What’s in Season? Sweet Potatoes

Unless you’re in southern California, the farmers’ market is certainly sparse these days. Pea shoots and some other early spring favorites are surely right around the corner but for now, at least here in NYC,the pickin’s are slim: we’ve got meat, dairy, apples (lots of apples!), root vegetables and some good looking sweet potatoes.

What’s a Sweet Potato? It’s a perennial tuber root with leaves and flowers too! You can eat the leaves, but by the time we get them in the winter, the roots have been stored for months and the leaves are long gone. And just to clarify, a sweet potato is not related to a potato or a yam, but is its very own thing  – strangely enough, it is in the Morning Glory family!

Where do they come from? Domesticated  an estimated 5000+ years ago in Central or South America, sweet potatoes are now grow in the US mainly in warmer states like North Carolina, Mississippi, California and Tennessee. They are often grown in other countries too (China is one of the biggest exporters), so look for locally grown sweet potatoes at your farmers’ market, or regionally grown at your grocery store.

Varieties? Hundreds! The long and tapered root is sometimes small, fingerling potato size, but they can grow quite large. The skin is smooth and comes in many different colors – yellow, orange, red, brown, purple and beige. The most common flesh color is orange, but can also range from shades of white to a brilliant purple.

Season? Sweet potatoes don’t like frost. They are harvested from August to October and then stored for us to enjoy through the winter.

Dirty Dozen or Clean 15? Sweet potatoes rank #13 on the Clean 15 list from the Environmental Working Group’s shoppers guide to pesticides in produce.

Nutritional info? Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, they can also improve blood sugar regulation.

From the World’s Healthiest Foods website:
1 cup of baked Sweet Potato has 102.60 calories and many vitamins and minerals: vitamin A438.1%, vitamin C 37.2%, manganese 28.4%, vitamin B6 16.5%, tryptophan15.6%, potassium15.4%, fiber 15%, vitamin B5 10.1%, copper 9%, vitamin B 38.5%

How to cook them? Grilled, baked, mashed, roasted, steamed, boiled – they are extremely versatile. Soup, au gratin, chips, veggie burgers and more recipes than you will ever have time to try show up when you Google “Sweet Potato Recipes.”

Recipes: I tried out this sweet potato recipe from the wildly popular Healthy. Happy. Life. blog – this recipe alone was shared on Facebook 472 times! I just made the burgers (see the slideshow above), but check out her post to see how beautiful they look with the Cilantro Jicama Fiesta Slaw! The burgers were very easy to make and tasted delicious. They were a little bit denser the next day, and even more “patty” like. The jalapeno added a nice kick!

Black Bean Fiesta Burgers
vegan, makes 5 burgers

Burgers:
1 1/2 cups black beans, drained/canned (unsalted)
3 Tbsp fine bread crumbs
3/4 cup baked/mashed sweet potato
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro – including stems
1/3 cup diced white onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chopped garlic
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 jalapeno, diced/de-seeded
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast – or use more bread crumbs
a few dashes of chipotle powder or cayenne for extra heat

Directions:

1. First off prepare the Fiesta Slaw according to the directions. Chill in fridge until ready to add to burgers.

2. Whip up your “special spicy sauce” – set aside in fridge as well.

3. Next up, prepare the burgers. Pulse all the ingredients in a food processor. You can also mash well by hand – but a fp is a tad faster. Next, hand-form burger patties with the mixture and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. I like to roll my burgers in a touch of bread crumbs so that they have nice crisp edges.

4. Bake your burgers at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before assembling burgers. The last 5 minutes of cooking – add your burger buns to the oven to warm/toast them.

5. Assemble those burgers! Warm bun, spread of special sauce, tomato, onion, optional avocado, burger, fiesta slaw and finally another slather of the special spicy sauce on the top bun.

Serve! Enjoy the fiesta in your mouth!

Want more sweet potato? The Kitchn recently sent out this tasty round-up of sweet potato recipes.

