Here in the Okanagan, we have been particularly fortunate this year with beautiful fall weather and the corresponding slow change of colours.
Have you noticed the colours of our food changes too as we head into cooler, shorter days?
It is a scientific fact that people who live in cooler climates behave like the creatures in those climates when it comes to preparing for winter.
We are more prone to “nesting”, creating a cozy home and snuggling down in it as opposed to roaming around outside. We also crave more fattening foods as our bodies condition themselves for a hibernation.
I don’t tell you this to justify those extra cookies you have in your kitchen or the extra helping of potatoes you couldn’t resist at dinner. It’s okay that we give in once in a while. But knowing our bodies want these foods in our diet can help us create a new balance as we shift our meals into winter mode.
I often suggest including salad dinners as a way to offset richer meals. This time of year it starts getting harder to find salad ingredients though, and who wants a cold meal on a cold day? So how about making a fall or winter salad?
Here are my favourite 5 ways to switch things up:
- Use a Grain as a base instead of lettuce — quinoa and kashi (roasted buckwheat groats) are two gluten free options. Quinoa offers protein as well. Rice also works well, or ancient grains like couscous, freekah and barley. They take less time than rice to cook and you can make a batch ahead and keep it in the fridge for the week.
- Sauté veggies instead of just having them raw as you do in summer salads. Zucchini, onions, mushrooms, peppers, celery — any or all of these can be tossed in a pan with a bit of oil and your herbs or spices of choice. Once cooked just until tender, toss them with your grain and voila!
- Roast veggies for extra flavour. Broccoli, cauliflower, chunks of onion, peppers, winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and Brussels sprouts are all delicious. Cut into pieces, toss with oil and salt and pepper, then roast at 400F (or 375F convection if you have that option) for about 10-15 minutes depending on the vegetable and size of the pieces. You want them tender but not mushy, and brown bits are the best part. Add these to your grain or toss with meat or fish if you wish to create a dinner bowl.
- Add texture with nuts, seeds, fruit, even a bit of greens. Toast nuts or seeds for about 5 minutes to awaken their oils and bring up their flavours. If you chop apples or pears ahead of time, put them in water with a squeeze of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Green like kale, spinach, arugula and herbs such as parsley, cilantro and mint are all fun additions.
- Warm your dressing or sauce to bring out its flavours. You can use bought sauce or make your own (remember Google is your friend – search for new inspiration). Heat just until warm and then pour over your dish and toss. This is the crowning glory on winter-fying your meal, and it will kick up the flavours a notch from having it cold.
Lastly, I highly recommend pairing your winter salads with a hearty beverage. If you’re a wine geek like me, this is a fun chance to try a variety of wines and not just the very bold, full bodied reds.
This is not to say you can’t have these – drink what you like. I like Cotes du Rhone reds and Italian Barbera wines to mix things up. The beers of winter can be fun too — stouts and scotch ales are my favourites.
These gorgeous days leading up to the Hunter’s Moon need to be savoured. I’m not a hunter but I am a gatherer. I intend to stock my pantry with harvest goodies so I can enjoy the flavours through the winter as I snuggle up.
I hope I see you around at the last few farmer’s markets.