by Susan Stuck
Use this guide to help select some of the best fruits and vegetables of the winter season! Fresh local produce isn't an option for many of us during winter. But that doesn't mean you should give up eating fruits and veggies!
Depending on your location there are some great seasonal foods available in the cold-weather months. This is also a good time of year to take advantage of healthy frozen foods. Here are some essential facts for selecting and storing fresh winter produce along with tips for easy preparation.
First, some basics
• Use your eyes, nose and hands! Choose items with good color, no off odors and that feel heavy for their size.
• Store whole, uncut fruits and vegetables unwashed and check regularly so you use them before they spoil. Many cold-season crops lend themselves to long storage.
• Don't be afraid to ask! Your supermarket produce manager can offer a wealth of information on selecting, storing and even cooking seasonal produce. Other shoppers often have good tips too!
Oranges, tangerines and tangelos
The winter months are peak season for a number of particularly delicious citrus varieties. Here are some varieties to look for beyond the standard navel and Valencia oranges:
• Ambersweet oranges taste like mild tangerines.
• Pineapple oranges are known for their juicy sweetness.
• Blood oranges produce a vivid, blood-red juice that's fragrant and sweet.
• Temple oranges are tantalizingly sweet.
• Minneola tangerines are a sweet tangerine-grapefruit hybrid.
• Dancy tangerines, often called "zipperskins," have a spicy aroma and rich flavor.
• Meyer lemons are probably an orange-lemon hybrid. Rounder than a typical lemon, with a thin, slightly orange skin, Meyer lemons have a sweet, but not too tart flesh.
Selection: Pick citrus fruits that are firm and feel heavy for their size. Skin color is not an indicator of sweetness or ripeness. Avoid fruits with soft spots.
Serving tip: If you're feeling adventurous, try any of the above-mentioned orange varieties in an Orange, Fennel and Radicchio Salad.
Selection: Bitter greens like escarole and curly endive are pretty sturdy. Look for big heads without wilting or discoloration.
Storage: Longer lasting than most lettuces, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for a week or longer.
Serving tip: A salad of bitter greens goes well with a slightly sweet dressing such as a full-flavored Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Selection: Look for broccoli with closed, deeply colored buds. Avoid broccoli with large, whitish stalks and yellowish buds. For a change, try mild flavored broccolini, also known as tender stem broccoli.
Storage: Put unwashed broccoli in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to four days.
Serving tip: Win over the broccoli skeptics in your family with a delicious Angel Hair and Broccoli Pasta.
Selection: A good head of cabbage should feel heavy, more like a bowling ball than a basketball. The color should be even, with no brown spots.
Storage: Wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for a week or longer.
Serving tip: Sliced cabbage will add a little crunch and flair your standard turkey sandwich.
Selection: Traditional white cauliflower should have creamy, blemish-free florets. Before buying, sniff deeply: there should be no stinky odor.
Storage: Store in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to a week.
Serving tip: Combine cauliflower with some of your favorite winter vegetables in a delicious vegetable wrap.
Selection: For the juiciest grapefruit, pick fruits that feel heavy in your hand and have shiny skins. Look for 'Flame' or 'Ruby Red' varieties, which are particularly good at this time of year.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator for two to three weeks
Serving tip: Grapefruit isn't just for breakfast — try a grapefruit and spinach salad tonight!
Greens (arugula, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale)
Selection: These cold-season greens are all members of the cabbage family, which are especially good in the winter months. Leaves should be bright and fresh-looking. Sniff the bunch and avoid any with a strong odor. Greens lose considerable volume when cooked, so buy a lot.
Storage: Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to five days
Serving tip: Substitute any of the above-mentioned greens in the delicious Roast Pork with Spicy-Sweet Collards.
Selection: Look for deep green, unbroken leaves.
Storage: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for four or five days. Spinach shrinks by 90 percent when cooked, so buy a lot.
Serving tip: Make spinach dip by combining low-fat Greek (strained) yogurt, chopped cooked spinach and sautéed onions.
Winter squash (acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata and pumpkin)
Selection: Squash should feel hard and heavy. Avoid any with soft spots. Talk to your produce manager about their favorite varieties. Butternut squash is available pre-cut at supermarkets: check the date and buy within a few days of packing.
Storage: Whole winter squash keeps for months in a cool, dark, dry place.
Serving tip: For a really quick and easy meal, make Gnocchi with Butternut Squash.
Susan Stuck is the food editor for Alere and has written about healthy, low-fat cooking for more than 20 years.
© 2012 Alere. All rights reserved. Last reviewed June 2012. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.