You’ve probably often heard that you should eat “seasonally,” or include foods in your diet that are grown at the same time of the year you eat them. Eating seasonally is important for many reasons. Apart from the many health benefits it carries it’s also healthier for our planet. And, you may find that it is healthier for your wallet too! Here are some of them.
Here are some helpful tips for eating seasonally:
|VEGETABLES & PULSES||ROOT VEGETABLES||FRUIT||MEAT & FISH||HERBS & CONDIMENTS|
cruciferous veg – broccoli, cabbage, kale, red cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
purple sprouting broccolispinach
damsons and plums
Radishes – have remained unchanged and used in cooking since ancient history. Cultivation in different areas produced red, black and white varieties, known as daikon or mooli, but they all have a similar, if subtly different taste. Used in salads, the more unusual types add an interesting variation on the traditional British salad that many associate with the radish. Despite this old-fashioned reputation, radishes have a lovely sharp, peppery taste and a good crunch that perks up any salad and they also have fantastic effects on the thyroid, normalising either high or low levels of thyroid hormones.
Vegetables from the Brassica family, broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower are naturally in season in April. Although we see this produce available all year round, it will be most nutritious and flavoursome at this time of year and the furthest away from the overcooked, wilted school versions as possible. Try purple sprouting broccoli for a variation and steam them, add feta cheese and green beans for a truly delicious salad.
Spinach – is now in season and although we may have become used to buying it packed in sealed bags, this is no substitute for the fresh leaves, signifying the full arrival of Spring; salad bags use Modified Atmosphere Packaging which uses reduced oxygen levels to slow the rate the salad decomposes, after it has been ‘washed’ in a chlorine solution. So fresh is always best and spinach is so easy to add raw to salads or quickly steam to cook, that it really doesn’t need any more ‘convenience’ added.
Radishes – once the only splash of bright colour in a dull English salad, they tend to be overlooked these days, due to this association and the abundance of more exotic salad produce in our shops. They are very tasty eaten on their own as a snack; crunchy and clean tasting. Their piquant taste can really perk up a salad and it is this very quality that makes them a keen digestive aid too.
Watercress – sharp, peppery watercress has just come into its own and makes a really good alternative salad base to lettuce. By weight it contains as much Vitamin C as oranges, morecalcium than milk, and more iron than spinach, as well as being packed with beta carotene, which can help to prevent you from UV damage. It is a member of the cruciferous family which also contains broccoli and cabbage and it offers the same cancer preventing chemicals as these superfoods. Just added to a sandwich or as a garnish can add a bit of spice and a lot of benefit to any meal.
Lettuce – to add to the salad theme, this is of course the time when lettuces come into their own in all shapes and sizes. The lettuce actually supplies more goodness than many people imagine; it is a good source of soluble fibre and so cleans out the bowel, has good levels of essential trace minerals, especially if grown organically. To keep them fresh, chop off the stem, tear into small pieces, wash (preferably with a salad spinner or shake until nearly dry) and put into a flat bowl with a tea towel over the top. If kept in the fridge, the lettuce should then stay fresh for up to a week.
Blackcurrants, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, redcurrants and strawberries – although we can now buy these fruits most of the year round, the imported or greenhouse versions have nothing on the full, intense flavour of those grown outdoors, in the time that this should naturally occur. Plants produce flowers, fruits or vegetables when the conditions of heat, light, mineral composition and acidity of soil are all correct. Our association with high summer and summer fruits is no coincidence; take advantage of this and visit farms and farmers’ markets to find the most delicious and natural fruits of the English countryside.
Garlic – naturally grown garlic is in season now and more of it than you think is grown in the UK. It can be sought out at farmer’s markets and health shops – you can even try the non-dried variety and cook it like any other member of the allium family, like onions or leeks. Different garlic varieties have different tastes, so experiment, some are less aggressive eaten raw for dressings (chopped) and the larger cloves are good to roast with vegetables whole. Raw retains more of the active chemical, but cooked still has beneficial properties – try to eat both ways, there is no substitute for the real thing.
French beans – these are around briefly during July and August when grown naturally and this really makes a difference to taste. The naturally non-uniform and curly varieties are much more interesting than the soldier-straight non-organic versions. They are best lightly steamed and great to add to the perfect summer Salade Nicoise. They are also a good way to eat legumes if you find other beans and pulses difficult to digest; green beans cause less wind as they have grown more than a bean like the pinto, from which baked beans are made. This is because the carbohydrates that are so difficult to digest are broken down as they grow.
