The Five Key Ingredients to Keep the Winter Blahs at Bay

By: Lynn Ogryzlo

Yikes! Where did the summer go? I find my thoughts are turning to fighting colds, runny noses and guarding against that sun-stripped seasonal malaise. To fight them, don’t underestimate the power of food or the leverage you’ll have with a few easy and delicious recipes. I call these foods my winter chasers.

Like any chaser, a winter food chaser means adding lots of healthy foods to your already stimulating diet to boost your immunity to winters bugs. As we switch up the lighter foods that satisfy us in the heat of the summer for heartier winter foods that keep us warm in the winter we need to make sure we’re prepared to guard against the absence of sunshine and the attacks of winter weather.

Yes, even in the winter you can eat fruits and vegetables to stay healthy. Winter vegetables tend to be starches and roots. Dense, bitter greens work well together in hearty salads and roasted meats. Citrus fruits, however, are the shining light of winter.

Winter is a great season for being inside surrounded with the savoury smells of a kitchen in full use. It’s the time to stock our cupboards with vitamin-rich, cold-weather foods and arm ourselves with some simple yet delicious recipes to battle the winter blahs.

So pour yourself a glass of deep, dark red wine, cuddle under a cozy blanket and watch the sparkly snowflakes fall. Enjoy this time of year by eating right.

POMEGRANATES

Pomegranates are one of the world’s oldest fruits as well as one of the most nutritious. Pomegranate juice has more antioxidants than any other fruit juice and is super rich in anti-inflammatories making it a heart healthy addition to any diet. But this sweet-sour fruit also has amazing virus fighting powers. You’ll find the globe-shaped fruit in grocery stores from October through January.

Food Ideas:

When it comes to salads, fennel and pomegranate go as well together as spinach and pomegranate. Sprinkle the jewel-like seeds into a winter barley salad. I love Panna Cotta topped with pomegranate puree and it looks festive for the Christmas season. Speaking of the holidays, make a pomegranate and cranberry relish for your turkey dinner. Sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds over top a steamy bowl of oatmeal or a steaming bowl of cream of cauliflower soup. Add a splash of unsweetened pomegranate juice to a glass of soda water or a cup of green tea.

Storage Tips:

Whole pomegranates keep in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for up to two months, or at room temperature for one to two weeks. Pomegranate seeds should be refrigerated in an airtight container and used within a few days.

CITRUS

There are two different kinds of citrus fruits at this time of year. Summer citrus fruits include lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits, which are at their juiciest in the winter months. Seasonal or winter citrus fruits include mandarin oranges, tangerines, blood oranges, and clementines that are only available at certain times in the winter. All are incredibly high in vitamin C, which is known to increase energy levels, lower anxiety and fight off colds and the flu. In addition, the high levels of free radical fighting antioxidants can even help keep your skin glowing and clear through the dry, blustery winter months.

Food ideas:

The flavours of beets and blood oranges go as well together in a winter salad as do radicchio, pomegranate and oranges. Make a key lime pie, mix a grapefruit and Campari cocktail or add chunks of tangerine to fish tacos. Substitute lemon juice for vinegar in salads, bake a batch of lemon squares and use lots of lemon and lime to make a ceviche bright. Or just peel and eat!

Storage Tips:

Refrigerate all citrus and it will keep for a few weeks. Unrefrigerated or at room temperature it will last up to four days.

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POTATOES

In their plainest form (not fried or drowning in cheese, butter or sour cream) potatoes are abundant in vitamin C and B6, two immunity boosters. Unlike other starches, potatoes are a whole food which contains many beneficial nutrients that help your body fight off winters colds and flu. If you can find purple potatoes you get an added boost from antioxidants linked to a whole host of health benefits and sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene and other nutrients.

Food Ideas:

Instead of frying French fries, roast potato strips with salt, pepper and chili powder. Simmer a delicious corn and potato chowder or toss boiled potato chunks with green beans and onions for a delicious salad and – don’t forget to add a few pomegranate seeds. Load beef stew with unpeeled, quartered potatoes and add lemon juice to a pan of Greek-style roasted potatoes. Line muffin tins with shredded potatoes to make a cup then fill them with sautéed broccoli and red peppers. Sweet potatoes cook up into a savoury soup or yummy pie.

Storage Tips:

Store potatoes in a dark, cool, well-ventilated area for months. Keep spuds away from onions and apples. At room temperature, potatoes will keep for one to two weeks.

GARLIC & ONIONS

Members of the allium family, garlic and onions thrive in cold climates. Folklore claims that wearing a whole clove of garlic around your neck will keep you free from a winter cold or flu. The truth is, garlic has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties making it a powerful flu fighter. Onions are high in vitamins and many other nutrients that fight against chronic respiratory ailments and aging.

Cooking Tips:

Now is the time for eating as much French Onion Soup as you like. Potato leek soup offers a double bonus for warding off the winter blues. Boil 50 cloves of garlic in water with parsley. Lay a thick piece of dried bread in a shallow soup bowl. Pour the garlic broth on top and lay a poached egg on top of the soaked toast – yum! Stuff a whole chicken with 40 cloves of garlic or bake a French onion tart.

Storage Tips:

Garlic and onions should not be refrigerated, but kept in a cool, dry, dark place. If conditions are right, onions will keep for a few weeks and garlic for a few months. Leeks should be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated for up to a week.

DARK LEAFY GREENS

This category includes the super-healthy brassica family of vegetables; broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, chard and collards to name the more popular. Dark leafy greens, such as kale, chard and collards are actually winter-greens, they thrive in the chill of winter when the rest of the produce section thins out. They are all powerful vegetables that aid in digestion, lower the risk of depression, increase immunity and guard against cancer.

Food ideas:

The easiest way to include more super-healthy greens in your diet is to swap one or more of these vegetables for lettuce in salads. Olive oil, lemon and salt reduce the bitterness of some of the bitter greens. Make a batch of kale chips on the weekend while a pot of cream of broccoli soup simmers on the stove. Add bok choy to a stir-fry and half Brussels sprouts, toss with olive oil and bacon bits and roast in a moderate oven (350F) cut-side down on a cookie sheet until browned – delicious! Believe it or not, they’re a great finger-food to snack on while watching your Saturday night movie.

Storage Tips: 

Wash greens and dry them in a salad spinner. Wrap them in paper towels and put them in a sealable plastic bag. Stored this way, greens will stay fresh for one to two weeks. Broccoli, cauliflower or Brussel sprouts stored in an open bag will keep for up to 10 days.