With the colder weather comes the heartier, sturdier winter veggies. Things like kohlrabi, beets, and daikon radishes take the place of the more delicate summer squash, snap peas, and tomatoes. With each season there are some things that are much easier to figure out what to do with than others. This also comes from experience, of course. If you’re in your first season of ever eating beets, they can be a challenge to figure out. But, after a while, they’re a synch.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use some of winter’s finest, and a little bit about them.
Beets, while often deep red in color (perfect for staining your hands, so beware), can also be golden or striped in color. They are one of those veggies that need to be cut into to truly show off their beauty. Beets have a sweet, earthy flavor. They are fabulous with citrus, goat cheese, and pasta. They can be steamed, roasted, or sautéed, to name just a few great ways to cook them.
Some of my favorite ways to enjoy beets are as: Pickles, Twice Cooked Beets with Pomegranates and Goat Cheese, and in a Warm Beet Salad with Fruit and Nuts.
Daikon radishes have a more mild and sweet flavor than the smaller red radishes, which can really pack an awesome spicy punch. They are so versatile. I use them in everything from stir fry to soups to raw in a salad. They pair well with carrots, mild cheeses, and other root veggies. They’re a fabulous addition to Hearty Kale and White Bean Quesadillas and Broccoli and Goat Cheese Wraps, and the star of Radish and Feta Toasts.
Escarole is kinda like a sturdier lettuce. Almost like a cross between cabbage and romaine, with a hint of bitterness. It can be eaten raw or cooked, which is a bonus. It pairs well with eggs, beans, and lemons.
Fennel has a texture similar to celery, but has an anise or licorice flavor and is more pronounced when it’s raw. It’s great used as the boat in Tuna Boats, and in lots of great salads. Since I prefer it to be more subdued, I love it best when it’s cooked. I especially like it in Roasted Stone Fruit with Bulgur and Fennel (in the winter apples could be subbed for stone fruit), on Fennel Pizza, and in a super hearty Chicken Noodle Soup. Fennel pairs well with arugula, beans, and cheese.
Kale has a sweet green flavor. It’s not bitter and it’s super sturdy. It can be difficult to digest, but one way to counter that is to massage the kale prior to eating (seriously!). Kale pairs well with citrus, beans, and root veggies (especially potatoes). It can be prepared in so so many ways. It’s great raw and massaged in salads and blended up in smoothies, blitzed up into a pesto and served on Spicy Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes or Garlic and Herb Bread, cooked in Hearty White Bean and Kale Quesadillas, Potato Pancakes, or crisped up as Kale Chips.
Kohlrabi are cute little Yoda-looking veggies. They have a taste similar to a combination of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Kohlrabi pairs well with cheese (especially parmesan), dill, and vinegar. It’s great raw, in salads or with dip, I love it cooked in Kohlrabi Stew or steamed in Kohlrabi Stuffed with Cabbage and Apples.
Leeks are what I’d consider the onion’s second cousins. They’re milder than an onion or a shallot (first cousins), but still have a sweet oniony flavor. They often have a lot of dirt between the layers, so it’s important to wash well (I like to cut them into rings, swish around in a bowl of water, let the grit fall to the bottom, then remove and chop as desired). But, they won’t make you cry when you cut them, which is a definite bonus. I use leeks, onions, and shallots interchangeably. But, leeks specifically pair well with herbs like parsley, sorrel, basil, rosemary, and thyme, potatoes (like in this Leek and Potato Soup) and other root veggies, and they are great with cheese (you could sauté some leeks and add them to a Winter Squash Dip, or sub the winter squash for leeks and yogurt/cream cheese/blue cheese/silken tofu, or add them to this Artichoke Heart Dip).
The taste of lemongrass reminds me a little of Froot Loops, which were a very rare and special treat for my brothers and I when we were kids. It smells kinda like lemon and grass, interestingly enough. It’s fabulous in Asian cuisine, like in this Sweet and Spicy Lemongrass Stir Fry. It pairs well with coconut milk, veggies like carrots, garlic, and ginger, and is great in soups like Thai Basil and Peanut Soup.
Some paring ideas from The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.