The change in season is such a wonderful time, even in temperate Southern California. Yes, the days can be hot, but the sun sets earlier and though it may still reach 80-plus degrees at 2:00 pm, evenings are cool, and thoughts turn to comforting, fallish foods, including vegetables. Most fall vegetables are available in winter, too, and most vegetables, for that matter, are available year-round thanks to farmers in Mexico and Central America. The key is that typically fall vegetables are at their peak this time of year, so take advantage of them at their best. Here are some vegetables to try and enjoy this fall season. Vegetables in general are full of valuable FoodTrients including vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals that all contribute to aging beautifully.
Artichokes enjoy a second crop in the fall (the first is in the spring). Fall produces small to medium artichokes, so everyone can have their own. Artichokes are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They’re high in folate and vitamins C and K. They also supply important minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. The classic way to enjoy artichokes is steamed, and then dip the leaves and heart in melted butter. But for a healthier alternative, make the ‘dip’ from extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a drop of Dijon or spicy mustard, and a dash of salt.
Arugula is a cool weather peppery green that grows well in many places during autumn. It’s actually a member of the cabbage and mustard green families, so it offers a good dose of antioxidants for protecting against damage to cells. The slightly bitter taste of arugula is due to the presence of glucosinolates, which may protect against certain cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers. My favorite go-to easy salad is about three cups arugula, two ripe tomatoes cut into small pieces, about a quarter cup of shaved Parmesan Reggiano, a couple of tablespoons of toasted pine nuts all tossed with extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. You can also toss arugula into most any pasta dish for added color and nutrition.
If you have never had Delicata squash, you’re in for a treat! About five-to-nine inches long and one-and- a-half to three inches in diameter, Delicata squash have a scalloped shape and beautiful green and orange stripes. The deep yellow to orange flesh tastes somewhere between a sweet potato and butternut squash. When roasted or steamed, even the skin is edible. To bring out their natural sweetness, cut into rings or chunks (discard the seeds or clean and roast those, too), toss with olive oil, a little salt, and roast for about 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees F. Delicata are also delicious stuffed with breadcrumbs, chestnuts, and herbs or cut into small chunks to be added to rice or cous-cous. Nutritionally they’re a good source of potassium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
A recent addition to the fall/winter squash family, Honeynut squash was bred from butternut and buttercup squash in the 1980s. It has a similar shape and flavor to butternut squash but is about half the size and is considerably sweeter. It has dark tan to orange skin and orange fleshy pulp. It has two-to-three times more beta-carotene than butternut squash. Honeynut squash can be roasted, sautéed, puréed, added to soups, stews, and braises, and is even sweet enough for desserts.
1 Honeynut squash
1 shallot thinly sliced
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. honey
1/3 cup pecans
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbs. cucumber, diced
1 pinch ground cumin
Quickly pickle the shallots:
Roast the pecans:
Spread onto a plate and add the squash on top. Garnish with the shallots and honeyed walnuts.
A sunchoke is the thickened underground part of the tuberous stem of a breed of sunflowers. Hence, the alternative name, sunchoke. This vegetable is mildly sweet, crunchy, and nutty, almost like a cross between potato and jicama. They’re available all year round, but best from October to May. Nutritionally, sunchokes are an excellent source of iron, potassium for regulating blood pressure, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. They can decrease blood cholesterol and are high in protein. They are also low in calories and are a good substitute for potatoes and other starchy root vegetables. Here’s an easy recipe:
2 pounds sunchokes, scrubbed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. soy sauce
2 cloves fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped for garnish
Leeks are in the allium family, so they’re related to garlic, chives, shallots, and onions. They have a sweet, oniony flavor that adds depth to soups, stews, and pasta dishes. Grilled or roasted, they make a delicious side dish. They’re at their best in the fall and spring. Nutritionally, leeks are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants and studies suggest that they provide anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anticancer properties. The recipe below looks very refined and complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.
1 Tbs. avocado oil or grapeseed oil
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, about 6 ounces each
Salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbs. unsalted butter 4 leeks, cleaned, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-moon-shaped slices
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced or cut into quarters
1/3 cup vermouth, or white wine
3 Tbs. grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Spinach is a nutritious leafy green vegetable that originated in Persia. Interestingly, it belongs to the amaranth family, which includes beets and quinoa. Though available year round, the leaves are sweetest and most tender in the fall. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It’s high in carotenoids, which your body can turn into vitamin A. It’s high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that promotes skin health and immune function. It’s a good source of vitamin K1, which is essential for blood clotting. Just one spinach leaf holds over half of your daily needs! It also supplies folate or vitamin B9, which is vital for pregnant women and essential for normal cellular function and tissue growth. Spinach is an excellent source of iron, which helps to bring oxygen to your body’s tissues as well as calcium, which supports bone health and is crucial for your nervous system, heart, and muscles. These nutrients in spinach decrease oxidative stress, improve eye health, and help prevent heart disease and cancer. One of the most versatile vegetables out there, you can make spinach pesto, use it as a salad green, in place of lettuce on sandwiches (where it has the advantage of paring well with melted cheese and on other hot sandwiches), mixed into pasta dishes, soups, lentils, omelets, lasagna, dips, and flaky Greek pastries such as spanakopita.
People frequently use the terms ‘yams’ and ‘sweet potatoes’ interchangeably. Yams have brown, rough bark-like skins and dry, white flesh while sweet potatoes are an entirely different vegetable. Sweet potatoes are elongated and have relatively smooth skins. Native to Central and South America, they come in a variety of colors including the familiar maroon skin with orange flesh, maroon with creamy white flesh, and purple with purple flesh. There are various combinations in between. Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, containing a large amount of vitamin A and beta carotene (depending on color), calcium, protein, and fiber. Sweet potatoes are available year round (commercial growers can store them for months), but each year’s new crop is available in fall/winter. Sweet potatoes can be used as side dishes, as salads, and even for dessert. Many athletes roast them, slice them, and eat them as a snack after their run or workout. The following recipe can be a Thanksgiving side dish, but between you and me, it’s practically a dessert!
4 pounds (about 6 large) sweet potatoes
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup heavy cream
½ stick of butter, melted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
¼ stick of butter
4 tart apples, McIntosh or Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
3 Tbs. light brown sugar