It always baffles me that January is considered the month for "detoxing" or eating lightly. Yes, many of us probably indulged a bit over the holiday season, but this definitely isn't the time for a supper of six raisins and lettuce leaf! (Actually, it never is...) I would far prefer to go easy in June when the body naturally craves light salads and fresh berries. At this time of year most of us just want to curl up with a good book and a bowl of steaming hot stew or a plate of hearty veggie bangers and mash. So let's rename this the month of comfort food! By this I don’t mean rich fattening food but meals that are nourishing and warming for body and spirit.
My favourite seasonal vegetables for January are celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, and cavolo nero.
Cavalo nero hails from Italy but grows easily here. It grows a metre high with leaves that grow upwards from the main stem. The tightly crinkled leaves are a dark emerald green, and when raindrops get caught on the leaves it creates a beautiful sight on a cold frosty morning. Just pick off the leaves when you need them. To prepare, remove the tough centre stem, chop and stir-fry, steam or add to soup. For freshness and texture, I recommend supplementing stews with lots of dark green leafy vegetables such as cavalo nero, kale and spring greens.
Celeriac is a very flavoursome winter vegetable and so versatile, but the knarled appearance may put some people off. It is related to celery and has a crisp texture and a flavour like a cross between strong celery and parsley. Celeriac can be eaten raw or cooked, simply scrub the roots well and then thickly peel. To stop the celeriac going brown when cut, drop into acidulated water (add a couple of tablespoons of lemon or lime juice to water). Grate or cut into thin strips to use raw in salads. Mix with mayonnaise to make the classic French salad, celery remoulade. To cook, slice or dice, then roast like parsnip or boil to make into fritters, or mash with potato.
Jerusalem artichokes are one of my favourite winter vegetables and as I've discovered through our friends on Twitter, many of you love them too! They are only harvested from now until March, and they are an ideal store vegetable as the tubers sit happily in the ground in mid winter. You can buy artichokes from farmers markets, farm shops or local greengrocers and occasionally in the supermarket.
Do you have any other great ideas for seasonal New Year's comfort food?
Photos by Rob Wicks @EatPictures