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Holly Ebel: Warm up to the veggies of winter

November 14, 2018

So now the Farmers Market is back in the barn, its winter headquarters. The frost is on the pumpkin and those favorites of summer are a distant — but happy — memory.

But hey, all is not lost. We have a wide variety of winter vegetables to prepare and re-acquaint ourselves with. While they may not have the panache of the summer favorites, they bring delicious, versatile and healthy eating to the table: beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas and all manner of winter squash.

For starters:

Squash

Those large bins at the grocery store are piled high with the hard-shell winter squash — acorn, butternut, delicata, Hubbard, calabaza, spaghetti are just about at their best, bringing us all sorts of gourdy goodness.

The different varieties all share tough outer skins and they also have their own color codes — from yellow, to deep orange, dark green and even striped. Each also has its own flavor and consistency.

You could probably cook them different ways every night for weeks, either sauteed, pureed, steamed, baked, in a soup or stew and even pie. If stored in a cool spot, like a garage, they keep a long time.

Cabbage

Cabbages are feeling the love right now, with both chefs and home cooks. Like so many other winter vegetables, they are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

They also thrive in this cooler weather, which improves their flavor. We can get them year-round, but now is their best time.

Cole slaw goes with summer but it is just as tasty now, maybe even more so. Cabbage simply sauteed in either butter or bacon drippings is a fine side dish. A favorite is Irish colcannon , a combination of mashed potatoes and gently cooked cabbage. (Don’t wait until St. Patrick’s Day to make it.)

Then there is red cabbage, which seems to be almost synonymous with German dishes. Its sweet-sour preparation goes well with fall favorites including duck, pheasant, pork, venison.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts have only recently become a favorite, as creative folks have experimented with these “mini” cabbages. They take well to all sorts of preparations, the most popular currently are roasting or sautéing in butter or olive oil.

What is interesting is that in the spectrum of winter vegetables, these are a relative newcomer, having been brought to this country in the early 1900s. The freshest are green with a white base. If the leaves are slightly yellow, it means they are getting old. Just take them off.

Brussels sprouts are showing up in salads, shredded, often paired with kale. You can buy them two ways — loose or on a stalk. Stored in the refrigerator, they keep for several weeks. That distinctive aroma, somewhat unpleasant, comes when they’ve been cooked too long. On the other hand, grilled, sautéed or roasted, they taste sweet and nutty.

I’m not sure why, but Brussels sprouts are often a part of both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Beets

Beets are another vegetable of this season that you either like or don’t. (I, for one, do.)

These days, they come in other colors besides the traditional red — pink, orange and yellow — making them a colorful addition to any plate. Some cooks shred them raw into salads, but mostly they are cooked, either boiled or roasted. Roasting is my choice because it concentrates that earthy flavor. So easy, just wrap in tin foil and roast at 350 for about an hour. Then cool, peel and use.

In salads, they are often paired with goat cheese. (Not at my house.) Beets are also delicious served hot with a little butter, and pickled.

The Russian soup Borscht includes beets as the main ingredient. At farmers markets, they are often sold on the stalk with their leaves. Many take those beet greens and saute them. Beets will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator.

Carrots

Is there anyone who doesn’t like carrots? They have to be one of the favorites in this category.

Naturally sweet, they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber and often called the ultimate health food. We get them all year long, but the best are those you see in spring and fall.

Probably one of the most versatile of the winter vegetables, we eat them raw, steamed, boiled, roasted and in soups and stews. And who doesn’t count carrot cake as a favorite?

Carrot juice is also a popular beverage in health food stores. When your Mom told you to eat those carrots because they were good for your eyes, it’s true. They are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is important for eyesight.

Not that you’re counting, but the average number of carrots you’ll consume in a lifetime is 10,866.

So when you’re planning your menus for the next months include these, whether you have a favorite way of preparing them or want to try a new recipe. You’ll be happy you did.

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