Those New Year’s resolutions to eat locally grown fresh food seem to come at an awkward time.
It’s the middle of winter, after all; not exactly the peak of growing season.
We’re in Texas, though, and almost half of the biggest Texas produce crops are now at their best.
Sharon Mitchiner, Galveston County AgriLife Extension program assistant for the Better Living for Texans program, educates
the public on all aspects of consuming Texas agriculture.
One of her favorite educational tools is a Texas Department of Agriculture chart, available in pamphlet form, with a month-by-month listing of in-season produce.
In January, kale, cabbage, citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, are plentiful.
Even the recent cold weather hasn’t diminished the crops, with enormous heads of cauliflower and voluminous bundles of kale available in some produce sections and farmers markets.
While there is very little local lettuce available in the winter, there are still some salad greens available.
Spinach, dandelion greens and kale are all winter crops with great salad potential.
Most mixed-green or spring-mix bagged salads contain dandelion leaves, which add a sharper note to blander lettuces.
Kale is usually eaten sautéed or steamed, but this year pre-cleaned bags of baby kale have been showing up near the other ready-to-eat bagged salads.
Baby kale’s sturdy but tender texture makes it a more nutritious substitute for romaine lettuce in a Caesar salad.
In promoting the Better Living for Texans program throughout Galveston County, Mitchiner makes presentations on health and wellness, including cooking demonstrations.
“If you have four or more people interested in one of our topics, we’ll bring our presentation to your group,” she said.
Officials with the Texas Department of Agriculture said the state is one of the country’s largest producers of fruits and vegetables, with more than 60 commercially grown crops ranging from apples to zucchini.
The relatively balmy coastal climate makes many of those crops available even in the coldest months of the winter.
While Galveston County is no longer as agricultural as it once was, local farmers are still bringing their crops to market.
The area’s farmers markets, including the Sunday market in downtown Galveston and the Saturday Clear Lake Shores market, have a variety of citrus. Meyer lemons, tangerines, Satsuma oranges and grapefruit are plentiful.
Sometimes it seems that the only problem with the area’s local produce is that it’s easy to overbuy.
Figuring out what to do with that armload of kale or basket of grapefruit isn’t too difficult with the right resources, though.
Vegetarian cookbooks aren’t just for vegetarians; even carnivores will find plenty of recipes for side dishes that showcase local produce.
One of the best-known vegetarian cooks, Deborah Madison, makes that point in the title of her encyclopedic cookbook “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”
With more than 1,400 recipes, the cookbook covers just about any edible plant found in the grocery store, farmers market or backyard garden.
A less comprehensive, but more esoteric, approach to cooking vegetables makes the cookbooks of Anna Thomas a staple on many kitchen bookshelves.
Her “Vegetarian Epicure” series spans five decades, from her original volume written in the flower-child era to a recent, more streamlined volume.
3 tablespoons butter OR 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ginger
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1⁄2 teaspoon coriander
- 1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seed
- 2 pounds cauliflower, broken into small florets — about 1 large head
- 1⁄2 cup water
- 11⁄2 cups fresh peas OR 11⁄2 cups frozen peas
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped OR 2 tablespoons Italian parsley
- 2 tomatoes, diced
Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and all spices, stir until spices are fragrant.
Add cauliflower and water, stir and cover tightly. Steam until it is almost tender.
Add peas and cilantro and cook another 5-7 minutes, stirring gently from time to time.
When it is heated through, turn off the heat and stir in the tomatoes, as soon as they are hot it is ready to serve.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “The Vegetarian Epicurian,” by Anna Thomas)
Green Barley and Kale Gratin
- 2⁄3 cup pearl barley, rinsed
- Salt and freshly milled pepper
- 1 large bunch kale, about 11⁄4 pounds stems entirely removed
- tablespoons butter
- tablespoons flour
- 11⁄2 cups milk or basic vegetable stock
- 1⁄4 teaspoon allspice
- 1⁄8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1⁄2 cup grated Gruyere
Add the barley to boiling water with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and simmer uncovered until tender, about 30 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Cook the kale in a skillet of boiling salted water until tender, 6 to 10 minutes.
Drain then purée with 1⁄4 cup of the cooking water. until smooth
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt butter in a small saucepan, whisk in the flour, then add the milk or stock.
Cook, whisking constantly over medium heat, until thick.
Add the allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.
Transfer to a lightly buttered baking dish or individual ramekins.
Bake until lightly browned on top, about 30 minutes.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” by Deborah Madison)
Grapefruit Frozen Yogurt
- 4 Texas Rio Star Grapefruit — about 4 cups
- 2 6-ounce containers Greek yogurt
- 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup Stevia
Section grapefruit and place sections on a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Combine frozen grapefruit sections, yogurt, and sweetener in a food processor and process 30 seconds, or until smooth and creamy.
Scoop into dishes and freeze until ready to serve.
(SOURCE: Recipe courtesy Texas Valley Citrus Committee)