Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winter Sweets

Winter blues leave us craving the sweet berries and tart, juicy peaches of summer’s past. I can picture a lazy afternoon under the sun, watermelon slice in hand, with the aroma of fresh cut grass floating by and the soft rustle of leaves with each steamy breeze. Though I am impatiently waiting to feast on the fresh plums, cherries, and apricots that summer will soon offer, winter can still satisfy my sweet tooth. Decadent desserts and rich hot cocoa may initially come to mind, but let’s leave those for the holidays. The sweets I am talking about won’t jeopardize your New Year’s resolution to lose those extra five pounds. Think root vegetables. Under the dirty, mud speckled skin of these seemingly dull veggies lies the sweet flesh of nature’s pure and organic sugars. Some of my favorite root vegetables include a medley of turnips, sweet potatoes, and beets. Besides the obvious health benefits, root vegetables simply taste delicious, wholesome, and filling. In addition, they add deep, vibrant colors and a sweet flavor to any dish. These root veggies are bold enough to stand alone and serve as the ideal complement to any meal.

The secret lies in how to cook them. Personally, I love my root veggies roasted. Here are some tips for cooking a hearty medley of turnips, sweet potatoes, and beets. Before cooking your root veggies, make sure to scrub them with a sponge to get all of the excess dirt off. I like to cook them with the skin on (with the exception of beets) so you really want to make sure to scrub hard. Next, slice them however you please. I usually just cut bite-sized chunks or thick, round pieces, but you can get creative here - star shaped, heart shaped, basic geometric shapes, so many possibilities! Next, line your root veggies on a baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over your veggies and toss to coat. Pop them in the oven for around 40 minutes at 400 degrees and let them roast. If you have any rosemary lying around, this would be an excellent complement to the sweet flavor of the veggies but rest assured that they taste amazing on their own.

An excellent meal to complement your roasted root vegetables includes a fresh lemon arugula salad with mushroom and tomato and a lemon pepper salmon fillet. For the lemon arugula salad, top a bed of smokey arugula with tomatoes, mushrooms, and dried cranberries. For the dressing, keep it simple, freshly squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with salt and pepper will provide the excellent balance to the sweetness of the cranberries and the bold flavor of the arugula. For the salmon fillet, sprinkle some lemon pepper seasoning over the fillet and pop it in into the oven with the roasted veggies for 10 to 15 minutes. For an added lemony kick, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the salmon before serving.

This meal will be sure to please the crowds and give you an excellent opportunity to allow you to keep it simple, sweet, and healthy. Even though my heart longs for the natural sweets of summer, it is now the time for winter vegetables to shine. Soon you’ll be craving the savory and hearty sweet potatoes and turnips of winter when summer finally decides to roll around. Happy eating!

--Monica Purmalek

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