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Freeze The Last Vegetables For The Cold Months Ahead

It’s that time of year. The growing season is winding down, but there is still quite an abundance of local fruits and vegetables at all but the northernmost farmers’ markets and coops (even here in NYC after Hurricane Irene did so much damage). I’m still eating like it’s summer (well the end of summer) and hoping that it will never end. But there is a way to extend the bounty, even into the cold and snow that will be here before we know it. Preserve, preserve, preserve!

I know that preserving can be intimidating, so I’m going to show you how easy it can be done. How can it be easy you ask? I’m not talking about canning (which Leslie really did do and swears canning is easy, if a little time-consuming) – I’m talking about an often overlooked but solidly tested form of preserving, freezing! Anyone can do this, all you need to do is boil some water for blanching and open your freezer door. I went to my local coop and bought all the local and organic produce that I could carry. Right now it is cheap and at the height of its flavor. I got eggplants, carrots, peppers, corn, yellow zucchini, green striped zucchini and 5 pounds of tomatoes. The tomatoes, which are a beautiful red and summer sweet, were only $1/pound! Not only will I get to enjoy actual vine ripened  tomatoes in December, but I paid a very low price and will actually save money.

The whole process took me a couple of hours. Schedule an evening or afternoon and just settle in. I find it meditative to peel, chop and get these amazing vegetables ready for freezing. Taking the time now will provide you with great benefits later – easy dinners, saved money, healthy foods at your fingertips and delicious flavors!

General “Recipe”:

Prepare the veggies for freezing by washing, peeling (if you want to), cutting into the size that you want. Blanch each batch of vegetables and then cold dunk them in a big bowl of ice (lots of ice!) to stop the cooking process. Drain the extra water from them and freeze.

Blanching Times:

Eggplant, 4 minutes
Summer Squash, 3 minutes
Corn, 4-6 minutes
Peppers, 2-3 minutes
Carrots, 2-5 minutes
Tomatoes, 1 minute – just to remove skins!

Suggestions:

  • Find detailed instructions for all kinds of freezing and other preserving on the Pick Your Own website. They even have pictures to follow!
  • Freeze the vegetables in one layer on trays so that they don’t stick together. After they are frozen put them into freezer bags. You can also put pieces of wax paper between the vegetables to keep pieces from sticking (for example if you want to keep your eggplant rounds separate).
  • Pack a variety of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers – for example) into one bag for an easy meal. Portion them for single or family size servings.
  • Use a straw to suck out the last bit of air in the zip-lock bag if you don’t have a vacuum sealer. It works great!
  • I needed way more ice than I had on hand and ended up going to the gas station by my house at 10pm so that I could finish this process. Ice is important!

Money Spent:

Striped Zucchini, 5.53
Yellow Zucchini, 4.00
Red Peppers, 2.33
Frying Peppers, 1.51
Chantenay Carrots, 2.72
Eggplant, 3.47
Corn (IPM), 2.08
Tomatoes, 4.71

Total 26.35

My freezer is full and I’m going to do what I can to keep my hands off of it until at least December. If I do, I’m guessing I will get about 10 meals out of this batch. Just add some pasta, brown rice or quinoa and protein – in my case beans, tofu or tempeh, but you could add some sustainable meat and these frozen veggies will go a long way!

Healthy Bites Newsletter #4

OK – after a little hiatus, the long awaited newsletter #4! You have been waiting, right? Here is a little preview:

Shit happens. Oh it does! And all we can do is get back on track as soon as possible. I’ve had a few “shit happens” months lately, and now I’m excited to get going again. For me it helps to get out my calendar and schedule things that are usually obvious – make a list for the grocery store, go to the grocery store, make dinner, pack up leftovers for lunch, get my butt to Yoga and the gym! Then I try to follow the plan and not be too hard on myself when it doesn’t happen exactly as I thought. I keep this up until my plans become habits again and life starts to flow. While I fell off track for a couple of months this time, sometimes it’s just a day, weekend or week of some unhealthy foods, a few too many drinks or no exercise that we need to pick ourselves back up from. Remember to just get back out there. You can do it! I can do it!

