There's much more to winter seasonal produce than meets the eye. Once you make friends with the idea that you really don't need those tasteless, rubbery, industrial tomatoes in the middle of December, you'll find yourself opening up to a world of flavorful options to get yourself through the colder months.
Many leafy greens are available long after the first frost. They make great side dishes, and you can also cook them with nearly any kind of protein for a healthy, tasty main dish. Kale is widely available through much of the winter. Its varieties include the curly leaf green kale commonly used to decorate salad bars, as well as the red Russian kale with its purple vein down the middle, and the hearty Dino kale, also known as black kale, or Lacinato kale. Each variety has a unique flavor and texture, and you can enjoy them separately or in tandem. Kale stems tend to be quite tough, so cut them out before cooking the leaves. Collards and mustard greens are also available in many climates during the cold months. They can be lightly cooked to retain their color and texture, or stewed thoroughly until they are quite tender.
To prepare a simple dish of winter greens, finely chop a few cloves of garlic, saute them lightly in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and then add chopped leafy greens a few handfuls at a time, adding more as they cook down. Drizzle in a bit of water to steam them and speed up the cooking process. Season your greens with just salt and pepper, or add chopped seasonal fresh herbs such as parsley, rosemary, or thyme.
Beets are another example of seasonal winter produce that offer more than meets the eye. Even if you grew up with lifeless canned beets, you'll likely find yourself widening your vegetable horizons once you try a seasonal winter beet from your local farmers' market. In addition to the hearty red beets characteristically used in borscht, there are also gold beets whose color doesn't bleed into companion ingredients.. Chiogga beets are an heirloom variety sporting pink concentric circles. Peel beets with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, cut them into bite-size pieces, toss them with herbs and olive oil, and then roast them in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour, until they start to brown.
Prepare soups with winter seasonal produce using carrots and parsnips, as well as leeks, onions, and garlic. Add meat, chicken or beans to make these soups into hearty stews and complete meals. Root vegetables are sweetest during the cold winter months, when they send most of their plant energy underground.
The process of cooking these hearty winter offerings will help to heat your home, and also fill it with wonderful aromas. Your decision to cook with fresh, seasonal produce even during the heart of winter helps to keep money in your community, and it connects you to the local farmers who grow your food. It also allow you to enjoy vegetables at their peak flavor throughout the year.