We are all rejoicing the later light afternoons and the emergence of snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses and primroses, a sure sign that Spring is waiting in the wings. This time is an important one, as it is time for the very first sowings of seed for the year and there’s an excitement for the season ahead.
But before the new crops arrive, eating seasonally will mean plenty of stored squash and utlising the last of our root vegetables – carrots, parsnips and beets as well as cabbages, kale, chard, purple sprouting broccoli, swede and turnips from the class of 2020 still growing.
Seasonal eating means eating food shortly after it is harvested so it is fresher and contains more nutrients, mostly from the local area. The definition of ‘local’ varies, but generally it means food grown in your own country or from close international neighbours. Sourcing locally avoids air miles, helping reduce the carbon footprint. The key is to work out the total environmental cost of production and transport. It is unlikely to be environmentally superior to grow tomatoes in heated greenhouses in the UK than it is to ship them in from Spain where they can grow under the natural heat of the sun, for example. And then we need to factor in packaging, cost and availability among a plethora of other considerations.
Those wanting to be more connected to the cyclical nature of growing who have been left feeling disconnected by the mass manufacturing and processing of modern day food production can start to eat in tune with the seasons and help towards the fight against the harm to nature and biodiversity by deforestation, nutrient leaking, pesticides and fertiliser runoff.
Another key benefit of eating seasonally means we are also likely to be eating food that is freshly picked at the point of ripeness and transported to our plates in the minimum amount of time. This can help to optimise the concentration of certain micronutrients and phytonutrients contained within the produce, and often tastes better too because these crops haven’t been selectively bred and grown for their long shelf-life and transportability above taste or nutritional value.
Seasonal ingredients are, by definition, more abundantly available, which almost always means they cost less. This is reflected in supermarkets as well as at the grocers and other markets. Eating seasonally can be the cheapest way to eat, so long as we know what to look out for and when.
It is easy to feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of root veggies building up in the larder at this time of year. Budgeting, menu planning, fridge and pantry rotation, preserving and pickling helps with making a seasonal diet more economic and to reduce waste. The beauty is you can use up any winter veg, so you can chop up beets, parsnip, celeriac, potatoes, swede as well as squashes. Explore wholesome recipes such as ratatouille, soups and stews, purees, bakes and gratins, pasta dishes, etc. Use native orchard fruits such as apples, pears, blackberries, sloes, berries etc in savoury dishes with meat and in colourful mixed salads as well as delicious deserts.
The freezer is your friend here with regards to making the bounty last into the darker months. It is more efficient to have a full freezer anyway. Par-cook fruits and veggies and store in freezer bags labelled and dated. Freeze batches of winter warming dishes. I choose to use biodegradable vacuum pack bags to reduce space and increase organisation.
This winter-warmer recipe from Ottolenghi was born out of a fridge clean-out, and is a great way to use up whatever root vegetables you have. Whatever your combination, just keep the total net weight the same. Serve this as a veggie main, along with a simple salad.
Prep 8-10 min, Cook 60 min
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Add the root vegetables, tomato paste, two tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper to a large roasting tin roughly 38cm x 26cm, and toss everything together to combine. Pour in the stock, then bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl toss together the chickpeas, harissa, two tablespoons of oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt and set aside.
When ready, spoon the chickpea mixture all over the vegetables and turn up the oven to 240C (220C fan)/450F/gas 9. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, or until everything is nicely coloured and the vegetables are well cooked. Set aside to cool slightly, for about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, segment the whole lemon and roughly chop the segments. Transfer this and any juices collected (but not the pips) to a bowl along with the dill and remaining tablespoon of oil.
Serve with a Tahini yoghurt pourable dressing by mixing well together:
Spoon a good amount of the tahini-yoghurt over the vegetables followed by all of the dill mixture. Lastly, sprinkle over the dukkah and serve the remaining tahini yoghurt alongside. Watch Ottolenghi himself make the dish here
Eating a more seasonal vegetable based diet is considered healthier and better for the planet. Try reducing your consumption of meat by going meat free for a day or two per week and increasing your meat free meals as you get more confident with vegetarian and/or vegan recipes. When selecting meat, choose naturally reared grass fed animals from a small scale local farm, with higher welfare standards and less reliant on antibiotics, growth hormones and processed animal feed.
