February is one of those in-between months. It lands a little shy of the earliest spring bounty, and hangs on desperately to late winter’s cast of root vegetables, brassicas and citrus. But even though the choices are more select, there is still, surprisingly, a lot to work with. It’s really just a matter of retooling the old standbys so that you surprise your palate with the familiar. That’s my aim this month.
Every month, the Seasonal Food Guide will take a look at culturally seasonal items in addition to seasonal produce. This month we’ll explore braised meats and chocolate.
What are your favorite recipes incorporating these seasonal foods?
RADISHES are bright and crunchy with a little hint of pepper. The French like them with butter and salt, the Japanese like to pickle them, and the Danish like them on open-faced sandwiches, which we’ll be exploring this month, along with a quick pickle.
THIS MONTH: SMORREBROD, DANISH OPEN-FACED SANDWICHES
TANGELO: One of many hybrids in the citrus family, thought to be the offspring of a pomelo and a tangerine, the tangelo’s quiet flavor is sweet, far more so than a grapefruit. It bears many of the hallmarks of citrus: intensely juicy, a lilting tang beneath its sweetness, and a bright color that is welcome in winter.
THIS MONTH: BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES WITH CITRUS PRESERVES
RADICCHIO gets a bad rap due to its sharp flavor. I like to think of it as a tonic. When partnered with sweet or starchy foods to counteract its strong taste, it adds an incredible depth of flavor to a dish. Like lots of winter produce, it’s in the same family as the broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage. It’s bright crunch is the perfect starting point for all kinds of creative winter salads.
THIS MONTH: RADICCHIO, CARA CARA ORANGE AND QUINOA SALAD
SUNCHOKES, or Jerusalem artichokes, are not actually related to artichokes at all. Their name is due to confusion over the word girasole, Italian for sunflower, to which they are indeed related. They’re a nice variation on your standard winter tuber, nutty and mild in flavor. Use them any way you would a potato.
THIS MONTH: ROOT VEGETABLE HASH
BROCCOLI RABE: Also in the brassica family, broccoli rabe bears resemblance to a young broccoli plant but but is actually not just the youthful version of the same. There is a little bit of bitterness, as is the case with all brassicas, and a mild and welcome nuttiness different from many of its cousins. They are great sauteed alone, arranged on pizza, paired with sweet sausages, or livened with chili.
BRAISED MEATS: Meats, of course, can be braised any time of year, but there’s something really gratifying about a home filled with the rich smells and cozy warmth of an hours-long braise tucked into a Dutch oven. Meats used for braising are typically a more economical cut, too tough to enjoy when cooked over a high heat for a short period of time, but perfect for the slow relaxation of the muscle and protein that develops over hours at a relatively low heat. Braised meats are typically seared over high heat, then covered and cooked on the stove or in the oven with aromatic vegetables and herbs and some kind of braising liquid – stock or wine or sometimes just water.
THIS MONTH: CARNITAS
MEYER LEMON: In China the Meyer lemon was grown more for decorative purposes than for culinary ones. Apparently, the surge in popularity of the Meyer lemon in the United States is owed largely to Martha Stewart. It is a lovely little thing, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and an orange. It’s flavor is bright and puckery like a lemon but delivers a softer punch. The fragrance of the fruit is pretty remarkable too, especially before it’s been sliced: you catch a whiff of the floral scent of citrus blossom and the acid of the lemon. And it’s uses in food are nearly limitless: put it in your pancakes at breakfast, squeeze the juice on your salad at lunch, roast it with fish for dinner, sweeten it with sugar for dessert.
CHOCOLATE: It is kind of mind-blowing to consider how far chocolate has come in the last few centuries. It was originally consumed unsweetened, in a beverage whose name roughly translated to bitter water. Brought back to Europe by the Spanish in the 17th century, it quickly became popular throughout the continent, but only in its unsweetened, beverage form. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that chocolate was developed as a solid, sweet bar – the way most of us know it best today.
THIS MONTH: CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH SESAME + CHILE