HEALTHY EATING: Cold weather crops on menus

By Carolyn O’Neil

While winter doesn’t officially blow into town until December, restaurant menus are starting to heat up with the healthy flavors of cold weather crops. Shorter days with less sunshine don’t have to be bleak, especially when chefs brighten up menus with seasonal treats such as winter squash, turnips, brussels sprouts, kale and radishes.

Say you don’t like radishes or can’t stand turnips? Maybe you should try them again, especially if a talented chef shows you the way. Skirt steak served with a warm bean salad and locally grown Japanese turnips from Moore Farms is a popular menu item at Bocado in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood.

Chef Todd Ginsberg, who has packed Bocado’s menu with the farm fresh flavors of the season, says, “I love the grocery list this time of year. When you get into winter months there’s less sweetness in produce and more bitter flavors so I like to roast vegetables like beets and Brussels sprouts to bring out a sweeter caramelized flavor and add an acid balance with lemon.” Those bitter flavors actually indicate something really healthy is inside — the slightly sulfur-scented disease-fighting phytonutrients found in members of the cruciferous family of vegetables including turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens and kale.

Winter squash

Winter squash are beautiful and delectable. Photo: Eric Boyd, Los Angeles Times

While salad greens are still available, take advantage of the season’s braised winter greens such as Swiss chard, kale and mustard greens. Bocado’s menu features a variety called Dinosaur Kale, which Ginsberg prepares with shallots and garlic. “It’s my favorite kale because it really stands up to long braising times to tenderize the leaves and still looks pretty on the plate.”

With names like acorn, butternut and Hubbard, varieties of winter squash add rich flavors and vibrant colors to so many dishes from soups to sides. Chef Charles Dale of Terra restaurant in Santa Fe, N.M, makes a winter squash soup that is rich and creamy without a drop of cream. Instead he sautés chunks of fresh Hubbard squash with chopped onion and then purées the mixture until smooth, adds chicken stock and sweetens with a bit of maple syrup.

“You don’t have to use heavy cream to achieve a creamy texture. Winter squash lend a buttery flavor of their own to soups, especially if you roast them first.”

Nutritionally, these deep orange vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), which is critical for healthy skin and eyes and, since it supports night vision, is pretty important when the sun goes down early this time of year.

Winter squash is also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and manganese. Talk about a fall harvest!

The peppery crunch of fresh radishes is popping up on seasonal menus, too. Pretty pink radish slices garnish the Salade de Mesclun at Bistro Niko. Did you know radishes are classified as part of the mustard family? Perfect with the Pommery mustard vinaigrette served with the salad.

Fresh radishes add a slightly spicy flair to corn tortilla tacos at Pura Vida now, too. Chef Hector Santiago tops slow-cooked lamb or goat with crunchy slices of watermelon radishes and white finger radishes from local farmer Jeff Collins, who sells his produce at the Peachtree Road Farmers’ Market each Saturday.

So, the next time you see a radish rose garnish on your plate, eat it! Radishes are very low in calories and an excellent source of vitamin C, one of the most important nutrients to help ward off colds and flu this time of year.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn

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