To be sure you are only buying food from sustainable sources you should shop at your local farmer’s market or search online to see what is in season in your area. Although imported products may at times seem more exotic and exciting than your local market’s December harvest, with the right preparation you can transform your locally sourced ingredients into a huge variety of delicious and nutritious environmentally-friendly meals! Here are a few examples of what’s in season this month in Western Europe:
No, you don’t have to endure a cabbage soup diet to reap the benefits of this vegetable! Cabbage is hugely versatile and can be prepared in many different ways to suit every palate. Whether it’s shredded raw into a salad, roasted in chunks in the oven, chopped and sautéed until soft or pickled, the nutritional profile of this food makes it well worth your while. Cabbage belongs to the Brassica genus of cruciferous vegetables which also includes kale, cauliflower and broccoli. There are a few different varieties of cabbage, each low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Including cabbage in your recipes means adding vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and fibre without significantly increasing the calorie content, making it the ideal vegetable to bulk up your meals.
Kale, another member of the Brassica family, is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet! It is rich in many vitamins, particularly in vitamin K and vitamin C, a range of minerals including calcium and magnesium and antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Despite being very low in calories, a cup of raw kale contains around 3 grams of protein! As well as fibre, kale also contains linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Not only is kale hugely nutritious, it is also believed to help prevent disease due to its cholesterol-lowering and possible cancer-fighting properties. Although kale is already a popular superfood and is often used in salads and juices, there are many more winter-friendly ways to add kale to your meals. Sautéed with olive oil and garlic, stirred into stews and soups, blended into sauces and pestos and roasted into crisps are easy ways to enjoy kale in the colder weather.
Beetroots are a delicious, brightly coloured root vegetable loaded with vitamins and minerals as well as inorganic nitrates and pigments which have many positive effects on the body. Nitrates lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and may increase blood flow to the brain, which could reduce the risk of dementia and help maintain mental and cognitive function. Freshly pressed beetroot juice is an easy way to add beetroot to your diet, and it adds a delicious flavour to mixed fruit and vegetable juices. Roasted beetroot makes for a simple and tasty side dish while raw grated beetroot or pickled beetroot slices can be added to salads for an earthy flavour and vibrant colour. You could also blend beetroot with beans or pulses to make a dip, or with other vegetables to make a soup. Pureed beetroot can even add a surprisingly pleasant flavour and texture to chocolate cakes and brownies! If you buy whole beetroots with their leaves, make sure you keep the leaves and cook them like kale or spinach, or add them to smoothies for an extra boost of nutrition.
Carrots are another versatile root vegetable that are low in fat but high in beta-carotene, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin K. They also contain powerful plant compounds, such as carotenoids, which are believed to promote immune function and reduce the risk of disease. The low glycemic-index of carrots means they do not cause spikes in your blood sugar levels, which is believed to reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity as well as help you feel fuller for longer.
Raw carrots are the perfect snack when chopped into sticks and served with a healthy dip, and in the colder weather they make the perfect ingredient for soups, stews and roast dinners. You could even add grated carrot, cinnamon and a natural sweetener to your porridge for a healthy carrot-cake style breakfast.
The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor a way” doesn’t exist without reason! As well as fibre and vitamin C, apples contain polyphenols which have a wide range of health benefits. The fibre in raw apples makes them a filling snack, especially when paired with some nut butter. The soluble fibre in apples is thought to help lower blood cholesterol levels while the polyphenols are believed to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Apples also contain a type of fibre that promotes the development of probiotics, keeping your gut healthy and potentially reducing your risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases.
For a quick and healthy apple crumble, chop a few apples (keep the skin on for maximum health benefits!) and mix with some cinnamon and the juice of a lemon before placing in a baking dish, topping with a mixture of whole rolled oats, ground almonds, a tablespoon of melted coconut oil and more cinnamon and then baking until the apples are soft and the topping is lightly browned. You could either serve the crumble warm with custard for a warming winter dessert or top it with yoghurt for a perfectly balanced breakfast.
By experimenting with different cooking techniques and flavour combinations you will never get bored of the ingredients grown in your local area and you can be sure that you are supporting local businesses, helping preserve the environment and also benefiting your health. The nourishing ingredients that grow in December feature in many traditional festive recipes and comforting winter meals, making them the perfect items to have on your grocery list at this time of year!