A Love Letter to Winter Vegetables

Seasonal eating has been chic for a while now and the glorious farm-to-fork movement across the United States has only reinforced the old-made-new trend all the more en vogue. Years back, when I was living in Los Angeles, the craze was already deeply embedded in the haute cuisine of the state – thanks in no small part to retro pioneers like Alice Waters and her NorCal set. I thought I had an appreciation for such things when I lived there. But let’s be honest, living in a city where the perfect specimen of food from around the globe was available practically 365 days a year and nearly any hour of the day made eating seasonally more of a whim than a way of life. And although I reveled in the state’s bounty of fresh produce and the availability of any type of organic produce imaginable, a sense of place never materialized in the cuisine the way it has in the small towns I’ve lived in across the US and Canada. Los Angeles is truly akin to Hemingway’s Moveable Feast – I changed cuisine there like my undergarments.

All that changed when I moved to Cold Lake, Alberta. Practically at the end of the road north, produce was shipped up to us at such a distance that it was mealy, near tasteless and only faintly resemblant of the original majesty of its virtue and freshness. Eating seasonally became paramount to anyone with even a hint of a palate. What sounds like a desperate desert of a culinary environment, and it was for the first year, turned into something of a blessing. I began to look forward to the onset of each season and the harvest of a particular fruit or vegetable. I began to live by the seasons with almost religious fervor. And in doing so, I experienced a gastronomic explosion that I never could have imagined and a greater appreciation for the joy of each changing season.

While the winters were LONG, I came to relish the pop of the jar I had canned…the joy of a hearty stew that warmed the bones and a love for the rewards of hunting season.

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So here we are in the midst of a Lowcountry winter. The fruit is desperately sad for someone who shares my irreconcilable disdain for apples. Nevertheless, the vegetables of winter are some of my favorites. Watermelon radishes! Rainbow carrots! Crisp, bright fennel! What a bounty! Our Port Royal Farmers Market is open year round and is such a treasure! There are several vendors who I love – particularly the mushroom man who delivers premium chanterelles for $6 a pint during their season! But this Saturday I stopped by Adam’s Farm tent where I can always find local produce at its most fresh and pure. Dedicated to sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices, their produce is as beautiful as it is delicious. On this particular trip, I snagged some watermelon radishes, golden and candy cane beets as well as kale. I had an idea for lunch in mind and the results were even more sensational than the sensory expectations I had conjured up in my head. I grabbed some bacon from a local rancher and cruised home to the sounds of Bowie’s Suffragette City with a giddy grin on my face.

 

I threw on a record, poured a cup of coffee and set to work on a warm winter vegetable salad that would knock my family’s socks off. Even my two year old, who normally turns up his nose at salad, gobbled this bowl of beauty up in record time.

Warm Winter Vegetable Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint of watermelon radishes
  • 1 pint of assorted beets (golden and candy cane – although red will do the trick)
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 clementine, zest and juiced
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender
  • 1 teaspoon cornflower
  • 6 strips bacon, cut in lardons
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt salt (I used fleur de sel)
  • freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • olive oil

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First, clean and scrub your beets and radishes then quarter them with the skins on. Line two ovenware dishes (I use old school corning ware with lids) with foil and drizzle olive oil in the bottom. Place the beets in one dish and the radishes in the other. Grind ½ teaspoon of lavender, sprinkle ½ a teaspoon of salt and 1/3 of your Clementine zest over each dish then drizzle with olive oil. Cover the radishes and beets with foil and then place the lid on top. Cook in the oven at 425 until a fork glides – the radishes will be ready a good 20+ minutes before the beets. Take the radishes out when they’re cooked. Then, when the beets are ready, uncover both of the dishes and broil on high for 3 minutes.

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In the meantime, cook the bacon lardons (¼ inch x 1 inch) in a skillet then set aside on a paper towel. While the beets and radishes are broiling, quickly sautee the kale in a tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle a teaspoon of lavender, ½ teaspoon of sea salt and the remaining clementine zest over your kale. This should only cook for about two minutes. The last 30 seconds, drizzle the juice from the clementine over the kale and toss. Arrange the kale in salad bowls, top with beets, radishes and bacon then garnish with the cornflower and serve.

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If you’re looking for a wine to uplift this savory lunch, opt for an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. The bright crisp notes of fresh herbs and radishes in this refreshing yet complex white wine will bring this dish to a whole other level! If you’re unfamiliar with Grüner Veltliner, it’s a varietal you really should seek out. It has an inimitable flavor profile but will suit your craving for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with effortless ease. It’s also one of the best white wines in the world in terms of price-to-quality. If you have options when you’re out shopping, look for “Kamptal,” “Kremstal,” or “Wachau,” on the label – nestled along the great Danube River on dizzingly steep slopes, these three are the greatest villages in Austria for the varietal.

And as always – bon appétit!