Eating by the seasons: How to cook – and enjoy – winter veg

Several years ago I started volunteering at a local community garden in Oxford called OxGrow. The first autumn I volunteered there, I remember heading home from each session with a bagful of veg. It was such a satisfying experience to cook with produce that we had lifted from the soil hours earlier.

Harvesting pumpkins and squash before the annual harvest festival!

But it was one thing learning how to grow the vegetables – knowing how to eat what we’d grown was something else altogether. For those of who’ve grown up buying tomatoes from the supermarket in December, switching to seasonal produce can mean a radical shift in the way we approach food.

I was on comfortable ground with veg like cauliflower and squash, but I didn’t know how to work with celeriac or fennel and had never seen a Jerusalem artichoke before in my life! Not knowing how to cook with certain veg (and just as importantly, make them taste nice – swedes I’m looking at you!) led to more food waste. Turnips and celeriac slowly wrinkled in the fridge until I guiltily binned them.

It also took time to adjust to eating whatever was in season, and eating it several times a week for a couple of months – especially as winter came and there was less variety. Could I find a yet another new and exciting way to prepare a beetroot?

New ways to enjoy less glamourous autumn and winter vegetables…

To support people to eat by the seasons, we’ve pulled together our favourite recipes for autumn vegetables like beetroots, turnips and celeriac, as well as top tips for making the most of them so you can “beet” the waste!


Beetroot


Nutritional content and health benefits:

Beets contain many vitamins and minerals such as folate, manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. Vitamin C breaks down at 70° C so it can be best to eat them raw. Many studies have shown that eating beetroots can lower blood pressure and help increase exercise performance – more info here.

Beet the waste:
  • Eat the leaves of beets if they are fresh. They can be treated like chard. 
  • Store beet roots and leaves in the fridge. Remove leaves and stalks early on as these can draw moisture out of them. The roots can be frozen but should be blanched first – more on blanching and freezing vegetables here.
Our favourite recipes:

Celeriac


Celeriac is a root vegetable closely related to celery, parsley and parsnips. This slightly bizarre-looking vegetable has a subtle celery-like taste, so it can taste best when in combination with more bland vegetables like potatoes, or sweet vegetables like carrots.

Nutritional content and health benefits:

Celeriac is high in vitamin K, which is important for bone health and blood clotting. It’s also rich in other nutrients, like vitamin C and phosphorus. More info.

Beet the waste:
  • Keep it fresh by storing in a cool and damp place, like the veg crisper drawer in your fridge.
Our favourite recipes:

Carrot and celeriac remoulade (similar to coleslaw)

Celeriac oven chips

Root vegetable mash: Mash is a brilliant way to use up whatever root vegetables you have to hand. We like making it with 50% regular potato and 50% more strongly-flavoured vegetables, such as celeriac, turnips, swedes and Jerusalem artichoke. It also works well with some parsnips and carrots… experiment and see what you like most!

To make, steam or boil the veg (steaming is preferable as boiling causes some nutrients to leach out into the water), then mash with either olive oil, butter, margarine or coconut cream and flavour with salt, pepper and if you’re feeling bold, some crushed garlic…


Fennel


Nutritional content and health benefits:

Fennel roots and seeds contain plenty of fibre, potassium, calcium and magnesium, all of which play important roles in heart health. Fennel has also been shown to have antibacterial properties and may help to reduce inflammation and relieve menopausal symptoms. More info here.

Beet the waste:
  • Store fennel in the fridge, and remove fronds (leaves) to keep them fresher for longer.
  • Save the fronds to make pesto. Recipe.
Our favourite recipes:

Fennel has an aniseed-like flavour when raw, which mellows off when it’s cooked. Slice it thinly through a salad like this courgette, fennel and kohlrabi salad from Riverford Veg, or make braised fennel – by frying it slowly for 30 or so minutes with olive oil, garlic and seasoning it with lemon juice, salt and pepper and dill.


Turnip


Turnips grow throughout the year. Summer turnips are sweet and peppery (a bit like a radish), while winter turnips have a stronger peppery flavour.

Nutritional content and health benefits:

Both turnip root and turnip leaves/greens are high in vitamin C, and the greens are also rich in vitamin K, provitamin A and folate. More info here.

Beet the waste:
  • Keep turnips fresh by storing them in the fridge.
  • If they have leaves, remove them as these will draw moisture out of the turnip.
  • Save the leaves – these can be eaten raw or cooked. Leaves taste peppery and slightly bitter, with young (small) plants having a milder flavour. Try adding them to soups, stir fries and omelettes.
Our favourite recipes:

Salads: Grating turnips into a salad is a quick and tasty way to add some fresh veg to your plate in winter. Finely grate them along with carrot, beetroot, apple and cabbage. Season with salt, pepper, sultanas, olive oil, vinegar/lemon, mustard and nutritional yeast (high in B vitamins). For extra protein, toast walnuts, sunflower or sesame seeds in a frying pan and add to the salad. 

Braised turnips with dried fruit: Chop turnip and fry it slowly in olive oil, garlic, a splash of soy sauce and some dried fruits (e.g. sultanas or raisins) to remove the bitterness and add sweetness.

Also works well in root veg mash (see the section on celeriac).


Swede


Swede is quite possibly the nation’s least favourite vegetable, but it can be surprisingly tasty when you know what to do with it.

Nutritional content and health benefits:

Swedes are an excellent source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants such as vitamins E and C. In fact, one medium swede (386 grams) contains more than 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. More info here.

Our favourite recipes:
  • Swedes will keep best when stored in the fridge.
  • The skin of younger/smaller swedes can be eaten. For bigger swedes, peel them and put the peel in your compost or food recycling bin.
Recipes:

Try it in root veg mash (see section on celeriac) or make this cheesy swede, leek and apple bake or baked Christmas gratin (see tutorial below).


Jerusalem Artichoke


Jerusalem artichokes are a perennial sunflower, meaning they will grow back year on year. They grow very well in the UK and produce tubers like potatoes that have a delicious nutty flavour.

Nutritional content and health benefits:

Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron, potassium and vitamin B1, which are beneficial for muscles and nerves.

Beet the waste:
  • They are very knobbly and difficult to peel, so save time and food by eating the skins. Soak in water to loosen the mud, then scrub clean.
  • They like to be stored in a cool place with high humidity, like the vegetable crisper in the fridge.
Our favourite recipes:

Jerusalem artichoke and leek soup

Roasted Jerusalem artichokes with mushrooms, lemon and rosemary

They also add a fantastic flavour to root veg mash (see section on celeriac).


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