Today we’re going to talk about seasonal eating and getting the most out of the winter vegetables you’ll find at your farmer’s market and grocery store this time of year.
The statistics on food waste are sobering, as discussed previously. Reducing food waste takes a multi-pronged approach. Some of the things you can do to waste less food and be more sustainable in the kitchen include:
Prioritize the produce that is seasonal in your region.
Don’t buy more than you need.
Learn how to store food correctly.
Learn how to preserve food if you won’t eat it in time.
Use the whole plant when possible. (Hint: All of the vegetables we’ll be mentioning today have edible leaves!)
The week of Feb 21, 2022, Primal Kitchen is featuring ways to cut down on food waste. Find food waste facts, waste reduction tips, exclusive recipes, and resources from the Farmlink Project by signing up here. All week, MDA will be featuring posts that can help you get the most bang for your grocery budget and minimize food waste to boot!
What Is Seasonal Eating?
Seasonal eating means making an effort to buy vegetables and fruits that are naturally grown and harvested in a given climate.
Technically, this can include food grown on the other side of the planet and flown or shipped thousands of miles to your local grocer—for example, apples grown in Chile or New Zealand and sent to New England in winter. They are in season in the region they were grown, hence “seasonal.”
Generally speaking, though, when we talk about seasonal eating, we have more locally grown produce in mind. In-season, local fruits and vegetables are likely to be fresher and tastier by the time they make it to your plate, so you’re more apt to eat them. The less they have to travel, the less likely they are to spoil in transit, too, and they’ll carry a smaller ecological footprint.1
Another benefit of seasonal eating is that it encourages you to diversify your diet throughout the year. For those of us who value variety, eating according to the season means you effortlessly incorporate a diverse array of produce as you move from hearty winter greens, cruciferous vegetables, and citrus fruits to summer berries, tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini to autumn’s apples and squashes.
Of course, your ability to buy in-season and local produce depends very much on where you live. If you’re currently buried under feet of snow, you won’t have the same access to locally grown vegetables as someone who lives in a warmer climate. Gardening websites and resources like the USDA can tell you what grows well in your area and beyond throughout the year.
As always, this is a “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” situation. Eating seasonally is a great goal to strive for, but it shouldn’t be stressful. It’s awesome if you can take steps that allow you to decrease your ecological footprint and food waste. You also shouldn’t feel bad about using frozen fruits and vegetables and fresh produce from farther afield to round out your diet when accessibility is an issue.
What Vegetables are in Season, and How Do I Use Winter Vegetables?
Late winter is the time to celebrate sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables (aka Brassicas), robust leafy greens, and alliums (onion, garlic, leeks)! Although we’re focusing on vegetables today, let’s not overlook the citrus fruits and persimmons that abound at this time of year, too.
(The specifics obviously depend on where you’re located. I’m writing about winter vegetables now because it is winter in the northern hemisphere. Our friends below the equator are enjoying summer’s bounties. Likewise, these vegetables are ones we commonly grow in America. Your local harvest might look different.)
A few notes on preserving vegetables:
There are more tips for freezing vegetables in this post. For vegetables that can be frozen, the general method is:
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cut the vegetable into chunks or separate florets (broccoli and cauliflower).
Place the vegetables in boiling water for two to five minutes, then transfer immediately to an ice bath for a minute or two. (Check recommended times for the vegetable you wish to freeze.)
Drain and dry the vegetables as well as possible.
Place on a baking sheet in a single layer in the freezer.
Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container, removing as much air as possible.
Root vegetables—beetroots, carrots, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and the like—can also be packed in sand, sawdust, peat moss in a wooden crate or plastic box. They will keep that way for up to six months if the crate is kept in a cool place like a garage or cellar. I’m not going to go into detail about that method here, but that’s an option you can explore.
Dehydrating is another option for many fruits and vegetables, but today we’ll focus on methods that don’t need special equipment.
