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Winter greens pack healthy punch to cold weather meals

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01/25/2014 1:59 PM

05/16/2014 11:26 AM

Midwestern winters can wreak havoc on every aspect of your life. From your sinuses and car to your psyche and diet, it seems as if nothing is safe from the wind chills of winter.

It feels natural to seek shelter in the comforting embrace of a warm blanket or a giant bowl of fat flecked starches like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes. Luckily, winter greens are like a healthy oasis in the otherwise dreary days of food hibernation.

In summer, there are vibrant vegetables and fruits everywhere you look, making it easy to eat fresh and healthy meals. On top of that, you are more likely to be active and exercising in those warm weather months.

In some places like Kansas City, once winter hits our bodies brace for the harsh months of cold and the dearth of fresh vegetables to properly nourish ourselves. Comfort foods become like culinary coats we don to keep us warm and satisfied.

The answer isn’t to seek out a tomato grown halfway around the world for a splash of freshness to brighten our plates, because there are plenty of seasonal options sitting at the market just waiting to feed and nourish your winter meals.

Winter greens, those colorfully dark vegetables like kale, turnip greens, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and all manner of cabbages, are all in season and teeming with nutrition and culinary possibilities to stave away the winter blues.

Often when considering the topic of the greens in winter, people tend to think of leafy greens or vegetables that are cooked into submission for hours with meats like ham hocks or bacon added to disguise them.

While a bowl of braised collards with pork is comforting to be sure, there are so many other ways to use such precious winter produce that run the gamut from raw to braised and everything in between — packing a considerable nutritive punch while also feeding the body’s yearning for something fresh.

Aside from just their robust flavor and variety of textures, winter greens are loaded with vitamins A and C, and minerals that help to fuel your body and mind when the weather is oppressive. A boost of iron and calcium can do wonders for you in the long cold days of January in Kansas City.

Stocking your vegetable drawer with winter greens is similar to keeping a

fortified pantry

in that you have a bevy of options at your fingertips to cook healthy, fulfilling meals rather than reaching for the ease and empty calories of greasy take out pizza or the like. Winter vegetables like cabbages and greens keep very well too, so your refrigerator arsenal can stay packed without the worry of items going bad after a day or two.

People can sometimes run thin on ideas of how to incorporate these types of vegetables into their menus other than old standards like braised greens or steamed broccoli, but winter greens are as versatile as they are delicious. Brussels sprouts are great

steamed or roasted

, but with a bit of effort and creativity you can use them raw too, shredding them finely or picking the layers of leaves to use in a salad or tossed through pasta to finish a dish.

Kale can be your culinary chameleon, shifting from a sautéed dish with bacon lardons to a gratin with béchamel, or finely shredded and made into a crunchy raw salad with apples and walnuts.

Broccoli has long had a bad wrap because often times it’s relegated to bland vegetable medley sides or drenched in a thick, cloying sauce in a bad stir-fry. Try roasting it, which yields a crispy browned edge to the florets and stock while leaving the insides al dente but tender. You can even shave the flowery tops of broccoli to produce tiny, crunchy bits that make for a brilliant and healthy finishing touch to casseroles or salads.

Playing with textural contrasts helps to add variety and depth of flavor to your dishes while highlighting the varying virtues of each winter vegetable. From long cooked to raw, winter greens have something delicious to add to every meal.

Vegan Raw Winter Greens with Pasta

Think of this vegan dish as a playful, healthy spin on something like a baked macaroni and cheese or other comforting yet calorie-laden comfort food dish. The bright, citrus tinted green pesto stands in place of a cheesy sauce, while the finely shredded kale and broccoli add layers of texture and flavor throughout the dish. The tiny bits of raw broccoli florets take the place of bread crumbs on top for a refreshing crunch. To boost nutritional content even further, use your favorite whole grain pasta.

1 package, short pasta like shells or macaroni, cooked according to package 1 head of broccoli, florets shaved and stalks roughly chopped 1 bundle of kale, leaves and stalks separated 1 lemon, zested and juiced 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 2 green onions, chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make winter greens pesto, combine broccoli and kale stalks in food processor bowl with zest and juice of lemon, parsley, thyme, garlic and 1 chopped green onion. Pulse to chop vegetables finely and slowly add olive oil to make a rough pesto. Finely shred kale leaves and combine with half of the shaved broccoli florets. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta with half of the pesto and toss to combine. Add more pesto to your liking, then add kale leaves, reserved chopped green onion and half of the broccoli florets, mixing to combine. Serve hot or cold in bowls, topped with the tiny broccoli florets on each bowl.

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.

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