We’re getting into the leanest months of the year. In most of the United States, the snow and cold during January and February make it difficult to grow food and we’re left with hearty roots that can withstand months of storage or foods imported from warmer climates. In California we’re lucky to enjoy fresh produce all year long. Here are some of my January favorites:
Almonds: Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. They also contain copious amounts of calming minerals, like magnesium. Look for almonds that are plump and uniform in color. Store them in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator and soak before eating.
Beans: While beans tend to be harvested in the summer and fall, they are then dried and available for use all year long. Beans are a great source of fiber and a nice plant source of protein. Look for dried beans that are whole, uniform in color, and free of moisture. Beans in individual packages will maintain their freshness over those sold in bulk bins. If purchasing from a bulk bin, make sure freshness is maintained through tightly sealed bins and frequent turnover.
Broccoli: Research studies on broccoli have found it to be highly related to cancer prevention by way of addressing chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate detoxification. Very high in vitamin C and K, broccoli can support the immune system and improve vitamin D metabolism. Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised with uniform color. Store in the refrigerator and wash just before use. Broccoli can be enjoyed raw, steamed, roasted, or boiled.
Cabbage: Like broccoli, cabbage is a member of the cruciferous family and provides cancer protective nutrients. Cabbage has also been shown to provide cholesterol-lowering benefits. Cabbage can be eaten raw, though it may be difficult to digest for some. Macerating with vinegar dressing or a simply braising the cabbage will make it easier to eat. Look for cabbage heads that are firm with crisp, colorful leaves. Cabbage should be kept cold in order to retain its vitamin C content. It should keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.
Carrots: While the typical carrot season is summer and fall, carrots are easy to find during the winter months in warmer weather climates, like California. Like all bright orange vegetables, carrots are a great source of beta-carotene and other antioxidants. Look for brightly colored carrots that still have their leafy green tops as these are the freshest. Remove the green tops before storing them in the fridge as the greens will pull moisture from the root.
Garlic: Garlic is one of my favorite immune-supportive foods. Look for garlic heads that are firm, with no nicks or soft cloves and are also free of dark, powdery mold. Store unpeeled garlic in a cool, dry place – don’t refrigerate or freeze. Garlic should keep up to three months. If you notice green sprouts growing from your garlic, simply discard them before using as they can be quite bitter. You can also plant these sprouted garlic cloves and grow them to about 6 inches to use like chives in salads. If you find your garlic sticky and difficult to peel, that means it’s fresh! Garlic shrivels as it matures and becomes easier to peel.
Onions: Due to their unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, researchers recommend including a serving of an allium vegetable (onions, garlic, shallots, scallions) in your diet every day. Choose onions that are clean, well shaped, and have crisp outer skins. They should be stored at room temperature and can keep for a month or more. When preparing onions, be sure to keep as much of the outer layers as possible as the flavonoids tend to be more concentrated in the outer layers of the flesh.
Spinach: Spinach is often considered one of the healthiest vegetables due to its nutrient richness. Very high in vitamins K and A, manganese, folate, magnesium, and iron, spinach may protect agains inflammatory problems, oxidative stress-related problems, cardiovascular problems, and cancers. Look for spinach with vibrant green leaves that are tender. Store spinach in the refrigerator and wash just before use.