Now, without further ado, here are 10 of our favorite vegetables you can harvest in winter:
Arugula (aka Rocket)
Peppery leafy green in the Brassica family (a cousin of cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli). Usually eaten raw but can be cooked as well.
How to store: Roll loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag or bin so moisture can escape. Keep in the crisper drawer and try to use within three to five days.
How to preserve: Arugula can be frozen like spinach, but the best way to preserve arugula is to make a pesto or compound butter and freeze in individual portions (an ice cube tray works well for freezing pesto).
Beets are in in the same family as spinach and chard. Beetroots come in a variety of sizes and colors and are delicious raw or cooked. Try spiral cutting them into veggie noodles, or use your dehydrator to make beet chips. And don’t toss the greens! Sauté the greens with garlic or add them to your next stir-fry.
How to store: Separate the roots from the leaves. Roll the leaves loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag in the crisper drawer. Use within a few days. Beetroots can hang out in the crisper drawer loose or in a storage bag for weeks.
How to preserve: Beetroots can be pickled or canned. Roasted beets can also be frozen. Store in sand.
Brussels sprouts must have gotten a new publicist in the past decade, because they went from being one of the most hated and maligned vegetables to appearing on the appetizer menu of every hip restaurant and gastropub. This glow-up is well deserved. Perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts are pure heaven.
How to store: If you can find Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, this is ideal. They will stay fresh on the stalk for a couple weeks in the fridge. Otherwise, keep Brussels sprouts in an unsealed or perforated storage bag in the crisper.
Cabbages come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They were first domesticated thousands of years ago and are the original Brassicas from which all the other Brassicas on this list (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, rutabaga, turnips) derive.
How to store: Do not wash or cut cabbage until you are ready to use it. Make sure cabbage is dry, then wrap in plastic. It will stay fresh in the crisper drawer for several months.
How to preserve: Ferment. Turn your cabbage into lacto-fermented sauerkraut or kimchi, and it can live in your refrigerator for months. If you can it, the heat kills the beneficial bacteria that drive the fermentation process, but you can store canned sauerkraut safely for several years in a cold cellar.
Carrots probably won’t help you see better, sadly, but they do contain high levels of vitamin A. When shopping for carrots, look for ones with the leaves still attached and turn the leaves into pesto. Make sure you wash the leaves thoroughly, as they trap a ton of dirt.
How to store: Cut off the leaves just above the carrot. Roll the leaves loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag. Store unwashed carrots in mesh or paper bags so they can breathe. The leaves will keep for a couple days in the crisper, while carrots will stay fresh for several weeks, perhaps even longer.
How to preserve: Freeze, pickle, ferment. Store in sand.
Most associated with Southern cooking, especially collards cooked low-and-slow with bacon or ham hocks. The leaves are sturdier than lettuce or chard, so they make a good substitute for tortillas, though some people find raw collard greens to be bitter.
How to store: Roll loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag. Keep in the crisper drawer and try to use within a few days.
How to preserve: Trim off the tough stems, then freeze the leaves.
Fennel is kind of like if celery and licorice had a baby. That sounds atrocious, but fennel bulb is absolutely delicious raw in salads paired with citrus fruits and avocado (both of which are in season in the winter) or roasted with a whole chicken. The stems and feathery fronds are edible, too!
How to store: Optionally separate the bulbs from the stems and fronds. Roll them loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag. Keep in the crisper drawer and try to use within a week.
How to preserve: Fennel bulbs can be frozen (quarter or slice first) or fermented. The fronds can be frozen as-is or made into pesto. Try pickling the stems.
Kale has exploded on the food scene in recent years and divided us into two camps: kale lovers or kale haters. I find that different types of kale work better for different applications—curly kale massaged for salad or dehydrated into kale chips, lacinato sautéed with shallots and garlic, red the jack-of-all-trades.
How to store: Roll loosely in a thin kitchen towel and place in an open food storage bag. Try to use within a week.
How to preserve: As with other leafy greens, freezing is best.
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life.