As the dog days of summer fade and take-fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes and sweet corn with them, other hearty veggies have emerged to take their place. Three vegetable families — squash, roots and Brassicaceae (cruciferous vegetables) — bring their yellow, orange, purple and deep green shades to the late season palette.
You’ll find them at local farmers markets and grocery stores. Michele Mukatis, owner of Cultivate Health and an avid gardener, has tips for choosing, storing and getting maximum enjoyment out of these seasonal crops.
How to pick: Feel them for hard rinds and look for deep colors. Mukatis isn’t finicky about blemishes.
“A vegetable with a blemish or two may mean more nutrients because it has had to fight a little harder to stay alive,” she said.
There’s evidence to support her theory. According to environmental biologist Brian Ward of Clemson University, who oversees research in both conventional and organic agriculture, “There are so many factors contributing to antioxidant content in vegetables. The most important factor is the plant itself — and the variety. That’s genetic. Then there is the soil, its mineral content, and whether conventional or organic fertilizer is used. But yes, there is some interesting data that when plants are stressed by insects or disease, they produce metabolites that are good for us.”
How to store: Mukatis stores squash in her basement, “which maintains a pretty even temperature of no less than 60 degrees,” she said. “It’s cool and dark. They can be stored there up to three weeks.”
No basement? Find another cool, dark spot or store in the lower part of the refrigerator.
How to use: “I make soup with butternut squash,” Mukatis said. “Pumpkins are great to roast. Scoop out the flesh and puree it, then freeze it for later to make cakes, breads, and waffles with peach jam. Acorn squash is more savory in flavor, so it’s good as a side dish at Thanksgiving. I made a sausage-stuffed recipe that was a winner at Thanksgiving a few years ago.”
How to pick: Go for smaller beets, which will be more tender than the larger variety. Select larger carrots because they have been in the ground longer, giving them more time for natural sugars to develop. Go for small to medium-sized parsnips. Rutabagas should be firm with smooth exteriors and feel heavy for their size. Go for small turnips that feel heavy for their size; they’ll be more delicate in flavor and slightly sweet.
How to store: Refrigerate. “I store them for a month or two with no problem in the crisper drawer,” Mukatis said.
How to use: Scrub, trim, slice and roast with salt to add a hit of crunchy sweetness to salads and side dishes.
“I like to roast beets and freeze them to use in dishes like beet quesadillas or beet and chickpea tacos with tahini dressing,” Mukatis said. “All root vegetables are great roasted in any combination. Cut the tougher ones into smaller dice for everything to be cooked through at the same time.”
How to pick: Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Select a head of cabbage that has tightly packed leaves and feels heavy for its size. The best Brussels sprouts are bright green with small heads.
How to store: Both should be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to a week.
How to use: Red and green cabbage can be eaten raw or cooked.
“Homemade kimchi is all the rage right now,” Mukatis said. “Fermented vegetables are a good way of balancing your personal microbiome to keep your gut processing what you eat and keep you healthy. In reality, your gut controls your health more than any other organ in your body, so keeping it happy should be a top priority.”
Brussels sprouts need to have the stems cut off. They can be prepared whole, halved, sliced or shredded.
“I love them,” Mukatis said. “Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with hazelnuts is a favorite way to serve them. Or cut them in half and roast with a balsamic drizzle sautéed with bacon.”
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