Cowgirl Chef: Winter produce to try now

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Fennel confit

Makes 4 to 8 side servings

• 2 bulbs of fennel

• Small handful of Kalamata olives, pitted

• 1/4 cup fresh orange juice

• Sea salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Slice off the core end and tops of the fennel bulbs, reserving the fronds for garnish. Slice each bulb into 1-inch-thick pieces and lay in a glass baking dish.

2. Scatter the olives all around and pour orange juice over fennel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 5 to 6 hours (or overnight at a slightly reduced temperature), or until the fennel pieces are completely soft. Serve warm or at room temperature as a side dish, or refrigerate and use later as a pizza topping, on a sandwich, in a grainy salad or tossed with pasta.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 53 calories, 1 gram fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, no cholesterol, 164 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 17 percent of calories from fat.

Tuna and quinoa salad with pomegranate

Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 side salads

• 1 cup quinoa

• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

• Big handful of cilantro

• Zest of 1 lime

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1/4 cup sherry vinegar

• 2 tablespoons lime juice

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• Sea salt and pepper

• About 1/2 cup olive oil

• 1 (5.64-ounce) can tuna in olive oil

• Handful of arugula

• 1/4 cup crushed pistachios

• 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

1. Cook quinoa: Put 2 cups water onto boil, then add quinoa and sea salt. Turn heat to low, cover and set timer for 10 minutes. Let the quinoa rest for 10 minutes before you fluff it up and let it cool completely.

2. While the quinoa’s cooking and cooling, make vinaigrette: Put cilantro, lime zest, garlic, sherry vinegar, lime juice, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper in a jam jar and give it a good shake. Let rest 10 minutes, then add olive oil and shake again. Taste for seasonings.

3. Put cooled quinoa in a large bowl along with tuna, arugula, pistachios and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with a few tablespoons vinaigrette and toss. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 2, using 1/4 cup vinaigrette: 651 calories, 27 grams fat, 69 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams protein, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 797 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 37 percent of calories from fat.

Golden beet and avocado salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

• 1 pound golden beets

• 1 avocado, chopped

• 1/4 cup almond slivers, toasted

• 1/4 cup feta, crumbled

• 3 to 4 large, fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

• E-Z French vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and wrap the beets in foil. Place them in the oven on a low rack and let bake for 1 to 2 hours, or until a knife easily slides into the flesh (baking time will vary according to the size of the beets). Let cool.

2. Chop the cooled beets into 1/2-inch cubes and put them into a bowl along with chopped avocado, almond slivers, feta crumbles and basil. Toss with a few tablespoons E-Z French vinaigrette, taste for seasonings, and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving, without vinaigrette, based on 4 servings: 191 calories, 15 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 170 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 64 percent of calories from fat.

E-Z French vinaigrette

Makes about 3/4 cup

• 1/4 cup sherry vinegar

• 1 shallot, finely chopped

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• Sea salt and pepper

• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, chives or whatever you’ve got on hand)

• 1/2 cup olive oil

Put sherry vinegar, minced shallot, mustard, a big pinch of salt and pepper, and herbs in a jam jar, and shake until combined. Let rest for about 10 minutes — this softens the intensity of the shallots’ flavor and allows the salt to dissolve — then add olive oil and shake again. Taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 162 calories, 18 grams fat, trace carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 98 percent of calories from fat.

Kiwi smoothie

Makes 1 (16-ounce) smoothie

• 1 kiwi, peeled

• 1 cup baby spinach

• Juice of 1 lime

• 1/2 cup almond milk

• 1 tablespoon flaxseed

• 1 cup chopped, frozen mango

Put everything in the blender and purée until well blended. Drink right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving (made with unsweetened almond milk): 231 calories, 5 grams fat, 47 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, no cholesterol, 124 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber, 19 percent of calories from fat.

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After the annual marathon of overeating that kicks off at Thanksgiving and continues through December, come January, I’m ready to push aside the cakes and cookies and eat healthy again. The tricky part is finding fresh fruits and veggies that inspire me to do this, which isn’t easy this time of year.

With mountains of citrus and roots, roots, roots everywhere you look, the choices at the grocery store seem limiting. But they’re really not. You just have to explore the produce aisles a little more, and be ready to try something new.

With this in mind, I set out to fill my basket with what I’ve overlooked in previous years, or simply not given much of a chance. Two fruits I’ve not eaten nearly enough of, ever, and are now in season and widely available are kiwi and pomegranate.

In the past, I made the mistake of trying to eat kiwi before it was completely ripe, and wrote it off as a tart, sour fruit not to be bothered with. But when I saw them on sale a few weeks ago, I decided to give them another chance — and enough time to become soft. I put them in yogurt, blended them in smoothies (see recipe) or ate them on their own. Then I found out kiwis have more vitamin C than oranges, and I bought some more. They just might be my favorite fruit right now.

I’m also loving pomegranate, the juicy, seedy red-skinned fruit from Iran, which is easier to eat than you might think. Yes, it’s a bit messy to get into, but if you simply score the outside flesh with your knife a few times all around its ridges and then break it open, a few raps with a wooden spoon will make the seeds fall right out. Pomegranate’s bright red color and crunchy, juicy bursts of sweetness add a fun note to just about anything — I’ve sprinkled the seeds on top of my morning oatmeal, added them to soups and salads, or eaten them by the heaping spoonful right out of the bowl. Sure, pomegranate is a powerful antioxidant and can help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, but the best part about eating it, for me, is that it’s bright and it’s fun.

As are golden beets, a beautiful alternative to red. I’ll admit I’ve been a bit lazy about making beets in the States because I got used to buying them already cooked, peels removed, and vacuum-packed in the grocery stores in Paris. I just didn’t want to bother. But I’m now back on the beet bandwagon. I bought a small bunch of golden ones, and because they weren’t much bigger than a Clementine, they didn’t take much more than an hour to roast. After they’re cooked and cooled, they’re great for all sorts of salads — with greens, grains or on their own. Plus, I love the cheery golden color.

Fennel isn’t something I grew up eating in Denton but I became familiar with it in France. I once dipped raw fennel into a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, loaded with freshly grated Parmesan, but I still wasn’t sure how I felt about this chewy, fibrous vegetable. Until recently, that is, when I was in Antwerp and was served fennel confit for lunch one afternoon. Slow-cooked for hours, fennel’s woody texture disappears. I loved it and vowed to try it at home. In my recipe for fennel confit, I use orange juice — and many hours at a low temperature — to transform fennel into something surprisingly elegant. Cooked this way, fennel’s sharp anise flavor melts into a background of gentle sweetness, and it works as a side dish for just about anything.

Suddenly the idea of eating healthier just got more interesting.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

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