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Well and Good: Seasonal Eating For Fall

During the fall and winter months, our immune system is often under attack and the comfort foods we associate with this time of year actually “do the body good”. Eating cold, uncooked foods can put stress on the body, but sticking to the foods in season helps keep us energized and healthy as the days get shorter.

Your body needs more warmth now, and a good rule of thumb is that the foods that take the longest to grow, such as root vegetables, are the best option for optimal nutrition. They take longer to digest and thus have the ability to support your internal temperature.

Transitioning from the bounty of summer produce to the leaner offerings of fall and winter might seem daunting at first, but there isactually a plethora of seasonal items available. A wide variety of apples are coming into their own; root vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes and carrots are bursting with antioxidants; and juicy citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are making their way up from the valley of Texas. There is so much beautiful, nutritious produce in the fall and winter, so crack open those dusty cookbooks and experiment with some new recipes.

Advances in transportation, modern farming techniques and worldwide distribution allow us access to produce year-round, regardless of growing season. But just because we CAN eat strawberries in January or sweet potatoes in June does not necessarily mean that we SHOULD.

Although it is convenient to pluck fruits and vegetables from the grocery store aisles anytime our hearts desire, food grown halfway around the world is deficient in both nutrition and flavor. These fruits and vegetables have been picked before theywere ripe, traveled thousands of miles, and lost much of their nutritional value by the time they reach your table. This produce can sit in storage for days or weeks as it is processed and transported to the grocery store. During this time it is exposed to factors such as oxygen, light and heat, all of which rob the food of its taste and nutrition.

By making the conscious choice to purchase foods in season, your family is afforded the opportunity to eat the tastiest, most nutritionally dense food available. Buying seasonal produce also provides an exciting opportunity to venture out into uncharted territory and experiment with seasonal recipes. In addition, your food dollars stay closer to home and you help eliminate the environmental damage caused by shipping foods around the world.

So this fall and winter, allow the seasons to inform your cooking to enrich your mind, body and soul. Look at those labels and seek out items that were grown as close to home as possible. Your farmers, family and taste buds will thank you!

In Texas, this produce is abundant from early fall through winter:

Apples, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, grapefruit, mushrooms, oranges, pecans, pumpkins, snap peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon, winter squash

Source: http://www.simplesteps.org/eat-local/state/texas

Sweet Potato Tacos
POTATOES
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and red chili flakes, to taste
Juice of 1 lime

CABBAGE SLAW
2 heaping cups shredded cabbage (use a combination of purple and green cabbage for a more colorful result)
1/4 cup yellow onions, finely diced
2 heaping Tbs chopped cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
Salt and red chili flakes, to taste

BEANS
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 lime
Small corn tortillas

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place peeled and diced sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet.  Top with olive oil, salt and chili flakes, and lime juice.  Toss together until all of the potato chunks are coated.  Place in the oven to bake until softened through and toasted brown.  This usually takes about 40 minutes.   Remove the cookie sheet once or twice during baking to toss the potato chunks around.  This will ensure that the cubes cook evenly.  Remove from the oven and let stand when cooked through.

While the potatoes cook, assemble the Cabbage Slaw.  In a medium bowl, place cabbage, yellow, and chopped cilantro.  Add lime juice, salt and chili flakes.  Toss to coat and set aside while the potatoes cook and beans heat.  Letting the cabbage slaw sit will help soften the cabbage.

To cook the beans, heat olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add ground cumin and stir until fragrant.  Add beans and lime juice.  Cook until heated through.

Heat corn tortillas in a hot saucepan with just a touch of oil.  Heat through and serve with potatoes, beans, and slaw.

Curried Cauliflower Soup
2 Tbs water, for sautéing
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium tart apple, peeled, cored & coarsely chopped
1 Tbd curry powder
1 garlic clove
1 head cauliflower, cut into uniform size pieces
10 oz Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled, diced into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt, to taste

Heat the water in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5-7 minutes or until soft & translucent. Stir in the apple, curry powder and garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer or until the curry powder turns a deep yellow. Add a little more water as necessary to keep the contents from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add the cauliflower, potatoes and vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes and then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Season with salt and serve.

ABOUT VANESSA:
Vanessa and her husband Brad are former owners of Julian’s Restaurant in Tyler. While no longer involved in the restaurant business, Vanessa’s passion for healthy, savory food is stronger than ever. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for the culinary arts with fellow “FRESHies” as a frequent guest chef in the test kitchen. Stay tuned as she shares her practical ideas for bringing FRESH to your dinner table!