Dee Gourmet
Seasonal Cuisine

Living in the bounty of an agricultural area in Southern California gives us so much to be grateful for every season. We can pluck juicy oranges, lemons and creamy avocados from our trees when other parts of the country may be frigid. Herbs can be grown nearly all winter long outdoors or on an enclosed patio or kitchen counter. Farmer's markets give us the freshest of fruits, vegetables, honey and even just-off-the-line fish! While the Southern California seasons may lack the intensity seen in other parts of the nation, we do have seasonal choices that can make our meals delicious, healthful and environmentally friendly.

Spring Cooking

This is the time of the year when one of my favorite things is available: sweet spring onions! These are great sliced in salads or grilled and served with other grilled veggies, or if you prefer, over nice cut of prime meat!

This is also a time for artichokes, which can be grilled, baked, steamed or poached. Radishes are at their sweet, crunchy best in spring! Morel mushrooms are foraged in the spring, so look for them in your Farmer's Market.

Chard and other greens grow fall through spring here, and this is a good time to harvest, as greens turn bitter in warmer weather. Peas (garden, snap) are in season starting in spring.

Fennel makes a great salad when combined with sliced apples and slices of Parmesan cheese! Baby carrots (the real ones) are available and make a nice addition to any salad or shredded in Spring rolls. Lemons are at their juicy best now through early summer.

Parsley and mint are especially bountiful at this time and can be added to just about anything, but especially to earthy Tabouli. And last but not least, the strawberry, which brings Ventura county most of its agricultural revenue.

Summer Cooking

Avocados are a rather fickle fruit. Their growing season varies depending on location, but most are available in the summer. Avocados are one of the healthy fats when eaten in small doses, but that's not easy!

Sweet peppers of every color are available now and can be eaten raw in salads, roasted, or grilled over hot coals. A colorful plate is a healthful plate! Try grilling peppers, eggplant, onion and mushrooms (all in season), spreading a piece of whole grain bread with roasted garlic and a drizzle of olive oil and putting in a panini grill. You can even add a piece of cheese!

Also available in summer are green beans, cucumbers, beets, corn and TOMATOES. Hungry yet?

Hot chilies are best when the summer is the hottest. Fruits are bountiful at this time, especially grapes, figs (end of summer), berries, and cantaloupes (go for that melon smell!). Limes are at their best in summer.

Herbs are also abundant including cilantro, basil, rosemary, chervil, just about all of them. Always look for vibrant color and an abundant fragrance. Use those herbs, onions, tomatoes and some Mediterranean olives to make yourself a to-die-for salad dressed with aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil (Italian, of course!!).

Summer is a great time for grilling just about everything including chicken, pork, beef and fish!

Autumn Cooking

Now we're talking about apples. Most people think apples don't have a season because they are mostly available in the grocery store all year round. Operative words here are "grocery store".

The ones grown in the US are harvested late summer through fall. This is a great time of the year to clean out that oven and make a rustic apple tart! Pears are also plentiful at this time of year, as are pomegranates.

A lot of cruciferous vegetables are also available in autumn, like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe (rapini), bok choy and kale. Try roasting these veggies instead of boiling them for a delicious treat.

Celery is at it's best during cooler months, so will be plentiful at this time of year. Eggplant will still be available through early fall. Look for shiny skin that is blemish-free and you always want to choose the heavier eggplant over a lighter one.

Garlic is something else that we may forget has a season, but it does. It is best in late summer and early autumn. Summer herbs have begun to show less enthusiasm by now, so start looking at your heartier herbs such as parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage.

Remember that herbs can transform even a simple dish into a gourmet treat. Herbs can also be used generously along with citrus juices for those trying to cut back on their salt consumption.

Autumn is a great time to roast savory pork that you may want to rub with garlic, rosemary and sage and cook with apples and white wine. Can't go wrong with that combination.


Winter Cooking

Much of the early winter produce replicates the autumn produce. Potatoes (storage) are plentiful and can take literally hundreds of forms.

Turnips and rutabagas are available in cooler weather. The rutabaga is a sweet, nutty root vegetable that is perfect in stews, roasted and mashed with a little butter.

Sweet potatoes are available late summer through winter. They are a healthy and delicious choice containing complex carbohydrates, fiber, beta carotene, Vitamins A and C and iron. They are delicious just baked in the oven with a little butter on them. Even though they taste sweet, these potatoes may be a beneficial food for diabetics because they help stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin resistance. Sorry, sometimes the nurse in me just comes out!

Also available now is radicchio, which can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. Parsnips look a lot like a carrot, but are paler in color. They are sweet and delicious in stews or baked in the oven with meats or foul. Leeks are available and are wonderful in soups and frittatas or omelets. Don't forget vichyssoise, that wonderful creamy potato-leek soup. Not necessarily your healthiest choice, but certainly a delicious one.

Winter squashes are plentiful now and can be transformed into amazing things, like butternut squash ravioli! Fruits are available such as tangerines, satsumas, pommelos, mandarins, oranges and lemons. Living in So Cal, we certainly can't forget the persimmon, which is a true winter treat. Look for the heavier fruit. Very ripe persimmon can just be spooned onto your toast in the morning for the best fruit spread you ever tasted!

This is a good time to experiment with your crock pot or make a delicious stew or pot roast.



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