Cowgirl Chef: Winter produce to try now

01/14/2014 10:35 AM

01/15/2014 6:18 PM

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.

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