Large scale industrialised farming drives climate change, environmental destruction and wildlife loss. It turns food production from a nourishing craft into corporate profiteering. In contrast, food produced on small scale family farms using regenerative techniques has the opposite impact. By reducing the demand for cheap meat, it removes the economic incentive for factory farming and all its destructive impacts. It allows farmers to rear livestock naturally, with grass under their trotters, feet and hooves, and be paid fairly for taking care of our countryside. Consuming less and better quality meat is the world we should be working towards.
Here is a recipe for Sticky Korean Style Stir Fry with Crispy Beef by Mela Baldock:
You only need a small amount of beef to elevate this otherwise complete dish. The beef gets fried dark and crispy and is sprinkled on the top at the end like a condiment to add texture. You’ll only need 150g or less for two bowlfuls. The Gochujang chilli is increasingly easy to find, either as flakes or a paste; it is mild and smoky so be cautious if you end up using normal chilli flakes, you might need to dial down the quantity.
for the sticky sauce:
Make the sticky sauce by mixing the ginger, garlic, mirin, soy sauce, honey and chilli powder together in a small bowl.
Put a pan of salted water on to boil for your noodles.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok. Fry the beef for 10 mins on a medium heat, turning often, until very darkly coloured (see intro note). Then add half of the sticky sauce and fry for a final 2 minutes until sticky and crisp. Remove and keep somewhere warm.
Quickly clean the wok and pop it back on a high heat with 2 tablespoons of oil in it. Throw in the mushrooms and fry vigorously for 2-3 minutes until starting to colour and wilt. Add the pak choi and broccoli and cook for 2 more minutes before throwing in half the spring onions and the rest of the sauce. Cook for 1 minute or so until the sauce is reduced and sticky.
While the stir fry is cooking, drop your noodles into the boiling water to cook. Depending on the type, they will take somewhere between 3-5 minutes to cook. Try and time it so everything is ready at the same time . Drain the noodles and divide them between 2 bowls. Top with the stir fry and crumble over the warm beef. Garnish with a pinch of sesame seeds and the remaining spring onions slices. Serve with kimchi on the side recipe here
Give swinging with the seasons a go…. home-made and even better home-grown is so much more appealing and fun to make so have a go at jarring up peppers, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes in a beautiful organic cold pressed olive oil. Pickling radishes, cucumbers, beetroot, red cabbage etc which make gorgeous gifts and tasty crunchy side dishes to winter lunches– see a recipe for sauerkraut below. Time to start warmth-loving chilli’s inside on our windowsills…
On the brassica theme of the winter months, I’d love to share my new passion for red cabbage sauerkraut– although it would also work with Savoy cabbages.
Fermentation occurs because yeast and bacteria naturally present on the cabbage and your hands, come into contact with the sugars in the cabbage. This starts the digestion of the fibres and sugars, making the nutrients easily absorbable for us. Favourable bacteria (probiotics) are present as in yoghurt and Kefir. A happy gut needs a healthy biome to function at its optimum. 70% of the immune system is made in the gut so eating raw sauerkraut is an immune system boost. The process produces vitamin K2 which is not that easy to come by in our diet and is the ‘missing link’ for healthy bones and a healt½ a red cabbage (or savoy) cut really fine
Put everything into a really big bowl and massage away vigorously until the mix gets quite watery. Taste to check saltiness. Then push it firmly (using your fist) into a big jar and add extra water (plus any juice from your last batch) so that the cabbage is just covered. Lay an (outer) cabbage leaf on top and weigh it down with a stone or a jam jar filled with water, so that the cabbage stays submerged. Then wait for 4-5 days (that’s the hardest part ) until the taste is the sourness you like.
Keep in the fridge then and eat 2 or 3 times a week! This colourful side dish would go well with the Korean Crispy beef recipe above if you done have or don’t like Kimchi.