What to Eat This FallEnjoy the Season's Freshest Foods
-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
For most of us, eating seasonally is a foreign concept. Many people don't even know that foods have a season, let alone what foods are in season at any given time of year. In the US, we enjoy practically unlimited access to any food at any time of the year. Tomatoes in December are nice, but not without consequences. Flavor suffers, nutrient levels decline, and environmental impact soars with each mile a food must travel to reach its ultimate destination.
Seasonal food, on the other hand, is fresh and local! Boasting a host of benefits, including better flavor, more nutrients, and less environmental burden, it's usually picked just hours or days before you buy it (while standard supermarket produce can weather many days or even weeks in transport). It’s also healthier for the environment because the food has traveled a shorter distance, meaning fewer fossil fuels are used in its transport from the farm to your table.
Possibly the best benefit though, is that seasonal food is always interesting, as each season brings a new crop of foods that you haven't had for an entire year. Before you've had a chance to tire of its bounty, the season changes to bring new, flavorful foods to add to your pantry.
Shopping for seasonal foods is easy—a fun trip to your local farmer's market will yield the majority of the ingredients you need. Availability will vary from region to region, but here's a general list of foods that make fall their season, along with tips on how to incorporate these ingredients into your meals. <pagebreak>
- Squash. Acorn, butternut, and pumpkin are among the most popular fall choices. They look beautiful, but can be slightly intimidating when they're sitting on your countertop. Transforming them into a tasty dish is actually quite simple with these two methods. Option 1: Peel, cube and steam the flesh until tender. Option 2: Halve and bake face-down (with skin intact) in a 425-degree oven until the skin can be easily pierced with a fork (about 45 minutes to an hour). Once cooked, season with butter, salt, and pepper for a savory flavor; or butter, cinnamon and maple syrup for something sweet.
- Cauliflower. Cut into bite-size pieces, and steam until fork-tender (about 5 minutes) and top with butter and a dash of salt.
- Celeriac. Soups and salads both benefit from the addition of celeriac, a root vegetable that has a celery-like flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
- Mushrooms. Take advantage of the ephemeral wild mushroom season by stocking up when you can. Look for mushroom hunters at your local farmer’s market. Mushrooms are delicious in stir-fries or sautéed in butter and tossed into a veggie wrap.
- Parsnips. Boasting a sweet, earthy flavor, these carrot-like root vegetables are a must in any fall stew.
- Sweet potatoes. Enjoy this simple, vitamin-rich vegetable peeled, cubed, and steamed until tender, or bake it like a regular potato. Top it with butter, cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey.
- Swiss chard. Rich in calcium, this dark leafy green is mild in flavor and easy to prepare. Thoroughly wash and chop leaves and stems, and steam for about five minutes. Then toss in a skillet with olive oil and garlic until wilted, just a few minutes more. Drizzle with hot pepper vinegar or soy sauce for a delicious side.
Fruit is always easy. It is ready to eat, tastes great, and kids love it. But if you're looking for some new ways to incorporate fruit into your menu besides the "grab and bite" technique, try fruit smoothies, fruit cobblers and fruit-topped pancakes and French toast.
- Apples. Try them baked with sweet potatoes and raisins. Or sauté them in butter in a skillet until tender, then sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle with maple syrup.
- Figs. Try fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese, cooked into a sauce and served over vanilla ice-cream, or right out of the box.
- Grapes. Grapes are a great snack food. They also make a yummy breakfast beverage when blended with vanilla yogurt.
- Pears. Try pears on the grill. Cook until tender, then sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and enjoy (quickly!) with vanilla ice cream.
If you've done a little cooking, you probably know that the seasonings can make the meal. Here are some seasonal seasonings for your fall suppers.
- Ginger. To peel fresh ginger root, scrape with the edge of a small spoon. Mince and add to marinades of stir-fries.
- Garlic. Fresh garlic is most flavorful in the fall. Mince it and add it to soups, stir-fries, and guacamole for a kick. If you're really adventurous, peel and roast whole cloves to add to your favorite dishes.