Author and food editor, Rachel de Thample explains the importance of eating local produce and shares her seasonal superfoods and their health benefits...
Why it's important to buy fresh and local
''When food is local and seasonal you’re getting it at its nutritional and flavourful best.'' Explains Rachel, ''The food hasn’t travelled for days or months in the back of lorries or sat in dusty warehouses so it’s fresh, perky and full of goodness.
Imported food tends to be picked before it’s properly ripe, so not only do you miss out on that gorgeous, sun-ripened flavour but you also miss out on the fruit and veg being able to develop to its optimal nutritional standard as well.''
Whether you grow your own fruit and veg, or want to make the most of delicious, seasonal produce in the supermarket, read Rachel's monthly picks and the health benefits they can deliver...
Healthy seasonal calendar
Pea shoots. I always sow a window box of peas in the autumn and when I return from my Christmas holidays, I have a lush mound of green to feast on. Pea shoots are wonderful as a springy, fresh garnish to a hearty winter soup. Or you can swirl them into a warm risotto-like porridge of quinoa with lots of wintry lemon and little crumbs of feta scattered on top.
Put them to use in our pea shoot recipes
Kale. This is deep winter's hero veg, and there are so many ways to cook it. Finely chop, massage with oil and a hint of sweetness, pan fry then roast and it's like Chinese seaweed. I love it like this tossed with vermicelli rice noodles, soy sauce and chilli flakes. You can also make an incredible slaw.
Try our favourite kale recipes
Nettles. I love foraging and nettles are top of the list in early spring. They are full of iron and are so versatile. The simplest way to enjoy the leaves is to steep them in boiling water and sip as a tea, but they’re also gorgeous with pasta or used as a substitute for spinach in just about any dish.
Give them a go in this warming nettle soup
Wild garlic, chives and three-cornered leeks. These are punchy ingredients that not only pack a flavour punch but they’re also in the garlic family, which means they’re great natural antibiotics. Anytime I feel a little sniffly I dose up on foods from this family and it works every time.
Read more about the health benefits of garlic
Radishes. I grow radishes in my windowboxes. They’re such a satisfying thing to grow as you can get from seed to radish in just a few weeks. Even better, you can use radish leaves in salads or to make pesto, or wilted down like spinach, so they’re pretty much a two-for-one veg.
Use up your radishes in these recipes.
Baby beetroots and rhubarb. These two ruby wonders are surprisingly delicious together, especially with a bit of ginger thrown into the mix. Beetroot is known for lowering blood pressure and is thought to be good for cleansing your digestive system. I like to grow baby beetroot as they’re great for pickling or roasting whole. While you can’t grow rhubarb in a window box, it’s an easy thing to grow outdoors or get right through the summer. Rhubarb is also really good for digestion.
Brighten your day with our favourite rhubarb and beetroot recipes.
Caraway. Spices are one of the best ways to jazz up veg, and caraway is such a brilliant pair for so many things, such as broccoli (gorgeous in soup), squash (toss with roasted wedges), spinach (sprinkle over wilted spinach), tomatoes (in a simple salad) and so much more. While you can find it in the shops, caraway is one of the easiest things to grow. Often you get two harvests of seeds a year. I love it and it's another one that’s really good for digestion - in some cultures, they even eat a handful of caraway seeds after a meal to promote a healthy gut.
Add caraway to everything from salads to cakes.
Tomatoes. Nothing compares to sun-ripened, homegrown tomatoes. At this time of year they’re almost like sweets, and it’s pretty much criminal in my book to do too much to them. In the summer you’ll find me walking down the street snacking on punnets of them. Healthwise, they’re full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Make the most of seasonal tomatoes with our favourite recipes
Fennel. This is one of my absolute favourite vegetables. I love the seeds, the bulb, the frilly, dill-like fronds. Fennel can cross the sweet and savoury boarder, too. The bulb is stunning shaved into little wisps for salads, especially when paired with pineapple, avocado, coriander leaves and toasted cashews. As many of my favourite vegetables are, it’s really soothing and great for the tummy.
Add an aniseed tang with our fennel recipes
Squash. Another king of versatility. Firstly, there are so many varieties to choose from. My favourites: crown prince, red kuri, chestnut and sunshine squash. From autumn until late spring my kitchen is never without one. I love halving them and just roasting them until they’re tender enough to scoop the flesh from the skin. This sweet delicious stuff can then be whipped into a glorious cheesecake (I like making mine with homemade labneh (yogurt cheese)). It’s also stunning just as mash or blend it with herbs or spices and stock and you’ve got an instant soup. Squash is full of beta-carotene, the same orangey goodness you get from carrots. Our bodies turn beta-carotene into vitamin A, which can help keep skin healthy skin and promote good eye health. It’s also great for your immune system.
Make the most of this autumn stalwart in our pick of squash and pumpkin recipes
Rosehips. These Vitamin C-packed gems can be found on rosebushes from early autumn but November and December are the months to pick them, when they’re so soft you can squeeze out the ruby pulp out like toothpaste. I love making a voluptuous syrup out of rosehips, which I then pair with apples or turn into a tea. The sweet yet tangy syrup is also lovely swirled into yogurt, drizzled over pancakes or stirred into an apple-studded porridge.
Tranform foraged berries into a versatile, immune-booting cordial.
Parsnips. I have a sweet tooth but I try to steer clear of sugar. Roasted parsnips totally satisfy my cravings with their natural, honeyed sweetness. Even grated raw in salads (lovely with toasted hazelnuts and fresh lemon thyme), they’re divine. They even work grated into cakes, which helps bring down the added sugar content of a sponge, or grated and fried with chorizo for the most delicious breakfast hash ever. As well as being super tasty, parsnips are full of fibre, potassium and vitamin C.
Get back to your roots and try our favourite parsnip recipes
You can see Rachel de Thample at the BBC Good Food Eat Well Show from 27 February - 1st March. Find out more and book tickets today.
Do you have any seasonal health heroes to add to the calendar? Let us know in the comments below...