Making Sure You Eat Your Vegetables …

by Valerie on February 1, 2009 · 2 comments

I know it might all seem like cupcakes and dessert here, but I actually do care about nutrition – and we all know that eating vegetables is good for you. I know that too – and it’s SO easy to do that in summer. You can make salad after salad and not have to repeat yourself unless you want to. You can make lots of pesto and put it on everything (at least, I do). You can eat spinach to your heart’s content.

But little by little, as the months go by, it gets more difficult, and that’s not just if you want to try to eat locally as much as possible year-round. Have you looked at the produce sections in grocery stores in winter in New York or Washington? I mean, really looked? The vegetables are often sad – they have travelled from far away and gotten all shaken up, and it’s been a long time since they left their natural habitat. Their shelf life once you buy them and take them home is woefully short.

It’s so sad. It even happens at the best Whole Foods in the entire world (aka the Whole Foods at Time Warner Center in New York, where I would go even though I lived in Brooklyn), and other magical places like Wegmans and Fairway. And it especially happens at my local Whole Foods, the one on P Street in Washington. So then I get discouraged and eat like the same three vegetables for months at a stretch in winter. And there’s only so many times you can add bell peppers to a chili recipe that doesn’t call for it, or resort to frozen vegetables.

Don’t get me wrong – those are good strategies, and I still use them frequently, but last fall, as the weeks were going by, I swore that this year would be different. After all, the Dupont Freshfarm Market has vegetables year-round, including some hot house greens, and I was no longer split between two cities (trust me, it’s hard to remember which refrigerator has the parsley in it and then you think it’s not where you are, but it is, and you end up with lots of extra parsley, or lettuce or bell peppers or something).

So I strategized – because just resolving to try a new vegetable very week was not enough. So first, the acquisition of some serious vegetable cookbooks: Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (Elizabeth Schneider) and Chez Panisse Vegetables (Alice Waters). In addition to great recipes, both books have a wealth of knowledge on storing vegetables. I always had a vague idea that putting fruits and vegetables in the crisper together was a bad idea, but somehow that never occured to me when I was putting groceries away – not anymore. After you read Schneider’s and Waters’ frequent admonition to not do that, it really sticks with you.

Waters includes most vegetables, including commonly known and used ones (tomatoes, spinach) while Schneider focuses on slightly less commonly used ones – fortunately that includes pretty much every winter vegetable I wanted to learn more about. What I especially like about both books is that they give great guidance on how to pick out vegetables too – it’s one thing to know what a good tomato should look like, but kale or cabbage is another story.

So, with knowledge in hand, I needed inspiration since that was part of my problem with winter vegetables. Summer vegetables are inspiring, but I needed to work on the inspiration for the winter ones – so I turned to some of my favorite food blogs, A Mighty Appetite, Orangette’s many vegetable recipes, especially last fall’s Parade of Underappreciated Vegetables, Smitten Kitchen, Chocolate and Zucchini, but also many others new to me like A Wee Bit of Cooking and The Wednesday Chef.

And then, relying on some of my own skills – I am not afraid of cooking lentils and other dried legumes, yet never seemed to pick recipes that included lots of vegetables as well as lentils or chickpeas. So far all this preparation has worked quite well. I have made several sweet potato and winter greens dishes and some cabbage dishes – all of which you will see in coming weeks in the What’s Cooking Wednesday space. In the meantime:

What do you do in winter to make sure you eat produce?
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 February 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I suppose we are spoiled out here in CA, but I just go to the farm stands every weekend and look for whatever’s freshest. We end up eating a lot of zucchini and yellow squash, or butternut squash added to everything and anything. I need to get out of the wilted kale/chard/spinach rut and find something a little different to do with them, but that’s my go-to side dish if I’m busy and not being creative.

Great cookbook recs; I love Alice Waters, and will have to check out Schneider’s. One of my favorites is Barbara Kafka’s “Vegetable Love”, which I scored for $9 at a used bookstore. Kafka also wrote an entire book on cooking with your microwave(!) and some of her handy tips come up in the vegetable book.


2 City Girl February 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm

RTW – the farmer’s market was a bit sad in January – it’s gotten better this month though – I can’t imagine how wonderful CA must be in terms of local produce. Thanks for the cookbook recs!


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