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Beating the winter blues

When my family joined a community-supported agriculture program for the first time this past summer, I learned that we were capable of being truly prolific vegetable eaters.

We just needed the vegetables to make their way into our kitchens first.

Now that I’m no longer picking up a weekly farm box, it’s a lot easier to fall off the wagon and turn to less wholesome things to fill out our weekly menu.

Even though I know just how good they can be, winter root vegetables, with their dusty, dirty skins and peels, don’t have the same built-in marketing program as the bright red tomatoes, plump berries and colorful peppers of summer.

While summer vegetables practically throw themselves into my grocery cart or market bag, I’ll admit that I have to use a little extra willpower to bring home a big crop of winter produce.

Once carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, parsnips, turnips and their winter cousins are in my kitchen, though, I’m reminded of how rewarding they can be.

You can buy winter vegetables with impunity. They tolerate sitting in storage for weeks, sometimes months. They’re not going to come home looking all pretty just to sprout white clumps of mold the next morning (I’m looking at you, raspberries.)

This is good for folks who are considering trying something new when they see a vegetable at the store, but know they have a few lunch breaks’ worth of recipe-searching ahead of them before they will have an action plan.

Once you begin working with things like carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash and the like, you’ll discover that they can add just as much color to your dinner table as their summer counterparts (Hello, beets!). It’s just that the beauty takes a little more coaxing.

When in doubt, a never-fail plan is to just start right in with peeling, chopping and pre-heating your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the chopped vegetables with oil, salt, pepper and whatever else you like, and leave them to the heat for about a half hour, or until they are fully cooked. If you can do this in the bottom of a roasting pan that also contains a whole chicken, so much the better.

To make a simple but beautiful soup that will leave you feeling satisfied and virtuous, toss your roasted vegetables into a pot with a little chicken or vegetable stock. Puree with an immersion blender or mix up in batches in a regular blender, adding more stock as needed to get the texture you like.

For a little less rustic (but still simple and easy) treatment, give this recipe for a carrot and parsnip side dish a go. It’s really just a stir-fry. We enjoyed it alongside some roasted salmon and rice. The bright orange carrots brought sunny summer sunsets to mind, and were a nice visual change from our usual standby of sauteed spinach.

In the weeks that remain before food magazines fill up with green pea purees and chard frittatas, be sure to spend some time with these cold-weather favorites. They’ll keep you warm and healthy until you can get out your tank tops and flip-flops again.

Carrot-Parsnip Stir-Fry

Serves 4 as a side

4 carrots

1 parsnip

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on taste

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Wash and peel carrots and parsnip. Cut each into thick matchsticks.

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger. Stir for about 30 seconds, then add vegetables. Stir (tongs work best) until all vegetables are coated with oil. Let cook 2 to 3 minutes, until they begin to soften.

Add soy sauce, sugar and vinegar and stir to mix all ingredients. Cook until soy sauce mixture thickens slightly to glaze the carrots and parsnips. Vegetables should be soft, but retain a bit of crunch. 

With the heat off, drizzle over the sesame oil and sprinkle on seeds. mix and serve immediately.