Vegetarian Winter: A How-to Guide

It’s cold! When the dark months set in, our natural instinct is to gravitate toward more acidic foods. It is around this time of year that those with meat centered diets start to experience a bit of an overload. Too much acidic food can affect the pH of the blood levels, with the possible eventuality of chronic stress in the body. This can cause a long list of unpleasant symptoms, including compromised immunity, edema, congested skin, fatigue, constipation, mood swings, and really just an overall feeling of yuckiness.

The debate between herbivore and carnivore continues on. Both sides make a strong case. Regardless of who’s right, the veg-heads have options. It is easier for a seasoned pro to navigate the grocery store in the winter months than perhaps a starving neophyte exploring life with less meat for the first time. Here are some of the best tips I have picked up over the years and some great recipes focusing on what’s in season right now.

Know Your Greens:

Green is the color that should compose at least half of every plate. The good news is that there are lots of cold-hardy leafy greens that are available all year round. In fact, tender varieties like spinach, chard, and arugula thrive in cooler temps. Kale and collard greens are types that can take sub-zero temperatures, making them great choices for a back yard garden. Fresh herbs of all varieties are easy to raise all year long in green houses too. Mineral-rich and highly medicinal, they infuse any winter dish with a dose of sunshine. These leafy greens and many more are always going to be easy find at your local grocery store, especially in the winter.

Frozen is Fine

I ALWAYS keep my eyes peeled for organic produce when it is in season. When it’s in season it tastes better, and it’s way cheaper. I stock up big time in the summer months on things like blackberries, peaches, green beans, asparagus, etc, and I freeze them whole. I just lay out things like berries and peaches on a cookie sheet and flash freeze them in the deep freeze for at least six hours before bagging them and labeling and returning them to the depths of my freezer for later use. Flash freezing foods whole keeps the ice crystallization small and therefore the freezer burn at bay. Plus it’s easy. It’s also a more healthful option than processing produce like peaches in high amounts of sugar over high amounts of heat that kill all of those amazing enzymes and nutrients before storing.

Buying produce out of the freezer section in the grocery store is fine too.

Avoid Canned Vegetables Except…….

Beans, pumpkin puree, and tomatoes, except, hold it. There is an exception to this too. While the three aforementioned foods retain a decent amount of their nutrients even after the canning process (pasteurization), some of them like beans are processed with quite a bit of refined salt. So you’re still better off keeping dried beans on hand (which last indefinitely by the way), and just soaking in water for at least six hours before cooking. Tomatoes are also “sort of” okay. The thing is, the high acidity of tomatoes leaches bisphenol-A, or BPH as well as heavy metals from the liners in tin cans, which is not at all something to tolerate in your food supply. Choosing tomato products that come in glass jars is a superior choice to canned. Sucking it up and spending an afternoon in July canning organic, home grown tomatoes in glass jars is even better.

Don’t Forget Those Grains

Quinoa, millet, whole grain rice varieties, beans of all varieties, oat groats, amaranth, barley, etc are bases many forget about it in the summer when we are reaping the bountiful harvest. These grains not only keep dry in a pantry indefinitely, they are full of protein, fiber, and B vitamins. Grains not only sustain us for long periods of time due to their high fiber content, but they are just as versatile as any lettuce when it comes to making salads. I love to spike my pilafs with pomegranate seeds, and my quinoa is always full of an array of chopped greens, nuts, dried fruits, and seeds.

Most Importantly, Know What’s in Season

The big payoff from buying what’s in season, is that it’s going to taste better, and offer a great deal more nutrient value. Greater nutrient value means the brain has what it needs and therefore will ask for fewer calories from you. And again, it’s going to be cheaper. Despite popular belief, there are lots of things to choose from in the winter months. Capitalizing on dishes that feature these items keeps your mind off of the cop-outs like boxed foods, and out of season items imported from Brazil. Not that there is anything wrong with Brazil. It’s just that Brazil would be better off eating foods Brazil grows, and we would be better off spending our money on super fresh local produce grown here rather than the transportation for two week old tasteless cantaloupes in January. Eating in season makes so much sense for all sorts of reasons.

In my neck of the woods of the central mid-west, citrus (lemon, lime grapefruit, oranges), avocados, hard squashes, apples, root vegetables, and cold-hardy greens like kale are what’s in season in the winter months. Here are some recipes focusing specifically on just some of those ingredients.

Roasted Radicchio with Winter Pear and Blue Cheese

Broiled Radicchio with pear and raw bleu cheese

Serves 4

Salad:

2 heads of Radicchio

2 pears, sliced thin

1/3 cup bleu cheese or Roquefort

Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove, pressed

1/2 ounce anchovy paste (about a tablespoon or to taste)

5 tablespoons olive oil

Move rack to the top position and preheat the broiler.

Meanwhile prepare the vinaigrette.  Mix cheese, lemon juice, garlic, minced anchovies or paste, in medium bowl. Whisk in olive oil and anchovy paste. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.

Remove any brusied or dried leaves from radicchio and cut length-wise into quarters. Position on a cookie sheet, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt. Broil wedges for 5-8 minutes or until slightly browned.

Roast Beet Salad with Goat cheese and Arugula

Roasted beets, goat cheese, and arugula

Serves 4

2 large beets

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

2 tablespoons of walnut oil or olive oil

1/3 cup walnuts

5 ounces fresh Arugula

Preheat oven to 400⁰. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour. Cool beets and rub off outer skin under cool running water or with a towel. Cut beets into 1-2 inch cubes or use small cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. Arrange beets on plates over a handful of arugula. Crumble about 2 tablespoons of goat cheese over each plate of beets. Drizzle walnut oil or olive oil over salad and garnish with walnuts.

Lump crab in radicchio with fresh grapefruit and avocado

Avocado Crab Salad with Grapefruit and Honey Lime Vinaigrette

Serves 2

Salad:

1 Avocado sliced thin

4 ounces of prepared lump crab meat

1 Grapefruit peeled with a knife and cut into segments

Vinaigrette:

4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon of honey

2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette with a whisk and set aside. Slice avocado into ½ inch segments and fan out on a plate. Form the crab meat in a soft mound or use a mold and place in the crescent of the avocado fan. Cut grapefruit segments in half to form cubes and arrange them around the other side of the crab meat. Drizzle the dish with dressing and serve.

Adzuki Bean and Barley Salad

Serves 4

2 cups cooked adzuki beans (or any other dark bean), drained

1 cup cooked barley, drained

1 clove garlic finely crushed

2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

5 oz. Manchego cheese, grated (optional

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon. coarsely ground black pepper

10 red lettuce leaves to serve

Using a food processor, combine garlic, lime juice, cilantro, parsley, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Meanwhile, arrange red lettuce leaves on a platter.

In a large bowl, combine adzuki beans, pearl barley and cheese. Add dressing and mix well. Spoon onto lettuce leaves and chill for ½ hour. Serve cold with tortilla chips, as a side, or alone with lettuce leaves.

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