Eating Winter Vegetables Keeps Us Healthy, Warm and Hairy

SweetPotato_Soup

THESE COLD SEASON VEGETABLES AREN’T JUST HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS … THEY ARE DELICIOUS IN A SOUP.

When you were 10-years-old, you probably didn’t care about vegetable recipes. You also probably didn’t worry about killer flu seasons, winter energy bills or hair loss.

But you’re all grown up now and it’s a different world. You winterize your home, try to keep your skin and scalp as healthy as possible and maybe, just maybe, you’re learning about seasonal foods. Your grandmother might have had a whole slew of recipes involving squash, pumpkin, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and parsnips. But you saw those things only at holiday dinners.

Well, my friends, winter vegetables aren’t just for special occasions. Two-hundred-plus years ago, these bundles of nutrients and fiber were how people survived.

Let’s take a lesson from what they knew. Look at the nutrients typically found in vegetables that just so happen to store well through cold months (which was kinda important in the days before refrigeration and chemical preservatives). Vitamin C, which the human body needs to get from food sources every four hours (the body does not manufacture it as it does with many other vitamins), is abundant in artichokes, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery root, chestnut, dark greens, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, parsnips, pumpkin, radishes, rhubarb, rutabaga, salsify, snow peas, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squash. It may have been hard to find oranges and grapefruit in 14th-century Russia, but the Russians had their cabbage to last them through to spring.

Other nutrients commonly found in winter vegetables: immunity-boosting vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E and other nutrients that include folate, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin. Plus fiber, tons of fiber, and hundreds of other micronutrients yet to be discovered or identified for their health-giving properties.

Certain of these nutrients — iron, zinc, copper, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin C — are essential to hair and skin health.

How do we eat winter vegetables?

Most winter vegetables are pretty easy to prepare for dinner. You can serve them raw, lightly cooked in a stir-fry or steamed. You can braise them in a roast, but the timing is a little trickier, and, generally speaking, the more you heat a vegetable, the more its nutrients are degraded. A little heat on some of these vegetables is essential for taste, and in some produce the nutrients are more “bioavailable” after lightly steaming them for a minute or two.

For the time-pressed cook, you can go in two basic directions on cooking winter vegetables: low calorie or rich and hearty. If you have snow to shovel or slopes to ski, a mix of both makes sense.

Calorie-sparse soups: In a chicken broth, chop vegetables and mix with beans, meats (chicken, beef, pork) or seafood (shrimp, scallops or shellfish); spices and perhaps brown rice, barley, quinoa or chopped potatoes. The amount of fiber and water in the soup will fill you up before you can ingest excess calories.

This recipe can be prepared in about 15 minutes. If you make it in a large-enough quantity, it can complement meals at home for several days.

Sweet Potato-Cabbage Soup

  • One 12-ounce can soup broth
  • Three 12-ounce cans water
  • One small chopped cabbage
  • Three medium-size sweet potatoes (skin on, washed and cubed)
  • One medium-size Spanish onion (chopped)
  • Two 12-ounce cans black beans
  • Flavor to taste: turmeric, salt, pepper, bay leaf, chili peppers, oregano, vinegar

Heat broth and water in a deep kettle. Microwave sweet potatoes separately until done (5-10 minutes). Add potatoes with all other ingredients after water reaches a boil; reduce heat and stir.

Hearty pleasures: This is where you might prepare the vegetables with cooked pasta or potatoes, meats, perhaps cheese, butter or creamy sauces. It may be higher in calories and fat, but it’s a great way to get finicky vegetable avoiders to try something new.

Brussels Sprouts Casserole

  • About 4 cups brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
  • About 2 cups kale, cut lengthwise into finger-sized pieces
  • 4 cups cooked whole grain pasta (rotini is good, but any type is worth trying)
  • 1 cup grated cheese (mozzarella is lowest in fat, but cheddar is interesting, too)
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • One 12-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup cream or whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (olive, or other)
  • Spice to taste: mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dried oregano, minced garlic

Pan-fry brussels sprouts at medium heat for about five minutes in olive oil, stirring frequently for even browning. Add kale in the last two minutes. Add to cooked pasta, along with all other ingredients. Mix, pour into a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. After removing from oven, add a light sprinkling of black pepper to finish it off.

Either of these dishes is perfect for winter nights and weekends, when a little heat in the kitchen can warm the whole house. It’s a great alternative to ordering in pizza that harks back to what your ancestors did — your mere existence is testimony to how the nutrients in winter vegetables were probably their best defense against plagues, food shortages and no central heating.