When I moved to the Netherlands 13 years ago, winter was a huge hurdle to overcome. I was constantly cold, didn’t know how to dress and food wise it looked as if there is nothing to eat. Coming from a Mediterranean country vegetables meant tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, aubergines, fresh herbs etc. it took me years to discover and master the abundance of local winter vegetables.
According to the Chinese medicine, between March and September we should eat everything that grows above the ground and between September and March everything that grows under it. In the years I’ve been adapting to the northern European climate I’ve discovered the winter beauties; a large verity of root vegetables with earthy flavors, vibrant colors, highly nutritious, and a wonderful raw ingredient to endless comforting dishes. In the green department, we have all the cabbages and kale, spinach and some salad leaves that thrive in the cold.
So here are my inspirational winter suggestions:
Cold warm salads-
I admit, when the weather gets really cold I struggle eating cold, raw salads so I found ways to warm up my salads and boost them with even more winter goodness. I roast some winter roots like beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips or parsley roots, in the oven or the pan with lots of warming spices like chili and cumin, and then scatter them over my green salad.
Roots are easy to make and they pair up to almost anything as a side dish, simply scrub them well (if organic no need to peel) cut into large chunks and place in an oven dish with a lid. Scatter some dried herbs like thyme or rosemary, season well and drizzle some olive oil. Cover and bake in the oven 180-190 degrees for about an hour and a half. Last 10 minutes can be baked uncover to brown and crisp the veg.
Another beautiful way of preparing and serving winter roots is to slice them as thin as possible, preferably using a mandolin, and then stack and press them in layers in an (oiled) deep oven baking trey. Use a different sort of root and color for each layer to get a stunning effect. Sprinkle some herbs in between the layers, season well and drizzle with olive oil. Place few thinly slice garlic cloves here and there. Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven 180 degrees for 1.5-2 hours, depend on the thickness of your dish. Last 10 minutes (after the vegetables has totally soften) can be baked uncovered to crisp and brown the top layer. Let it ‘rest’ for 10-15 minutes out of the oven before serving. Cut the gratin into large squares for main course portions and smaller for first course or appetizer servings. You can make a nice vinaigrette or a reduced balsamic vinegar to serve it with.
Some of the winter veg like daikon, turnip, beets, carrots and kohlrabi are perfect for fermentation and pickling. Simply cut them into thick julienne, stack and press them into a jar and cover with brine made from 1 liter of water and 20 grams sea salt. Place the jar in a moderately warm place (round 20 Celsius degrees is perfect) and wait for the fermentation to start. After one or two days you will see bubbles starting to come up and you know it’s working. Taste the fermented vegetables after 4-5 days to determine if they are ready, at this point you can add some flavoring like garlic, ginger, chili, dill etc. I will soon write here a whole post on fermented food with more details and recipes.
And here is my short list of winters’ stars:
Celeriac, parsley root, parsnip, swede, turnip, yellow turnip, Jerusalem artichoke, beets, winter carrots, rainbow carrots, sweet potato, potato, truffle potato, purple potato, salsify, horseradish
Daikon, radishes, black radish, kohlrabi (officially belongs to the cabbage family)
Kale, kavolo nero, winter postelein, spinach, all cabbages, Brussels sprouts, mâché.
Squashes and pumpkins:
Most of them emerge in the autumn but stay through the winter; Butternut squash, potimarron or Japanese pumpkin, spaghetti squash, green pumpkin.