For many places around the U.S., December is a month that relies on the harvests of late autumn and hardy crops that can withstand cold temperatures. Root vegetables, dark leafy greens, alliums, and jared preserves are a common spread this time of year. With frost looming almost every morning and the soil getting colder, farmers and home gardeners who are without a greenhouse or hot houses typically wait to plant in the ground till it warms up again. As they say, snow is the poor man’s fertilizer. Here in Zone 10 (Los Angeles) our mild winters and warmer temperatures gives us the opportunity to grow year round. Many of the plants sown in September and October are looking mighty fine right around the holiday season. Let’s take a look at what produce is in season in December and what especially looks good at the farmers markets this particular harvest.
Persimmons are still out in full force at the markets. These sweet treats are rich in vitamins A, C, E, B6, dietary fiber and plenty of antioxidants. Great as a dried fruit snack or to eat like an apple.
Pomegranates are also a fan favorite this time of year. Sprinkled in salads, eaten as a tangy snack, or juiced allows us to take advantage of their unbelievable antioxidant powers. The Egyptians called pomegranate juice the elixir of the Gods..
There are still the remnants of the Apple, Pear, and Quince harvests leftover from earlier this season which still look and taste great. Their flavanoids, dietary fiber, and antioxidants will surely keep the doctor away this season.
Winter seasonal citrus are a week or two shy of really coming to market. Be on the look out for different varieties of lemons, oranges, and grapefruits later this month. Their vitamin C will protect you from those pesky winter colds.
Kabocha, which is a personal favorite, is a Japanese winter squash variety that has the sweetness of a Butternut Squash (also in season) but with a creamier and more tender texture. You can choose to roast it, braise it, sauté it, puree it- however you desire! You can even eat the tender green skin of this variety.
Acorn Squash are also looking mighty fine this time of the year. With a more subtly sweet flavor, they pair perfectly in both sweet or savory preparations. My favorite is to cut it across the horizontal and roast it flesh side up with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and a little cinnamon.
Delicata Squash were also abundant this time around at the markets. Their beautiful striped exterior are a perfect match for their surprisingly moist interior compared to their seasonal counterparts. All these squash varieties are packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.
Leeks this time of year are looking simply beautiful. Their crisp white flesh and forest green tips leave your eyes satisfied. Part of the Allium family, Leeks provide a surplus of cardiovascular protection, anti-cancer compounds, and can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Perfectly sweet when roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Beets are a fan favorite of the winter months. Coming in many different varieties and colors (candy striped, dark red, golden..), Beets offer an earthy and subtle sweet taste when roasted in the oven with some garlic and thyme. They are some of the most mineral and nutritionally dense vegetables containing an abundance of vitamin C, B folate, and potassium.
Turnips are another seasonal highlight for December. A cross between a carrot, radish, and a potato, turnips are great roasted in the oven or turned into chips for dipping. Their leafy greens are great side dish sautéed up with some crushed red pepper and garlic.
Rainbow Chard always amazes me by how Jurassic in size they can become. Rich in minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins K, A, and C, chard and other dark leafy greens are considered nutritional powerhouses. Their beautiful veins become tender when cooked in a soup, braised, or even gently sautéed with other vegetables.
Dino Kale is also on display this month. It’s slightly more bitter than it’s chard cousin, but perfect for a raw salad with a lemon tahini dressing. Although kale is availably during the majority of the year, the lower temperatures encourage its texture to become crunchy and firm.
Mustard Greens are another seasonal favorite throughout December. They become tender and creamy when you cook them down with some good stock and a pad of butter. Finish them off with some hot pepper vinegar for a Southern bite.
Brussel Sprouts are just making their way to market as we speak. Sprouts are a great source of folate, manganese, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, choline, copper, vitamin B1, potassium, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids. Roast them or shave them raw in a salad, they’ll soon become a winter staple on your season dining table.
Cauliflower and Romanesco are both in season and beautiful to prepare. Their mildly sweet and earthy flavors pair well with roasting or turning into a soup. Filled with folate, carotenoids, iron, and vitamin C, these colorful heads have been known to improve eye sight, strengthen bones, and lower cholesterol.