Seasonal Produce Guide: What to Buy in December
Stock up on pears and pomegranates, and give underrated turnips and rutabaga some love.
Although they are among the oldest cultivated fruits, pomegranates still seem exotic: reddish orbs shaped like holiday ornaments that open to reveal jewel-like seeds. Chock-full of antioxidants, fiber, and potassium, they're also one of our favorite superfoods. Pomegranates are only in markets until January, so be sure to snap some up while you can-they're just the thing for gilding your holiday menu. Cooks who treasure the fruits' tangy flavor and brilliant color can incorporate seeds or juice (fresh or bottled) into dishes of all stripes-make your own pomegranate molasses, toss a salad, top roasted sweet potatoes, whip up a glaze for roast chicken, brew a cup of tea, our list of marvelous ways to use pomegranates goes on and on.
The perfect cool-weather fruit, pears are available throughout winter; among the thousands of varieties, supermarkets generally carry just a handful, including Bartletts, Bosc, and Anjou. They can be poached, caramelized, roasted, or baked into a pie, and complement savory foods such as cheeses, nuts, and meats, particularly chicken and pork. Choose slightly underripe, firm pears for cooking; Anjou and Bosc hold their shape particularly well. Asian pears are also delectable eaten out of hand or in a salad or simple dessert. They may resemble apples, with their globe shape and crunchy texture, but these Asian varieties are true pears-not an apple-pear hybrid, as many believe. While they boast the same basic nutritional value as their Western counterparts, Asian pears ripen on the tree, so be sure to enjoy them soon after you buy them.
This crisp root vegetable resembles a large version of its cousin, the radish, and has a similar peppery flavor. Turnips comes in a range of shapes and sizes, and whichever variety you choose, they're a very good source of immunity-boosting vitamin C, perfect for warding off winter colds. Turnips are often boiled but are also great raw: Slice into matchsticks or shred them and add to salads or slaws for crunch. Try roasted or steamed turnips tossed with butter or olive oil and herbs for a simple side, mashed like potatoes, or pureed into creamy soups. Cook diced turnips into winter stews or braised dishes. And don't forget about the tops-they're edible too! Try sauteing or boiling the greens as a side dish.
Time for our PSA on rutabaga! The humble root vegetable, a cross between a turnip and a wild cabbage, is wildly underrated if you ask us. It strikes the ideal balance between peppery and nutty-sweet and makes a wonderful side dish for any roasted or braised meat-its sharp flavor cuts the richness beautifully. Try it mashed, grated, pureed, roasted, buttered, turned into oven fries, baked into a gratin, or transformed into a soup.
A member of the chicory family, escarole may look like a head of romaine, but it's much more flavorful, with thicker leaves and a pale yellow heart. It's actually a type of endive, which accounts for its bittersweet and slightly peppery taste. It turns mild, sweeter, and surprisingly buttery when cooked. Rich in vitamin A and folate, escarole is also a good source of fiber. But what makes the green such an asset in the kitchen is its versatility-escarole is sturdy enough to braise or bake until meltingly tender but equally tasty served blanched or raw and crisp in a salad. It also lends itself well to sautes, pastas, soups, stews-the options are limitless.
Cabbages are the unsung heroes among cold-weather vegetables. They're widely available, delicious prepared every which way, and high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Not only does the mild, clean flavor of cabbage blend well with other ingredients, but the texture is also super versatile-it's crunchy when raw and velvety when cooked. Take advantage of cabbage this winter and pick up a couple heads for roasting, stuffing, braising, baking into chips, tossing in a slaw or salad, you name it. And don't be afraid to go beyond your everyday green and red cabbages and experiment with Napa, Savoy, and more.
Learn two easy ways to prep cabbage: