There was a time when eating seasonally wasn't a catchphrase or a "food movement"-or even a choice. It was simply the way humans received their nourishment. Tender greens appeared in the spring, tomatoes and corn were abundant in summer, and root vegetables flourished in the fall and winter. Chickens laid their biggest and best eggs in late summer, and made a fine roast in December; sweet and tender spring lamb was just that, while slow-cooked mutton warmed the winter nights.
Today, of course, we have supermarkets that are jam-packed with every conceivable foodstuff year-round. Too cold in your neck of the woods for asparagus? No problem, we'll fly it in from Peru. Wrong time of year for peaches? Fear not, New Zealand has a terrific crop. Unfortunately, all this variety comes with a price, including higher food costs, environmental damage, and loss of nutrition and flavor.
On the practical level, transporting food long distances of necessity raises the cost. If you have to pack a case of asparagus, get it to an airport, fly it to another country, transfer it to another truck, and deliver it another several hundred miles away-well, that's gonna be pretty pricey asparagus. Compare that to in-season broccoli that was harvested on a local farm and took just one day and maybe 60 miles to reach your table.
Then ponder the fossil fuel that's consumed by that aircraft and those trucks, and the emissions created in the atmosphere, and suddenly your dinner vegetables are contributing to wide-ranging pollution. And since large-scale farming is unlikely to adhere to sustainable and organic principles, further degradation of the environment is likely occurring during the growing process itself.
Finally, consider this: Any foodstuff that has to travel a long distance also has to be picked sooner and less ripe than a local counterpart. Blush-ripe peaches can't endure the rigors of packing crates and tumultuous travel, so they're picked when they're still pale and hard, instead of developing gently to perfection on the tree. Any vegetable or fruit that's not allowed to ripen properly simply won't taste as good-and worse, it won't contain as many nutrients as a naturally ripened one.
So here are a few suggestions for getting back to nature, even if in a limited way:
- First and foremost, shop at local farmers markets and health food stores. That's where you'll find the best and healthiest local produce, poultry, fish, and meats.
- Read the signs at the grocery store. The origins of your food should be clearly labeled, so choose items that are as local as possible.
- Plan menus with an eye on the calendar, and select dishes that reflect the natural flow of the seasons. Your family will enjoy them more, and you'll be doing your part to help preserve the environment and support businesses in your community.
Ginger-Orange Sweet Potato Mash
An intriguing and savory riff on a simple classic
4 large red sweet potatoes
2 Tbs. blood orange olive oil
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 cup mild honey (e.g., clover and orange blossom)
1 3-inch knob ginger, peeled & microplaned (about 2 Tbs.)
1 heaping Tbs. microplaned orange zest
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Roast sweet potatoes on foil-lined baking sheet 45-60 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and soft inside. Remove from oven, and reduce heat to 150°F.
- Cut open potatoes, and scoop out flesh into large bowl. Briskly stir in remaining ingredients, and combine well. Transfer to baking dish, cover with foil, and keep warm in oven until ready to serve.
PER SERVING: 196 cal; 2g pro; 7g total fat (3g sat fat); 33g carb; 9mg chol; 168mg sod; 3g fiber; 20g sugars
Quintessential Winter Salad
This satisfying, colorful salad packs a nutritional wallop and delights the palate.
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch black Tuscan kale, ribs removed and leaves finely shredded
2 Tbs. toasted pine nuts
1 Tbs. finely grated Manchego cheese
2 ruby grapefruits, peeled and segments removed from membrane
1 large avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
2 Tbs. pomegranate seeds
- Combine lemon juice, mustard, and mint in small jar, and shake well. Add olive oil, and shake well again.
- Toss kale with 4 Tbs. dressing in bowl. Add pine nuts and Manchego, and toss to combine. Divide among four plates.
- Heap grapefruit segments and avocado chunks on top of kale, drizzle with remaining dressing, and top with pomegranate seeds.
PER 12-OZ. BATCH: 348 cal; 8g pro; 24g total fat (4g sat fat); 32g carb; 2mg chol; 83mg sod; 9g fiber; 12g sugars
In Your Own Backyard
Consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program if there's one in your area. Essentially, this is a farm or group of farms where local patrons buy a "share" from the farmer, and receive a portion of whatever the farm produces, depending on the season. According to the USDA there are at least 13,000 such programs in the U.S. alone. Go to localharvest.org for more information.
Neil Zevnik is a private chef in Los Angeles who is devoted to the idea that "healthy" doesn't have to
mean "ho-hum." Visit him online at neilzevnik.com to learn more.