We’re right in the middle of the Holiday Season and this month’s seasonal foods remind me of some of my favorite Christmas delights – tricolore salad, persimmon and pomegranate salad, chestnuts roasting on an open fire… I hope you too can find ways to integrate these wonderful foods into your holiday routine!
Asian Pears: Different from regular-variety pears, Asian pears have a crisp texture and can have a variety of different flavors ranging from honey-sweet to sparkly-citrus. Like all pears, Asian pears are high in fiber and potassium. Make sure to eat the skin as it contains four times the phytonutrients as the meat. While they feel hard as rocks, they actually bruise quite easily, so handle them carefully and store them in the refrigerator. They can be enjoyed both cooked and raw.
Chestnuts: Harvested from October through March, December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts. They are quite different from other nuts in that they are high in starch, much like potatoes or corn. They contain high amounts of minerals and fiber and are a good source of folates. Choose nuts that are smooth, glossy, free of blemishes, and feel heavy for their size. Avoid nuts that shake in their shell as this means they are drying out. Fresh chestnuts dry out easily, so keep them in the refrigerator.
Endive: While endive is available all year, its peak is in the winter months, when other greens are not as available. Use it chopped up in salads, or whole leaves served with dip. Look for endive heads that are crisp and bright green. If choosing Belgian endive, select heads with tips that have a pale, yellow-green color. Store in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Fennel: Fennel has a crunchy, sweet taste and is common in Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a great source of both vitamin C and fiber. Look for fennel with bright white bulbs and no discolorations or soft spots. While many producers trim the stalks, finding fennel with long branches and fresh looking greens ensures freshness. Keep it stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator and enjoy it raw, roasted, or sautéed.
Kale: While kale is available throughout the year, its peak season is during the winter through early spring. As a cruciferous vegetable, kale provides many of the same cancer-fighting nutrients as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves and moist, thick stems. Select kale with smaller-sized leaves as they will be more tender with a milder flavor. Store kale in a bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The longer kale is stored, the more bitter its flavor becomes. Kale is best served cooked since the heat breaks down some of the fiber and makes it easier to digest than raw kale.
Persimmons: Persimmons are a good source of antioxidants and are also high in catechins with anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic compounds. Choose persimmons that have deep, saturated colors. Many people claim that persimmons with a little streak of black on their skin are especially sweet. They will continue to ripen after harvesting, so try to buy them slightly underripe and allow them to finish ripening at home. Store persimmons at room temperature, as the refrigerator will cause chill damage and they will lose flavor.
Pomegranate: Pomegranates have become popular for their juice, as it contains high amounts of antioxidants and provides cardiovascular benefit. The fruit tends to be enjoyed less often as it takes a bit of time to separate the seeds from the rind. I find simply patting the rind with a wooden spoon pops the seeds right out, and their unique taste makes the extra effort worth it. Like most fruits, you’ll want to select pomegranates that feel heavy for their size as they will be the juiciest. Look for a deep color, though the particular shade isn’t important. Pomegranates should be kept refrigerated either whole or seeded. Seeds can also be frozen in a tightly sealed bag.
Radicchio: A bitter, leafy vegetable, radicchio adds a complex flavor to winter salads. The flavonoids that give radicchio its color are known to support eye health and the bitter principle in the leaf is a potent anti-malarial agent and has a painkiller effect. Look for firm, even hard, heads with vivid colors. If there are signs of darkening, it’s probably not fresh. Store radicchio in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and add it to salads or use it to serve dips as an appetizer.