Late Winter Pick-Me-Ups in the Kitchen

We’ve had a mild, more traditional winter this year in Ireland.  Up until January I could still pick kale growing outdoors.  Whereas last year the Brussell sprouts were frozen solid to the stalk, this year we’ve nearly eaten them all. What a blessing to have fresh, homegrown vegetables well into the “winter.”

However, there is the rub.  You can get very weary some of the same old, same old in the vegetable line and it can be a struggle to get your five portions a day of fruit and vegetables that they recommend we eat for our nutritional health.  Some days I think if I see another orange root vegetable on the plate I’ll lose my reason.  And I like carrots. I truly do.  They are right up there with broccoli and kale and tomatoes and a host of other vegetables.  But I never really grew out of being picky about fruit.

If you try to eat seasonally according to your home zone, the pickings can get sparse.  I generally try to use that as a rule with an exception for bananas, which is really the only fruit that I will gladly eat.  But I also lighten up on this rule at this time of year,  because even though vegetables and fruit grown in other parts of the world may have a heavier carbon footprint, they can be real cheering pick-me-ups while we wait for springtime to arrive.

However, this is where your home canning, drying and freezing comes to the fore.  It is at this time of year that I turn to ‘the bottom drawer’ of my freezer with a stash of summer vegetables to cheer our diet up.  Man and woman cannot live by cabbage, carrots and potatoes alone.  And, as I frequently have to remind my beloved, potatoes don’t count as a vegetable.  They are a starch, a carbohydrate, the flannel thermal underwear of our digestion at this time of year.  Or year round if you live in Ireland.  However, I digress.

These are a few of my tricks to liven up the palate when it is feeling a bit jaded in February.

– Stash some of your homegrown summer glut vegetables at the bottom of the freezer.  They will be very welcome this time of year.

Pickle, can or dry some of the summer fruits and put them towards the back of the cupboard.

-  Grow some spouting seeds. Alfalfa and broccoli spouts are my favourites.  They can be added to sandwiches, sprinkled on soups as a garnish or used instead of lettuce as a bed for a tomato (if you can find one with any flavour in January) or pickled cucumber, boiled egg, avocado, etc.)

These were some of my wintertime supper sparklers this week.

A bottle of homemade zucchini chutney livened up the chickpea, potato and cauliflower curry.

The last of the frozen French beans were added to the wealth of broad beans to make a jazzy casserole of pearl onion, garlic, sun dried tomato and bottled red pepper.

Some dried raspberries or frozen alpine strawberries are magic for muffins for a teatime treat to hold you over until a late supper.

The last of the garden peas and the Perpetual Spinach (Leaf Beet) make a fabulously glossy green soup that just yells that spring really is just around the corner.

You see, if you live with low skies and short daylight you do have to resort to such little strategies.

With these little boosts, I can revert to Kale Soup. The kale get get less sweet and tender as the winter goes on, so this is a great way to get the benefit of what nature is still providing.

Winter Kale Soup

In a soup pot melt 25g of butter.  On a low flame saute a couple chopped onions, a couple cloves garlic and some celery leaf if you have some.

Chop four medium potatoes into bite-sized pieces and saute. Add coarsely ground pepper and a few good shakes of nutmeg.

Add 1.5 litres water and some vegetable stock cubes. (Homemade stock is, of course, always acceptable, but let’s be real!)

Carefully tear off small pieces of kale from the woody stalks.  You will need around 3-4 stalks for the soup.

Making sure they are nice bite-sized pieces, add to the soup pot.

Lastly (and don’t tell any members of the family who are deeply suspicious of ‘foreign’ foodstuffs), finely snip 1-2 inches of dried seaweed.  This really deepens the flavour of the soup.  You won’t need to add salt but with such a small amount there is no danger of any ‘seabreeze’ smell to the soup that might alert fussy eaters.

Simmer soup on low heat until kale is tender. Enjoy with hot bread and butter or crackers and cheese.

Winter Bean Pick-Me-Up

In a small pot, use some herb-flavored oil from the sun dried tomato jar and saute a few pearl  (or chopped small) onions and a chopped clove of garlic.

Add 4-5 chopped sun dried tomatoes and 4-5 (small) bottled red peppers.

Put in a cup of frozen broad beans and roughly half a cup of frozen French Beans.  Add 1/4 cup of water and simmer over a very low heat.

When the beans are all thawed check the water level and adjust so that there is roughly 1/4 cup liquid.  Add a sprinkling of Italian herbs and crumble a vegetable stock cube. Stir. Put the lid on the pot and cook ever so gently, checking that the water does not completely evaporate.  Ready in 10 minutes.  You can make it ahead and just reheat before serving.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.