Courgettes – fully grown courgettes or zucchini are now appearing in vegetable patches; not just the green variety, but also vivid shades of yellow and even round speckled varieties that are excellent stuffed and baked. A courgette (or zucchini in the US and Italy) is essentially a small marrow and once you start looking, you can find summer squashes, “patty-pans” from the same family and even unusual shapes such as “scalloped buttons” of which the bright yellow variety are aptly named “Starburst”. Bake, roast and steam them, make ratatouille and soups, but also just try grating them raw and adding to a salad – adds real moistness and flavour.
Aubergine – the very beautiful vegetable aubergine (or eggplant to our North American cousins) is now in full bloom. It can be a mystery to many in the kitchen, but there are a variety of ways to cook it. The old necessity of salting before to remove bitterness has been removed by new varieties available. A little steaming is the quickest way to cook them, but also consider making dips with sesame seeds, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil or coating in egg and couscous before frying. Also look out for less common varieties like the white versions in the shape of an egg – hence the origin of the North American name.
Basil – is in season now and as this most fragrant herb has permeated much of our cooking habits, we should take advantage of its height of flavour now. There are two types of basil, sweet basil and holy basil; sweet is used traditionally in Mediterranean cooking and holy in Asian and Thai cuisine. As these have become phenomenally popular our demand for both types varieties has grown. In particular tomatoes, garlic, aubergines and courgettes are perfectly married with the sweet, spicy flavour and the versatility and sheer deliciousness of home-made pesto is good all year round, with pasta, mashed potato and to make a beautiful salad dressing mixed with virgin olive oil. Stuffing a chicken breast with a generous pesto portion makes for a succulent meal and the very simple tricolour salad would be lost without basil leaves.
Sweetcorn – beautiful yellow sweetcorn is now in season and not often eaten enough anymore. The vivid bright colour comes from the high levels of lutein, a plant pigment that promotes clear vision by absorbing harmful UV rays and quenching the damaging free radicals that it causes in the retina, the light sensitive part of the eye – just imagine how much sunlight Sweetcorn is subjected to when ripening! As this is a fat-soluble nutrient it is advisable to eat it with some oil or fat to carry it into the body, so the age-old tradition of a small amount of organic butter is not such a bad idea here and also thoroughly delicious. Sweetcorn can be cut into small chunks for children to eat, but as it is quite tough to eat, recommend thorough chewing and expect to see some of it again!
Cabbage – with our unnatural selection of all available fruit and vegetables in the shops, it is difficult to see when produce should really be in season. It may surprise you to find, for instance, that cabbage is now in season – ready for winter to warm up roasts and hearty winter fare. But we also associate it with coleslaw and the epitome of summer picnics and buffets. There are so many possibilities of variations for coleslaw; instead of a heavy mayonnaise, try olive and lemon juice and it is particularly good with spices such as cumin and turmeric. Grated raw beetroot can be used as well as carrot and try adding raw seeds and nuts instead of the usual overly sweet dried fruit. Red cabbage makes a beautiful coleslaw and also highlights that contrary to many people’s beliefs, cabbage comes in many varieties; it is incredibly good for you, especially for clearing out the liver and bowel and can be steamed or stir-fried to get away from the old school dinner image.
Fennel – is in high season now and is a very underused vegetable in most kitchens. It has a beautifully pungent aniseed taste that people tend to either love or hate. All of the plant is used in various medicinal ways – the seeds can be added to salads and roasted vegetables and are used to make a tea that is extremely effective at calming the digestive tract and preventing wind. The root vegetable itself is a member of the same family as onions and garlic and is equally high in cleansing sulphur. It also has phytoestrogenic properties, which means it is good for balancing female hormones; this shouldn’t put men off though, because it is very healthy all-round. It is delicious sliced raw in salads and also good roasted or steamed.
Blackberries – September brings the beginnings of autumn and although many people find this disheartening, there are many things to look forward to. The start of the blackberry season is definitely one of them and donning toasty scarves, hats and gloves to go on country walks in crisp air completes this. We are continually singing the praises of berries in general; if you can combine collecting them with some healthy fresh air and autumn sunshine, then the benefits are doubled – if you live in a city, leave it at the weekend!
