It’s easy to eat lots of fruits and vegetables in the summer. You have more to choose from, plus freshly harvested produce is tastier, less expensive, and more nutritious than stuff that’s been trucked cross-country. Winter produce is a different story. Your options for locally grown fruits and vegetables might be limited, but you definitely have alternatives beyond mushy apples, flavorless tomatoes, or peaches from who knows where. Give these fruits and vegetables a place in your market basket:
Unlike salad greens, which are usually eaten uncooked, some greens need to be simmered or sautéed for best flavor and nutrition, and many of these are at their best in winter (frost makes them sweeter and more tender). Kale, chard, bok choi, and collards are grown for their leaves, but look for turnips and beets with leaves attached (separate them when you get home).
Kale and collards (as well as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli) are members of the cabbage family. They are high in sulfur compounds that provide many health benefits, but can also give off an unpleasant aroma when these vegetables are overcooked (especially if boiled). Try roasting them instead. Some of them are also high in nutrients you might not expect. One cup of cooked collard greens, for example, provides almost as much calcium as a cup of chocolate milk!
Most citrus fruits are available year round, but clementines, tangerines, and blood oranges are usually in markets from December through March. Even the more common ones are at their peak in the winter. Grapefruit, for example, are ready for harvest beginning in December.
Citrus fruits are famous for their sky-high vitamin C content, but they also supply generous amounts of folate, fiber, and nutrients that come from different pigments. Blood oranges and pink and red grapefruit, for example, are high in lycopene, which may help protect against some types of cancer.
Roots provide energy and nutrition to growing plants, so these vegetables are concentrated sources of many nutrients, especially carbohydrates. Potatoes and carrots are perhaps the most familiar root vegetables, but turnips, beets, fennel, and parsnips add flavor to meals and variety to menus.
Most root vegetables have thick cell walls. Cooking breaks these walls down and makes the nutrients within the cells easier for our bodies to access. To make the most of their natural sweetness, try roasting them.
Vegetables in the allium family (such as garlic, leeks, scallions, shallots, and onions) almost never appear on “best sources of” lists for vitamins or minerals, but that’s okay. They’re high in flavor compounds that can provide nutritional benefits. Garlic alone contains more than 100 sulfur compounds! Allicin is one and has been found to have health benefits. It develops when it is exposed to oxygen, but heating garlic right after chopping it keeps the allicin from forming (once it has formed, heat doesn’t affect it). If possible, chop or crush garlic about 10 minutes before you add it to the pan.
Many of the compounds in these vegetables also make your eyes burn and your hands smell. To avoid, peel onions under running water, and after handling, run your hands on stainless steel as you wash them (either a sink, or a utensil like a pot or spoon).