The temperature gets cooler, the trees prepare to burst into color and everything gets back into full swing: work, school and vegetables – The fall season, especially in New York, is a peak time for produce – whether from a neighbor’s garden or the local farmer’s market. If you’ve wanted to learn more about eating local, learning to cook, or just appreciating how healthy food can actually taste good, this is the time.
Here are three quick and easy ways to get the best flavors from the season:
What could be easier than cutting up a few veggies and fruits, tossing them with a few spices and a dash of oil, and then throwing them into an oven? In 30-45 minutes you’ve got an amazing meal, side dish or snack. Here are a couple of roasting ideas:
Combo Roast (pick 3): Roast sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, parsnips or apples tossed with some minced thyme, rosemary or ginger in an oven at about 350-400 degrees until fork tender. The smaller the chunks, the faster they cook. When finished, toss them together to let the flavors mix. If you want to get fancy, toss with some freshly grated lemon or orange zest. Put onto a big bed of greens and pair with a lean protein.
Roasted Corn and Tomato Salsa: Roast the corn in the husks on one half of the baking sheet. On the other half (or on a high-sided oven-safe dish) roast halved tomatoes, roughly chopped red pepper and zucchini slices tossed with a few cloves of crushed garlic and chopped basil or rosemary tossed with a little olive oil. You can add leeks and onion into the mix if you like. Roast at 350-375 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. When everything is fork tender (you may have to remove the tomato mixture early), husk and cut the roasted corn into a bowl – or the high-sided dish – and mix well with the other roasted ingredients. If you like a kick, you can toss in a little bit of crushed red pepper, cayenne, part of a finely minced jalapeno or a chopped chipotle pepper. This salsa isn’t just for dipping – it’s versatile as a side dish, a base for stews or on top of some fresh arugula.
There’s no better way to enjoy the harvest than in its most pure form. Don’t just go with the usual suspects – try a combination of different greens, vegetables and even fruits to keep your taste buds engaged. Food science knows that three things make your tongue happy – sweet, fat and salt. Take advantage of that to kick up the flavor with tasty, nutritious toppings like avocado and nuts. Just remember to use moderation with ingredients that are higher in calories and fat.
Try the combinations below to make your own salad:
- Pick a green: Lettuce, spinach, arugula, shredded kale or cabbage, sauteed mustard greens or swiss chard
- Pick 2 or 3 veggies: Carrots, celery, cucumber, peppers, snap peas, tomatoes or any of the roasted vegetable ideas above
- Pick a fruit: Raspberries, blueberries, pear, apple, grapes
- Add flavor with a healthy fat: Add avocado, olives or chopped nuts. Create a basic vinaigrette with your favorite vinegar, a spice or two (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, ginger, citrus zest etc.), a dash of salt and just a little oil (extra virgin olive or sesame). Toss with the salad thoroughly to coat. Less is more.
*Tip: The key to making sure your salad dressing sticks to the greens is to mix it well before drizzling it on, and pat the veggies and greens dry after you wash them.
3. Sweet, Nutritious Endings
While restaurant desserts can be packed with excess fat and sugar, you would be amazed at what fresh fruit, spices and a small amount of butter or whipped cream can do at a fraction of the calories. Try this basic fruit stir-fry for an amazing flavor combination that will curb the strongest sweet tooth.
Chop an apple, pear and plum – get rid of the seeds, stems and pits.Toss with a pinch of cinnamon. Other optional spices could be nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger or vanilla (use very small amounts). Place half a tablespoon of butter in a small pan on low-to-medium flame and let it melt. As soon as it is done melting, toss in the fruit and stir for a couple minutes until the fruit begins to get soft. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy. Feel free to add a little citrus zest for color and flavor.
If you want to get a little more indulgent with minimal guilt, you can add a small dollop of whipped cream (25 calories per tablespoon) or stir in a piece of 70% (or higher) dark chocolate. It will start to melt and taste delicious. Try using darker chocolate which has more fiber and protein, less sugar and will not taste bitter since you’re eating it with sweet fruit.
Jason Machowsky is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified personal trainer at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.