When the weather changes and temperatures start dipping, we tend to gravitate towards comfort foods and meals that stick to our ribs in the cold winter months: soups, stews, and casseroles. I generally try and avoid turning on my oven during the hot summer months so I especially look forward to our winter meal routines. We go from eating an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, berries, and stone fruit to root vegetables, squashes, leeks, kale, and a multitude of others.
Using seasonal ingredients is a simple yet effective way to eat the freshest, most nutritious food available. Vegetables start losing nutrients once they are harvested, so it behooves ourselves to buy local, seasonal ingredients to feed our families. As an added bonus, seasonal, local foods are oftentimes less expensive than out of season choices imported from halfway across the globe.
So what does this mean to our winter diet? Root vegetables hold up well for long periods of cooking and in today’s grocery store there is a profusion of variety. Challenge yourself and pick up something you don’t usually buy. With the accessibility of recipes on the Internet, it’s easy to branch out in your cooking. Anyone can find out how to cook anything these days. Or, take a page out of my family’s book. Just add something unexpected into one of your family’s tried and true favorites. My daughter vehemently refuses to eat anything orange, unless it is juice or cake or cookie-like. I had some extra pumpkin puree left over from some pumpkin cookies I made a few weeks ago so I added that to my husband’s favorite mushroom noodle casserole and no one was the wiser. I frequently add winter greens to casseroles or sauces, and am not above pureeing a squash and doing the same thing. Many root vegetables don’t have strong flavors that won’t materially affect the flavor of a stew or casserole, so play around and get creative!
The same thing can be done with soups. I’m a little more careful with bitter greens such as kale when I’m making a soup stock, but on the whole it is easy to throw a little of this and a little of that into a pot and out comes a delicious and nutritious meal. If you choose, add the bitter greens at the end so the flavor of the stock isn’t overwhelmed by them. Start with a simple bone soup recipe and build on that by adding whatever you might have in your pantry.
Cooking, unlike baking is not an exact science and that is one thing that I enjoy most about it. I love being able to throw a bunch of stuff together and more often than not it tastes pretty good. I’m a firm believer that a recipe is just a jumping off point and that there is always something that can be done to improve a dish. The best part of cooking is the exploration of new flavors and what better way than to explore what is in season?