolar or brisket, and classic winter veges like celery, potatoes and onion, pot roasts work best in a nice cast iron French oven or special Pot Roast dish. The pot roast is one of those very flexible base dishes, so get a good standard recipe and swap in whatever looks good and is on hand.
Basic Beef Pot Roast
Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots & Fresh Sage
Le Creuset Kitchen Sessions with Joseph Lenn – Roasted Chicken
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