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Cold Weather Vegetables

A Fall and Winter Blessing

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Fall and winter's saving grace in the vegetable department are the brassicas. This family of vegetables includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli raab, turnips, kale, mustard, and collards.

The blessing is that almost all are cold tolerant. And although it's true you won't find someone harvesting them with a foot of snow on the ground, their tolerance for cold means that in many areas of the country they can be grown in cold frames even in the dead of winter. Without these veggies we'd be limited to winter squash or tubers for fresh winter produce.

1. Healthy Choice

In addition to the expected complements of vitamins and minerals, these vegetables contain glucosinolate, which is an anti-oxidant and may reduce the risk of cancer, improve the lung function of people with COPD, and even undo diabetes damage. In other words they're as healthy as all get-out.

But this family has a drawback, it tends to be bitter (and some folks are sensitive to this bitterness) and if not cooked properly they produce sulfur compounds. These compounds are particularly apt to show up by over-cooking broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, which explains why so many people dislike these veggies. Nevertheless, done well they're all delicious and their fresh flavor is a welcome addition to winter meals.

2. Mashed Rutabaga with Maple Syrup and Bourbon

Mashed Rutabaga
Copyright 2008 Kevin D Weeks
When I was growing up rutabaga was served at Thanksgiving far more often than sweet potatoes. It's a sweet vegetable (albeit more like a winter squash than sweet potatoes) with a hearty texture. Growing up we usually had them just mashed with butter, but I've gussied up this version and it makes a nice change from ordinary mashed potatoes and from sweet potatoes. Best of all, they can be made a couple of days in advance then heated in your microwave.

3. Roasted Cauliflower: A Transformative Dish

Roasted Cauliflower
Copyright 2008 Kevin D Weeks
Roasting cauliflower totally changes its character, providing a wonderfully nutty undercurrent of flavor. You may wonder at my use of granulated garlic as opposed to fresh garlic, but I've found that the fresh garlic ends up in the pan while the powdered garlic clings to the cauliflower, ultimately providing more garlic flavor.

4. Braised Red Cabbage: Lightly Sweet and Beautifully Purple

Braised Red Cabbage
Kevin D Weeks
Braised Red Cabbage is a wonderful side dish, particularly with pork. In fact, cooked cabbage in general is a great side dish and cabbage is one of those dishes that cooks well in the microwave. But in this case, use a skillet or saute pan, bake a couple of pork chops or try it with this sausage ragu

5. Sauteed Broccoli Rabe: Italian Grace

Broccoli Rabe
Kevin D Weeks
I discovered this Italian vegetable (also known as broccoli rape, broccoli raab and rapini) a few years ago and fell in love with it's somewhat bitter flavor. It has aspects of regular broccoli and cauliflower in it's flavor. This side dish is easy to prepare, and if you can't find rabe you can substitute regular broccoli, turnip greens, or chard.

6. Roasted Rutabaga: Naturally Sweet Morsels

Patatas Bravas
Kevin D Weeks
I grew up eating pureed rutabaga, but a few years ago discovered the joy of roasting it. Roasting rutabaga concentrates and highlights it's natural sweetness. In this recipe I season the rutabaga with a dried Italian Herb mixture (you can find one in the spice section at the grocery), which also highlights the sweetness. I also add a teaspoon of sugar, which actually has little effect on the sweetness but encourages browning.

7. Broccoli with Blue Cheese: So Simple, So Good

Broccoli with Blue Cheese
Copyright 2008 Kevin D Weeks
This is hardly worthy of being called a recipe, and yet it's one of my favorite dishes, not least because it's so quick and easy. You can also do this with steamed asparagus, but broccoli is really the best - the blue cheese complements the broccoli perfectly. I've also used the Marie's Blue Cheese dressing (available in the produce section at your supermarket) but it's not the same as my dressing recipe.

8. Brussels Sprouts Vinaigrette: Loved by Brussels Sprout Haters

Braised Brussels Sprouts
Kevin D Weeks
Brussels sprouts are terribly misunderstood, mainly because they're often terribly overcooked. But this recipe has won over more sprout-haters than any recipe I've ever served. In fact, I served these at a dinner party and one guest who bragged he'd only eaten one brussels sprout in his entire life ate half a dozen.
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