You can find the whole newsletter about Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Gazpacho, and Farmers’ Markets here.

Healthy Bites #3

OK! This is a little late, it’s been a hard couple of months. But spring is here, and I’m looking forward to the warm weather and lots of puppy walks in the park.

Healthy Bites #3 is full of more tips, recipes and fun facts:

1. Get ready for the busy week ahead

2. Apple Quinoa Salad with Curry Dressing

3. Food that support the body… and look like body parts

4. Question: Is there a noticeable nutritional difference between raw and roasted nuts & seeds?

Seasonal Food: Rooting for Rutabagas as Winter Winds Down

One of the last vegetables hanging around your local farmers’ market in March is likely to be the rutabaga. Not always first on people’s minds, but aren’t you getting bored of carrots, parsnips, beets and potatoes? Maybe your grandma cooked rutabagas, frying them up in some butter? Even if your memories of these old-timey root veggies aren’t that appealing, give them another try. They are a surprisingly tasty and nutritious, cruciferous treat.

Looks (outside): Weird! White, purple, bulbous. Like a big turnip.  They do have green tops that –sadly — don’t often make it to the market (they just don’t last as long as the root does!).

Looks (inside): Soft yellow color, dense flesh, beautiful contrast to the gritty outside.

Smell (raw): Like a turnip – sweet and earthy.

Smell (cooked): Sweet, like dessert.

Taste (raw): Delicious! Similar to turnip mixed with cabbage, but sweeter. Not spicy like a turnip can get. They are tasty with just a little salt.

Taste (cooked): Sweet and savory, a little bitter.

Texture (raw): Again, like a turnip, but denser, not as watery. Crispy and refreshing.

Texture (cooked): Smooth, smooshy, like mash potatoes. And because they aren’t as watery to start, more creamy than cooked turnips.

Nutrients: High in vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid, fiber and phytonutrients (phytonutrients are linked to the bitter flavor).

Super Easy Roasted Rutabaga and Sweet Potato Soup

(adapted from Swede Potato Soup with Fried Spaghetti Squash and Toasted Pepitas from VeganYumYum)

Roasting the Vegetables

5 Garlic Cloves
1 Medium Rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 Medium Sweet Potato, peeled and diced
1 Tbs Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Preaheat oven to 400º F. Coat the garlic, rutabaga and sweet potato in oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 40 minutes until everything is golden, soft, and well-roasted.

Making the Soup

1 Small Onion, chopped
Roasted Sweet Potatoes, from above
Roasted Rutabaga, from above
1/2 Cup Cashews
2 ½ Cups water, more if needed
1 Tbs Olive Oil
½ tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Dried Thyme
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil until for about 5 minutes, add the spices, then saute for about 5 more minutes until the onions are very soft and caramelized. Blend all of the above ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth. Add more water as desired to get preferred thickness. Enjoy!

Newest Newsletter – Healthy Bites #2

Here we go, a little excerpt:

I hope you enjoyed last month’s simple tips for spectacular health! It was fun for me and I would love for you to send feedback and/or health questions for to me to answer in future editions of Healthy Bites. If you missed a newsletter or would like to read my blog posts (and more), you can track them all down at the new Healthy Bites blog.

Now on to our easy tips for improved health and fearless cooking!

Here we go into quinoa, mushroom bourguignon, inspiration, and questions answered…

Read the full newsletter here!


Very Superstitious…New Year’s Foods

Waiting for the ball to drop last year, I put a few handfuls of black eyed peas in a bowl of water to soak over night, and my Cuban friend put out 12 grapes for each of us to gobble down at the strike of midnight. We were preparing for a bountiful 2010 and working a little superstition to help it along. The black eyed peas would be turned into a delicious Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day to bring us good luck and fortune, and the grapes, if all went well, would be gone by 12:01 A.M. – one for each month, the sweeter the grape, the better the month.

