When picking veg, there's a reason for the seasons
Vegetables always taste best when you eat them at the right time of year, says Rozanne Stevens
I kind of miss the days when most fruits and vegetables were only available in season. Looking forward to the first asparagus, juicy strawberry or pear of the season made you enjoy them even more. Besides the enjoyment of delayed gratification, there are some really good reasons to try and eat produce which is in season.
Fruits and vegetables that are local and in season are of much better quality and flavour. They are probably grown closer to home and have been allowed to ripen better. So, for example, the local Irish strawberries that you have in the height of summer will always be far superior to the gorgeous looking but insipid tasting imported strawberries you get in January. As they don't have to be transported far, farmers often choose juicier, softer varieties for the local market as they don't have to be as hard wearing to endure a long journey.
Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges and limes and exotic will never be grown in Ireland, so I make peace with those that they'll have to travel. But buying blueberries, for example, out of season that have to travel half way across the world is just thoughtless.
These are some of my favourite foods that are in season right now. Some of them may seem ordinary, but they pack a powerful nutritional punch. So stock up, chop up and tuck in.
Bramley apples are very tart and sour, so not good as an eating apple. But they make one of the best cooking apples off crumbles, desserts and as a compote with porridge.
Apples are rich in pectin, a form or fibre, which binds with cholesterol and toxins in the gut and aids their excretion. Pectin is also essential for setting jams, so a peeled and chopped apple added to tricky-make-jams will help them set naturally. Apples are high in an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin, which helps ease allergic and inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis.
Baked Spiced Apples
* 50g butter
* 1tbsp raisins
* 1tsp brown sugar
* 1tbsp flaked almonds
* 1tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
* 2 cooking apples, peeled and cored
* Low fat yoghurt, to serve
* Preheat the overnight to 180'C.
* Combine all the ingredients, except the apples, in a bowl.
* Divide the mixture in half and stuff into the hollow core of each apple.
* Wrap in foil and bake for 20 minutes until soft.
* Serve with low fat yoghurt.
The whole cabbage family contain high levels of glucosinolates, natural plant chemicals which block cancer causing substances, stimulate detoxifying, repair enzymes and suppress cancer cell division. Quite a mouthful! Simply put, Cruciferous vegetables are considered one of the most important plant foods for cancer prevention. Cabbage also contains vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting and healing of skin cell membranes and wounds. The plant sterols and fibre in cabbage effectively lower cholesterol. Packed with B vitamins to support our nervous systems in times of stress and improve energy levels. Other good things such as vitamin C and zinc help support out immune systems in cold and flu season.
Five Spice Stir Fried Cabbage
Serves 4 as a side
* 1/2 small head of white cabbage or sweetheart cabbage, finely shredded
* 2tbsp sunflower oil
* 2tsp Chinese 5 Spice
* Salt and pepper
* Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok.
* Add in the shredded cabbage and pour in 1/2 cup of water. Allow to bubble up and evaporate, stir frying all the time.
* Season with the Chinese 5 spice, salt and pepper.
The humble carrot is still one of the healthiest foods around. One of the richest sources of beta carotene, which is converted by the body into antioxidant vitamin A. Vitamin A helps strengthen the cells against viruses – especially the mucous membranes of the lungs – so is useful for asthmatics and during cold and flu season. Raw carrot sticks have long been seen as a 'diet food' but there is solid scientific evidence that shows that munching of them works! The chromium in carrots helps to stabilise blood sugar levels which will prevent carvings and also help manage Type 2 diabetes.
The humble cauliflower is making a bit of a stir on the culinary scene, and not just smothered in a cheese sauce!
Thought to originate in China, cauliflower is also one of the superfood Cruciferous vegetables. Natural plant chemicals called glucosinolates help prevent cancer, specifically of the lung, breast, stomach and colon.
An excellent source of B vitamins, including folate, which is essential for reproductive health and during pregnancy.
Also known as Belgian endive, contains bitter elements which stimulates the functioning of the digestive system and detoxifies the liver. Rich is beta carotene – which is converted to vitamin A – an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and has powerful antiviral properties.
I love leeks for the versatile sweet onion flavour that they give to dishes. It's one of the vegetables that you can see change with the seasons. At it's best, like now, leeks are slimmer, tender and sweet. And not to mention far cheaper in season!
A member of the onion family, along with garlic, leeks are a prebiotic food. Meaning that they contain carbohydrates that the friendly bacteria in your digestive system need to thrive and stay in balance.
Cooking doesn't destroy the benefits and actually makes it easier to digest. Onion is thought to suppress the helicobacter pylori bacterium, which causes stomach ulcers and food poisoning. It also helps lower cholesterol, thin the blood and prevent clots.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
I can't really write enough about broccoli, it is one of the healthiest foods on the planet! And at this time of year, we have a treat of purple sprouting broccoli which will liven up any plate.
Broccoli is a powerhouse of vitamin C, which is crucial for the immune system and is also a powerful anti ageing antioxidant to fight wrinkles. Aim for two servings a week of broccoli to get the most cancer protection benefits.
One of the highlights of Spring for me are the delights of fresh rhubarb, one of my favourite sweet and savoury ingredients.
Used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, this relative of the dock is a powerful disease fighter. Rhubarb contains anti bacterial chemicals and vitamin C which help fight off infection.
Scientists are aware of rhubarb's anti cancer properties, which are proving to be more powerful that previously understood.
Rhubarb is very fibrous which is helpful is lowering high blood cholesterol and preventing heart disease.
Sweet potatoes are super versatile and super nutritious. An excellent source of vitamin C for immune health and anti ageing.
The orange colour comes from the beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A which has anti viral, anti cancer and antioxidant properties. More about anti ageing, sweet potatoes contagion loads of vitamin E, which helps repair and protect the skin.
Recipe: Citrusy Fresh Carrot Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish
* 30g sunflower seeds
* 30g flaked almonds
* 4 medium carrots
* 2 oranges
* 2 ruby grapefruits
* 2 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 30g roasted cashew nuts
* micro leaves or fresh coriander, to garnish
* 1 small red chilli, sliced
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* 2 tbsp avocado oil
* salt and freshly ground black pepper
* Lightly toast the sunflower seeds and almond flakes in a clean, dry pan. Set aside to cool.
* Peel and grate the carrots using a food processor or a box grater – choose the coarse grater attachment.
* Peel the oranges and grapefruit and remove all the white pith. Either slice them up and flick out the pips, or segment the fruit by carefully cutting out each segment and discarding the rest.
* Halve the avocados, pop out the stone and gently peel off the skin and discard it. Slice them up and coat generously with lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Season with salt and pepper.
* Just mix together all ingredients with the dressing.
* Garnish with the toasted nuts and seeds and coriander.
Ish Factor: Avocado oil is a lovely alternative to use in dressings when you don't want the unique, pungent taste of olive oil, the nutty taste of a rapeseed oil or a neutral oil like sunflower oil.
The refined avocado oils are ideal for cooking and barbecuing, as they can reach very high temperatures before burning (known as the smoke point).
Buy dark glass bottles to preserve the oil's freshness and store in a cool, dark place.
Recipes take from Delish and Relish Cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For book orders or to book a healthy cooking class log onto www.rozannestevens.com
Health & Living