Making the transition to eating whatever’s in the grocery store to eating whatever’s in season can be daunting. Instead of buying just produce you are familiar with week after week (and not realizing that in the winter you pay $5/lb for asparagus), you find yourself with loads of okra in the summer, pounds of greens in the winter, and more apples than you can eat in the fall, especially if you use a food delivery service like Greenling or subscribe to a CSA.
Such is the way of seasonal eating. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still a lot of variety most of the year, especially here in Texas. However, you may not be familiar with foods you see every week at the farmer’s market (ever seen a Spanish black radish at the grocery store?), and if you use a food delivery service or a CSA, you may suddenly get a LOT of one kind of food each week. This can be tiresome when you run out of ways to prepare it, so here are some tips to help you incorporate more seasonal produce into your diet.
1. Adapt your go-to dishes. Do you make spaghetti every week? Toss a mixture of chopped veggies into your sauce while it simmers. This is a great way to use up a bunch of produce that won’t last much longer. Fajitas are another highly customizable dish. Be flexible – just because your mom never, ever put chopped carrots in her pasta sauce when you were growing up doesn’t mean that you can’t sneak some into your recipe.
3. Don’t get bogged down by recipe specifics. Unless you are baking, exact measurements aren’t necessary. Only have 12 oz of something instead of a pound? Don’t stress, and just use what you have. It won’t mess anything up. And if you aren’t ever sure how much of an ingredient you have, I recommend a food scale. I LOVE this one – you can zero out measuring bowls, pull out the display if the bowl of what you’re measuring obscures it, and it displays both metric and imperial units.
4. Experiment. If your entire cooking experience consists of food out of a Hamburger Helper box, you’ll need some time to get used to processing and using fresh produce. Start by finding some recipes that use ingredients you have on hand. Then, modify those recipes by adding or removing ingredients as the seasons change. These pumpkin-feta muffins are a good example of how to do this – the original recipe calls for pumpkin, but it’s not in season where the blogger lives, so she used butternut squash instead.
5. Search for unusual ways to use ingredients. For example, if you’re sick of eating limes, use your extra to make some household cleaning products (this is true for most citrus – google it), or throw slices down your garbage disposal to freshen it up.
6. Learn to love the interwebs. Find some food blogs you like and read them regularly to get new recipe ideas – I list several favorites in Links I Like on my home page. I use Allrecipes all the time because I can search their database by ingredient. This is great when you have, say, pork, corn, and bell peppers, and want to make something that includes all three. RecipePuppy searches the entire Internet for recipes by ingredient. These are great for finding ways to use ingredients you are unfamiliar with.
7. Try foods you haven’t eaten since kindergarten. Don’t be the George H.W. Bush of your household. There are a bazillion different ways to prepare broccoli, many of which make broccoli taste…un-broccoli-like. Give foods you’ve always hated another shot with a new preparation and see if your tastes have changed.
8. Start a compost pile. Seasonal, local produce often requires some processing that leaves a bunch of food scraps behind. When I first started eating a lot of seasonal food I noticed that the trash can was filling up quickly with winter squash skin and seeds, okra tops, and so on. A compost pile is a good way to put those scraps to good use.
Any other ideas? Let me know by leaving a comment!