Onions – these should now come into our lives now in a way that helps to herald in the Autumn. As they are the basis for many soups, stews and traditional winter dishes, we now look forward to reacquainting ourselves with the smell of onions lightly frying (in olive oil please!) with garlic, to set the tone for healthy comfort food. Of course, summer hasn’t left us completely yet and the unpredictability in weather just highlights the versatility of onions. Good in salads, lightly roasted with feta cheese and rosemary or to give a piquant taste to any snack, their high sulphur content also helps to clean out the liver and improve circulation.
Damsons and plums – these add a dark, fruity look to the winter grocery shops and make us think of jams and stewed fruits. Damsons are less common than their bigger counterparts, plums and are packed with as much goodness from the bioflavonoid activity of their dark pigments. Stewed and added to porridge, they are the perfect antidote to the cold as we acclimatise to the darker mornings and season change. They don’t need as much sugar as you think, the naturally tart flavour is part of their appeal and cinnamon can be added to sweeten healthily.
Parsnips – are a mainstay of the British Roast Dinner and often the favourite part of the meal. Unfortunately this is often because they are roasted, which gives them a whopping score of 92 on the Glycaemic Index. This reflects the rush of sugar to the blood they provide (compared to glucose at 100) when cooked like this, which breaks down all the sugars, as with most root vegetables. The odd one won’t hurt when eaten with the heavy meat protein in a roast, but they are also better suited for suits, mash and in a bean stew.
Sprouts – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em – or do you? Sprouts are in season now and although for many they hold grim memories of grey, soggy, bitter overcooked balls at school dinners, these little packages can be a truly delicious accompaniment to a wintery meal. You may already look forward to their inclusion at Christmas dinner or you may need some persuasion that there are many new recipes out there and with light, respectful cooking they can be delicious. Look for recipes with chestnuts or bacon for a real winter warmer that brings out their true flavour and take advantage of their liver clearing properties as a brassicas vegetable like cabbage and broccoli.
Carrots – are in full bloom in January and unlike sprouts, generally we couldn’t love them more! This is unfortunately often due to their inherent sweetness; like all root vegetables, they are essential big sugar stores from which a plant can grow and the more you cook them, the more the sugars break down and the sweeter they become. Carrots contain fat-soluble carotenoids, nutrients that give them their colour like beta –carotene and these need some cooking (e.g. steaming) to be more absorbable. Cooking, however, tends to increase the Glycaemic Index of carrots by breaking the complex sugars into simple sugars which are readily converted into glucose. Carrots can also be grated though, which also breaks them down and oil is needed to carry those carotenoids into the body, so add some olive oil, which with lemon juice makes a perfect salad base. It might be cold, but remember to always include some raw veg in your diet.
Pears – are in season in January and seem to be a slightly ignored fruit these days. Pears actually come in about 5,000 varieties with various shapes and sizes. Each of these differs in sweetness and texture, and so can be used in different ways; like apples there are eating and cooking versions and both can be used similarly to their apple counterparts. The pear equivalent of cider is called perry, an alcoholic drink that has been enjoying a revival around the country in recent years. Like apples, pears are also high in the soluble fibre pectin, so help rid the body of toxins and the fibre hemicellulose, which clears potential carcinogens from the large intestine, helping to prevent colon cancer – “a pear a day…”.
Chicory – is now in season and is overlooked by many who consider it too bitter, although we have got used to it’s European red cousin raddichio. Chicory is high in the soluble fibre inulin, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Its bitter taste also enhances digestion much like the infamous Swedish Bitters. It can be eaten raw, chopped or whole leaves in salads or even in snack form for those who savour the bitterness (which can taste very cleansing). For the more sensitive, it makes a crisp, fresh addition to stir-fries where even the quick cooking makes it taste sweeter.
Leeks – lovely leeks are in season in February and still remain one of the favourite vegetables in the UK. As part of the onion family, they are very cleansing, containing high levels of sulphur, needed for the clearance of toxins from the liver and body cells. They provide a substance calledinulin, which helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Totally versatile, they make a fantastic simple soup, are good steamed, stirfried or roasted in olive oil or added to pies and stews.
Shallots – are in season in February and are often overlooked for their larger cousin, the onion. They are succulent little members of the same family and make a really refreshing alternative in cooking and are excellent roasted whole, with other vegetables and some feta added at the end. Like onions they are good sources of cleansing sulphur compounds.