Though summer is by far my favorite season, there is nothing quite as exciting for food-lovers as the fall harvest. This month, the markets will begin to glow with the deep oranges and greens of sweet potatoes, squash and Brussels sprouts. Buy up and freeze the last of any berries you find and begin adding some of these fall flavors to your meals.
Arugula: Arugula, also known as “rocket” (which is a better name, no?) is available early summer through early fall. It’s a versatile green that can be used in salads, stir-frys, pestos, and soups. Like most dark, leafy greens, arugula is a good source of iron as well as vitamins A, C, and K and ancient Romans actually considered arugula to be an aphrodisiac. Store arugula in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are one of fall’s first specialties. They are beautiful on the stalk, and delicious either sautéed or roasted. As a cruciferous vegetable, they provide support for breast health and optimal estrogen metabolism. Look for Brussels sprouts with firm, compact heads and clean ends. They shouldn’t be too big – sprouts bigger than 1 inch in diameter will taste too cabbagey.
Cauliflower: Another cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is an easy snack food and pairs well with dips. Choose cauliflower with compact, creamy white florets, and bright green leaves. Old cauliflower with have a yellow hue and tiny black mold spots. Trim the ends as they are too tough to eat and enjoy raw, blanched, steamed, or roasted. It’s white color and mild flavor make cauliflower a great substitute for mashed potatoes or rice.
Dates: Dates are one of the sweetest fruits in the world – and should be treated as such. Snacking on dates won’t benefit your blood sugar, but dates are great to use as a sweetener in baked goods, desserts, and blended drinks. Dates will be wrinkled, but they shouldn’t be hard. Look for dates that are soft, with an almost greasy skin. Avoid those that have turned white or have crystalized sugar on the skin.
Figs: As one of the most perishable fruits, figs should be eaten very quickly. Figs have the highest calcium content of any fruit and are also a good source of fiber. They can be eaten whole and raw as well as baked and dried. Select figs that are soft, but not mushy. Check the stems to make sure they are firmly in place, loose or soft stems mean the fruit is past its prime.
Pears: Pears are another classic symbol of fall. High in fiber and vitamins, they make a great snack and their boron content helps our bodies retain calcium, providing a link to osteoporosis prevention. Pears ripen best off the tree, so select pears that are still a little hard and allow them to ripen at home. Stand them up on their bottom in a paper bag and allow them to ripen over 2-3 days.
Rapini: The Italians brought rapini to the United States and both its long stems and thin leaves are edible. Another cruciferous vegetable, rapinin has the same cancer-fighting properties as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but with a milder taste.
Sweet Potatoes: Though a potato, sweet potatoes are actually quite low on the glycemic index and provide a rich source of antioxidants and carotenes. Select sweet potatoes that are firm and don’t have any cracks, bruises, or soft spots. Store them at room temperature as refrigeration negatively alters their flavor. The skin contains many valuable nutrients, so don’t peel them!