Why is it that the winter vegetables are the ones that get the most criticism? How often have you heard someone say: “I pretty much like all vegetables except…beets, or turnips, or cabbage, or especially brussels sprouts”? We think of winter vegetables as bland and boring, remember their strong smells from childhood forced dinners, and we all collectively shudder. But, I’m here to tell you that you should push those prejudices aside and embrace the smelly, weird-looking winter vegetables that are so abundant in these seemingly barren months.
“We kids feared many things in those days—werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School—but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.”—Dave Barry
Let’s start with brussels sprouts, the ones with the worst reputation for their smelliness and their bitter taste. Both of these unfortunate aspects can be avoided by cooking them correctly and, most importantly, not overcooking them. The health benefits of Brussels sprouts are myriad: they are chock full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folic acid, and dietary fiber, not to mention the fact that they are thought to help prevent colon cancer. They were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and then became popular in Belgium in the sixteenth century and began to spread. Now we grow Brussels sprouts here in the cold months and once we learn to cook them correctly, we can actually enjoy their many benefits. The following is a delicious recipe from a cook at the Morning Times in Downtown Raleigh named Tommy.
Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts in a Balsamic Reduction
-Thinly slice Brussels sprouts
-Sautee in a pan on high heat with just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan
-When starting to brown and are slightly soft pour the balsamic reduction over them and salt and pepper to taste
-To make a balsamic reduction boil a cup of balsamic vinegar, to know when it is ready dip a spoon in the balsamic, while holding vertically swipe your finger down toward the bottom of the spoon to make a streak, turn spoon horizontally and when it doesn’t run, it is ready to use
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables…Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.”—Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
As a child I associated beets with the canned pickled beets my grandmother would serve for Sunday dinner. It was not until college that I had the pleasure of tasting a roasted beet and it changed everything. Historically beets were used primarily for their medicinal purposes to aid in digestion, reduce fevers, and cure wounds and skin problems. Beets became very popular in the 1600s in Eastern and Central European cuisine. Its popularity only grew and they were even used as a sweetener in puddings and desserts. Another fantastic aspect of the beet is that when you cook with it the whole dish turns pink! You can boil beets and then use the water to make pink rice for picky children. My favorite way to eat beets is simply to roast them with garlic and onion. I like to slice them in thin medallions, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper along with chopped onion and garlic, and bake on a cookie sheet at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best.” –Waverley Root
The dislike of turnips might be rooted in history. It was the primary food of the peasants in Ancient Rome and Greece, it has been traditionally used as livestock fodder, and apparently Romans threw turnips at people that they disliked. The traditional southern way to eat turnips is to boil and mash them, like potatoes, which I actually like.; but there are many different ways to use turnips. A delicious recipe I found online (actually from a list of 18 different turnip recipes) was to roast turnips and then make a mustard sauce to pour over them. Incredibly simple, just chop up turnips, roast with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and while that’s cooking mix 1 T of spicy brown mustard, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 2 T of olive oil, and 1 T of maple syrup (optional).
“The time has come…to talk of many things: Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”—Lewis Carroll
Cabbage has been around for centuries, it can be found in Greek mythology in which “Diogenes advised a young man, ‘If you lived on cabbage, you would not be obliged to flatter the powerful.’ To this, the courtier replied, ‘If you flattered the powerful, you would not be obliged to live on cabbage.’ ” While I’m not sure what exactly to do with this myth, it is safe to say that cabbage has been with us for most of history all over the world. You can find cabbage in almost every cuisine. Unfortunately cabbage is remembered mostly for its pungent smell, which actually comes from the sulfur in the cabbage, an important nutrient that helps the body fight off bacteria. Cabbage is incredibly rich in Vitamin C, fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium. Basically it’s amazing and you should eat it all the time (it is present in so many different cuisines that you can’t even get tired of it)! Here’s an intriguing sounding recipe for fried cabbage: Shred some cabbage, chop up and fry a few pieces of bacon, chop a yellow onion, add to the bacon, and sautee in butter, finally add the shredded cabbage and cook for 30 minutes, At the end add a little more butter, a dash of apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
I know that February is a hard month physically and emotionally–the bitter cold has begun to sink into your bones and the soil is basically barren, we all may have forgotten what flowers actually smell like. February seems to be the month of waiting for winter to end. The best way to fight off that winter depression is to get into the warm kitchen and try new recipes with what is available. Hopefully you’ll be delighted by the delicious abundance that is readily available in the winter.