It’s been a year now that I’ve been sharing my favorite seasonal foods each month and, I must say, it’s been an enlightening exercise for me! I’ve enjoyed being confidently in touch with which foods are fresh and in season, and which foods are better reserved for another time. I’ve also discovered that (in California) many foods are available all year long. In the interest of highlighting new foods each month, I have to admit that February is rather sparse. Many of these foods are available all year long, and many of the December and January selections are still in their prime.
Beets: Like all brightly colored produce, beets contain large amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Look for firm, unblemished, and brightly colored beets with fresh-looking stems. Avoid those with “hairy” taproots as this indicates age and toughness. Remove the greens before storing as they can steal moisture from the root. Since beneficial nutrients are destroyed through heat, beets are best when lightly steamed.
Dungeness Crab: In the San Francisco Bay Area, crab season begins the second Tuesday of November and runs through June, though 80% of Bay Area Dungeness is brought in by the end of the year. Aside from being a seasonal treat, crab is a very lean source of protein and is high in vitamin B6 and magnesium. Look for crab that feels heavy, as it typically contains more water and is fresher.
Green Garlic: In very early spring, garlic that is harvested before it is mature is called “green garlic.” The season is very short, only a couple of weeks, so start looking for this unique treat now. Green garlic looks like miniature scallions, with a small white base and dark green stalks. Like regular garlic, green garlic contains the same immune-boosting properties as the mature bulb.
Kumquats: Kumquats are tiny little citrus fruits, about the size of a grape. While they have a similar nutritional profile to that of an orange, the difference is that you eat the peel of the kumquat, which is full of essential oils and antioxidants. They are a tangy addition to winter salads, or a fun fruit to snack on.
Leeks: A member of the allium family, leeks contain cardiovascular and immune-supportive nutrients just like onions and garlic. Look for leeks with straight stems and bright green stalks. Overly large leeks tend to be more fibrous, so look for bulbs that are 1.5 inches in diameter or less. Leeks have a milder flavor than onions, and can be substituted for onions in many recipes giving the dish a more subtle flavor.
Lettuce: In California, lettuce is available throughout the year. While many of us disregard lettuce as simply a base for salad because of its low calorie content, it actually contains a good amount of nutrition. Lettuce is very high in vitamins A and K, which are best absorbed when paired with fats (like salad dressing). Look for lettuce that is crisp and green, without any wilting or discoloration. Wash are dry lettuce leaves before storing and they will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.
Mushrooms: Mushrooms are known for their powerful immune-supportive nutrients. Select mushrooms that are firm and evenly colored. Avoid those that are dry, wrinkly, or slimy. Store mushrooms in a breathable container in the fridge (remove from plastic wrap). Mushrooms are best when simply wiped with a damp cloth. Avoid soaking them in water as this will make them mushy.
Radishes: Along with cabbage, radishes are a member of the brassica family and are known to contain nutrients that protect against certain cancers. Choose radishes with bright, fresh looking leaves and be sure to remove them before storage. Give the root a gentle squeeze to be sure it’s not hollow or mushy.