Cooking dishes that use seasonal ingredients is like buying a scarf in the winter. It makes sense. Buying in season is advantageous for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the level of vitamins and minerals starts to decrease in fruit and vegetables as soon as they are harvested, if they are grown locally, the less time it takes for them to end up on your plate, and hence the higher the nutritional level.
Secondly, pollution. A legume that has been sunbathing on the continent will have clocked up a substantial number of air miles during its round the world voyage. Knowing that one of your five-a-day has contributed to the clogging up of the atmosphere makes it seem a little less healthy. Thirdly, seasonal food is cheaper. Buying food which is out of season is more expensive because the consumer has to pay for its travel and storage. Here’s a guide to what’s in season now:
Leeks- A close relation to the onion, but with a much sweeter taste, leeks are versatile and can be used in a number of dishes, such as stews and pies. They can also be made into vegetable side dishes, such as Leek Gratin.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli – The long, leafy stalks of purple sprouting broccoli are as delicious as the purple heads. Delicious steamed and served with melted butter, or added to a stir fry.
Oranges – Marmalade is made using Seville or Malaga oranges, both of which have a surprisingly short season. But if you’re not feeling adventurous enough to venture into the realms of the preserve, use segments of oranges in salad with beetroot, cashew nuts and chicken.
Rhubarb (forced)- The beautiful pink stalks can be used in compotes and crumbles. They taste especially delicious when combined with flavours such as orange, plum and vanilla. They do require sugar though to counteract their surprising acidity. Serve with dollops of natural yoghurt or ice cream. But, do not eat rhubarb raw as it is poisonous when uncooked!
Wild Nettles – When cooked, nettles wilt down and taste very similar to spinach. Foraging for nettles is a free and healthy option. Pick only the most tender tips of the nettle (wear gloves for this bit). When cooked, the tiny hairs on the nettle (which is what stings) dissolves, so there won’t be any problem with stinging whilst your eating. Blend with chicken or vegetable stock, and some cooked potatoes for bulk, to make a fabulous soup. Serve with crusty bread and a swirl of cream.
Potatoes – Everyone knows hundreds of recipes for cooking potatoes, but here’s another one to add to your repertoire. Parboil potatoes, with skins on or off according to preference. When tender, drain and chop into chunks. Liberally douse with olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika and roast at 220C until crispy and golden (about 40 minutes).