EATING LOCAL - Eating lighter over the darker season brightens health

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The weather is wintery, but with the decadent holidays behind us and New Year resolutions written, people are thinking of eating lighter and healthier. This means cutting out high-fat food and replacing it with lighter versions.

For many, vegetables are the one thing they have difficulty eating enough of, but a perfect fill-in for those heavy, high-calorie meals. With some inspiration in the form of new recipes and ideas, you can stick to your goals, feel fresh and invigorated and maybe even shed a few pounds.

In season right now are citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes. My new favorite salad is grapefruit, cut into segments and tossed with salad greens, shaved fennel, avocado, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and a dash of salt and pepper.

More than just a fun winter snack, pomegranates make a lovely addition to salads. Try combining them with your favorite green salad, tossed with fennel, olive oil and lemon, or make a beautiful golden beet and pomegranate salad (recipe below).

Fennel goes wonderfully with many fruits and vegetables of the season. It is delicious thinly sliced or shaved, added to salads, on its own tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, or halved and roasted with other winter veggies. I love the slight licorice taste, as well as the fresh cleansing feel it imparts.

If you're new to fennel, a quick little lesson may help. The white bulb section of the plant is what we use to cut up, though the whole thing is edible. Remove any wilted or brown outer layers, trim the bottom, and trim top where it starts to green. When cutting the fennel bulb, make sure to reserve the green leafy tops or fronds, adding them as a garnish to your dish or salad.

Root vegetables are still in season, and though you may think you are getting tired of them, consider trying a new cooking method to freshen up your meals. Parsnips are a wonderful fall and winter veggie we cannot get during the warm months. Enjoy them now, roasted with carrots and thyme or as a gorgeous parsnip soup with leeks and parsley. Full of antioxidants and cleansing power from the parsley, this sweet-savory soup will win over even the toughest of meat eaters.

Winter greens are a hard sell for most folks, though they should be the one vegetable people eat more often. Full of powerful antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids, they have potent anti-cancer and DNA cell repairing qualities. They are also rich in calcium and vitamins C and K. Not difficult to cook, they can be sauteed on their own with a little onion, oil, salt and pepper, thrown into almost any soup, or used as an addition to other winter veggies. Or try kale tossed with olive oil and roasted to make a delicious, healthy, crunchy snack I like to call kale chips.

With all the media and information out there today, it's hard to decipher what is truly healthy or not. One day a report says this, the next day another disputes it with other claims. But what has never changed is the fact that eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is beneficial. It's easy to get stuck in a rut with the same recipes, but with a little inspiration and experimenting, you can continue to enjoy winter veggies until spring.

Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition, specializes in natural foods. She can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.

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