Around the world, people mark the beginning of the new year with fascinating traditions, looking toward the New Year and hoping to bring more abundance to their families and communities. Here, a virtual smorgasbord of New Year’s traditions.

Hoppin’ John:

There are a lot of theories on its name–some say the dish was named for a one-legged, “hopping” waiter who served it, others, that the name is a corruption of the Creole word for black eyed peas, pois pigeons.  Wherever it gained its name, this New Years’ favorite is a long-time tradition–it’s been around since at least 1847, when Sarah Rutledge published a recipe for “Hopping John” in her cookbook, The Carolina Housewife.

Today, Americans throughout the South and other regions ring in the New Year by chowing down on black eyed peas and collard greens just after midnight, in hopes of being blessed with financial prosperity.  The greens are said to symbolize paper money, the beans, coins.  Hoppin’ John’s good-luck tradition is said to date back to the Civil War, when Union troops known to strip farmland of livestock and crops overlooked fields of black eyed peas, leaving behind a vital source of sustenance for surviving Southerners.

Whether or not you believe it will bring you wealth, this long-time New Year’s tradition may very well bring you health. Served vegetarian-style, minus the pork, this dish is low-fat, nutritious, and still delicious!  A few good reasons to love Hoppin’ John:

  • Black eyed peas.  With under 2 g of fat, over 8 g of fiber and nearly 20 g of protein in a half-cup serving, these little guys couldn’t get much better for you.
  • Rice.  The combination of rice and beans produces essential amino acids also known as complete proteins.  Only animal products, quinoa and soy contain complete proteins on their own.  But all rice is not created equal–brown rice contains fewer carbohydrates and nearly twice the fiber of white rice.
  • Collard Greens.  Like its cousin, kale, collard greens are an excellent source of beta carotene, calcium and Vitamin A.  Try steaming and flavoring with Bragg’s and a dash of cider vinegar.

Here is the Hoppin’ John recipe I plan on using this year.

Vegan Hoppin’ John from Whole Foods Market’s:

Serves 4 to 6

A steaming bowl of this thick soup is said to bring good luck for the coming year, but you don’t have to serve it only on your New Year’s menu. Tempeh bacon and vegetables add depth of flavor to simple black eyed peas and rice.

Ingredients

2 cups dried black eyed peas, rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
2 strips tempeh bacon, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco (optional)

Method

Put black eyed peas into a large bowl, cover with water and set aside for 6 hours or overnight.

Drain black eyed peas, then transfer to a large pot. Add 6 cups clean water, onions and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until black eyed peas are tender but still whole, about 45 minutes. Add rice, tempeh bacon, peppers, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with Tabasco, if you like. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Grapes

This tradition is traceable back to 1909 when there was an excellent harvest which created a surplus of grapes in Spain and the king gave everyone grapes to eat on New Year’s Eve. The grapes were eaten at each stroke of the town clock, one for each month. If you got a sour one, it could mean a sour month, but you needed to be sure to eat all twelve by the 12th stroke for good luck all year.

The tradition spread to Portugal, and eventually to former Spanish and Portuguese colonies Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. Each country has a slight variation — my Cuban friend had us eat all 12 grapes in 60 seconds (which we all did!) and in Peru, they eat a 13th grape for good measure. In Ecuador they eat 12 grapes before midnight, making a wish on each one, and in Mexico, they eat the 12 as they do in Spain, with a wish attached to each.

As with Hoppin’ John, not only do these tasty treats bring good luck to your New Year, but they are also healthy.

  • Vitamins – manganese, vitamin C, vitamins B1 & B6, and potassium
  • Heath Benefits – protection against heart disease, lower cholesterol, promote lung health, lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and more.

There are so many more New Year’s traditions around the world!