As we are still a few weeks away from the opening of my local farmers market and my garden is just in its prepping stage, the only place I can go right now to get fresh fruits and vegetables is the grocery store. I’ve learned that the best way to eat fresh during the off season is to be intentional about what I buy during my shopping trips.
I start every trip to the grocery store in the produce section because it fills the majority of my cart. Right now in warehouses across our state, farmers have carefully stored their potatoes, apples, onions and pears from last fall’s harvest. When I buy any of those items at the store during wintertime, I know that I’m going to get delicious, fully ripened produce that was picked at the perfect time. Although we’re experiencing winter in North America, parts of South America are enjoying their summer. That means that this is the best time of the year to buy some foods that never grow here in the Northwest like avocados and mangos. I try to stay away from buying any quintessential summer foods that ripen on a vine during the wintertime, like tomatoes and melons. During wintertime, those foods are picked before they’re ripe and transported so long and far that by the time they get to my grocery store they hardly have any flavor to offer.
Though it seems counterintuitive, the frozen food aisle is a great place to find fresh food during wintertime. Freezing produce allows the vegetables and fruits to retain more nutrients than any other preservation method. Best of all, they can be every bit as tasty as their fresh counterparts. During winter, I buy a lot of frozen spinach which I substitute in any recipe that calls for cooked fresh spinach like vegetarian lasagna, spanakopita, and quiche. My freezer is usually stocked with frozen green peas, broccoli, a stir-fry mix, corn, edamame, and, my kids’ ultimate favorite, green beans. I oven roast frozen green beans by tossing a 1 lb. package of green beans with 1 TBSP of olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper. After 10-12 minutes in a 400° oven they’re hot, healthy and don’t have a hint of the rubbery-ness that can occur when they’re microwaved. Another one of our favorite frozen foods is berries. I buy frozen strawberries, blueberries and blackberries all winter long that we eat in oatmeal, on top of pancakes, inside of muffins, and blended in smoothies.
Though winter can pose some challenges to eating fresh, if you’re mindful during your shopping trips you can still ensure that you get the best tasting food regardless of the season.