December: Eating Seasonal Produce as Part of a Halal Diet
Lights, late-night shopping. Chocolate and Christmas TV. But do you know what foods are in season this month? As Brits, polls show us we’re pretty bad at knowing what’s in season when. Supermarkets offer us almost everything we want, all year round, so why eat seasonally at all? There are environmental reasons to eat what’s in season (reducing the energy and associated CO2 emissions needed for transporting food, being a big one). But perhaps the most immediate reason to is that eating seasonal foods as part of a halal diet is better for our health, it tastes better, and it’s cheaper. Buying seasonally means you don’t pay a premium for food that’s harder to get or needs to travel long distances. You’ll get produce at the peak of its supply, meaning it tastes better and costs less to farmers and distribution companies to harvest and get to the shops. Eating seasonally encourages us to try new things, and to enjoy a broader more interesting and varied diet.
December seasonal produce isn’t too far removed from some of what we saw last month, with the pumpkin still hanging on, by a seed-adorned thread. We’ve said goodbye, until next year, to wild mushrooms, quinces and Swiss chard. But the foods stay rich and nutty, sweet and earthy with jewel-like colours and flavours of pepper and spices. On their way out are apples, Brussel sprouts, celeriac, chestnuts, and cranberries, so get them while they’re at their best. And here are a few other things to try before January…
Shiny brown with a spiny casing, chestnuts are famous for being roasted over festive fires. You see them smoking in winter in the gloved hands of those unable to resist their smoky aroma on the fires of roadside vendors. Find out how to roast them yourself here. Chestnuts are a sweet-tasting, wintery treat that can be added to soups, stuffings and sauces, stews, pasta dishes and even desserts. You can buy them fresh, ground, dried, puréed or vacuum-packed. Try adding dried or vacuum-packed chestnuts to a halal lamb stew, made from diced lamb, with polenta, sage and dried cranberries. Why not also serve them up with a creamy mushroom and halal chicken risotto, or a soup with cauliflower, or the classic way, in a duet with sprouts? Chestnuts are delicious with roasted halal meat and poultry, and also with pasta too. We love them because they aren’t something we have every day. They jazz up a winter dinner. They’re inexpensive. And most of all, their sweet and versatile. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts have a high starch and water content but low protein and fat levels. They contain antioxidants and are high in fibre.
Hmm, wasabi. The green Japanese paste is typically made from horseradish. There’s something very warming and satisfying about the peppery, tangy horseradish, a member of the mustard family. The root, which is similar in appearance to a parsnip, gives off a recognisable aroma when cut. Once peeled, it can be grated and mixed with cream and other ingredients to make a hot-flavoured sauce traditionally served with British roast beef and the mighty Yorkshire pudding (easy to make, and much better than when bought frozen). Creamed horseradish is tasty and easy to buy. It’s simple to add to mashed potato or to serve alongside meat, but you can always make your own by hunting down the fresh stuff, grating it and mixing it with double cream or vegetable oil. We love Yorkshire puddings with sliced halal roast beef and horseradish cream, for a version of the roast dinner that really packs a punch with a strong, rich flavour. These little ‘puddings’ are great to have on-hand, served warm or cold, to eat by the fireside or offer to unexpected visitors. Another winner is a halal fillet steak served with chestnuts and walnuts. Why not add chestnuts to a beef stew, after Mary Berry, or serve in mashed potato with beef and caramelised onions? Horseradish is an ideal accompaniment to smoked mackerel and salmon too. It’s great added to fritters, made from potatoes that need using up, a dollop of horseradish cream on top and a runny poached egg. Horseradish is high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. We like that there is an easily-accessible cheats’ option for enjoying this wonderful flavour!
Okay, okay, it’s not all glamour. Or is it? The humble cabbage can be quite charismatic, you know. It’s also pretty versatile, which we like. Braise it, marinate it, pickle it, stir-fry it, bake it, even stuff it. Try adding it to a curry night, fried lightly with mustard seeds, some fenugreek, turmeric, or shred it and serve warm with asafoetida and curry leaves. Add a butter to it with your favourite herbs, like thyme or oregano. It’s an ideal base, alongside potato, for making ‘bubble and squeak’, a great way to use up vegetables, fried with butter into a sort of extravagant mash (ideally with the bottom slightly browned in the pan). You can stir-fry cabbage with oodles of garlic and ginger. Pickle and serve it with halal lamb kofta. Put it into a pasta bake. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper. It’s also a good source of choline, phosphorus, vitamin B2, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, protein and niacin.
The apple comes from a tree that belongs to the rose family. Apples are delicious cooked, particularly with halal chicken or other poultry. They sweeten when cooked, and provide an interesting alternative or addition to a classic veg accompaniment. We love this twist on the classic New York-style Waldorf Salad with a low-calorie dressing. Make it with our halal chicken breasts. Apples are high in dietary fibre and low in calories.
Seasonal meat: We see a lot of game around at this time of year: fatty, sweet, rich birds, along with venison and veal. But Beef and Lamb and Chicken are still at their best.
Other seasonal foods include: Pomegranate, salsify, swede, parsnip, celeriac, satsumas.