It may seem like slim pickings in the produce section in the wintertime. But if you look a little closer, you'll find a cornucopia of winter fruit and vegetable choices. We all know the winter holiday season is prime time for produce like cranberries and yams. But have you considered persimmons, kiwi, oranges, pears, or rutabagas? And here's the kicker: All these winter choices have notable nutritional attributes, including scores of healthful phytochemicals.
Here are 15 fruits and vegetables that tend to be available during the winter season, including some year-round favorites. Keep in mind that no matter which fruit you're buying, choose fruit that feels heavy for its size and has no sign of molding, deterioration, or bruising.
Asian Pear (September-December for the Yali type, October-March for Korean type)
Storage Tip: These fruits are picked when they are almost ripe, so handle them gently. Use quickly after purchase or refrigerate for one to two months.
Prep Tip: Use them raw in salads, as a snack with cheese, or as a dipper for fondue. Use them cooked in crisps and other desserts, muffins, and entrees.
Cooking Tip: The thin-skinned Korean pears don't have to be peeled before cooking. They can be cut into round slices or wedges, chopped, or even grated. The center core can be removed with an apple corer. Asian pears usually require longer cooking times than regular pears because of their crunchy texture.
Nutrition Tip: One half cup of uncooked cranberries contains 2 grams of fiber (mostly insoluble fiber), and 9% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Pick out any soft or moldy berries, then refrigerate the rest in a plastic bag for up to seven days. They can be frozen in bags if you won't be using them right away.
Prep Tip: Cranberries can be used whole. Just rinse them briefly in cold water. Use them as an accent fruit in pies and crisps, pudding, and jams, and as a featured ingredient in muffins, breads, cakes, and sauces.
Cooking Tip: Recipes with cranberries usually involve added sweetener to balance the tartness of the berries.
Green Beans (Available all year)
Nutrition Tip: One cup of raw snap green beans contains 4 grams of fiber (a combination of soluble and insoluble); 11% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin B2; and 24% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Refrigerate green beans, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to four days.
Prep Tip: Snap or cut off the ends, cut longer beans crosswise into the length desired, and rinse before cooking.
Cooking Tip: Green beans are most often cooked by microwaving, steaming, stir-frying, or boiling. The key is to cook only until tender-crisp. If stir-frying, cut the beans in 1-inch pieces so they will cook quickly along with the other ingredients.
Nutrition Tip: One guava contains 5 grams of fiber (a combination of soluble and insoluble), and 10% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and 220% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Ripen at room temperature, if needed. You can store guavas at room temperature for up to one week, or refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Prep Tip: Guavas have sturdy skin, so you can cut them in half and scoop out the semi-soft inside flesh with a teaspoon (discard the shell). They're ready to eat when the fruit gives slightly to gentle pressure.
Cooking Tip: Use uncooked guavas in recipes in place of strawberries and kiwi. Use them cooked in pies, breads, or preserves, or cold or hot in sauces, juices, or sorbets.
Nutrition Tip: One kiwi contains 3 grams of fiber (mostly the insoluble type), and 76% of the recommended daily amount for vitamin C.
Storage Tip: They're ready to eat when they give slightly to gentle pressure. Really soft kiwi fruit is too ripe to eat. Ripen at room temperature, or refrigerate in the crisper drawer for three to five days.
Prep Tip: The skin on kiwi fruit can be eaten if desired. But if you want to peel them, cut in slices and then peel; use a paring knife to cut off the ends and then remove the skin; or cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
Cooking Tip: Kiwi is usually enjoyed raw. Pureed kiwi can be used to make all types of sorbet or margaritas. Kiwi is a beautiful addition to desserts and salads.
Nutrition Tip: Four kumquats contain 5 grams of fiber (mostly the insoluble type) and 38% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Store kumquats in a cool area for up to 7 days, or refrigerate unwashed, wrapped in plastic, and in the crisper drawer up to two weeks.
Prep Tip: Kumquats look like tiny oval oranges. Here's the fun part -- the entire kumquat is edible (peel and all!) Roll the fruit gently between your palms to release the fragrant oils. Eat them whole, chopped, sliced, or halved.
Cooking Tip: Add them raw to all sorts of salads, or cook them (bake, broil, sautee, or simmer). Kumquat's flavor works well with fish, pork, or game or in marmalade or relish.
Orange(December-April, some varieties)
Nutrition Tip: One orange (2 1/8-inch diameter) contains 3.5 grams fiber (a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber) and 11% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B1 and folic acid, and 107% of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: The juiciest oranges will feel heavy for their size. Store at room temperature for about one week or refrigerate for up to three weeks.
Prep Tip: If you need the zest (outer peel) for a recipe, use the zester before you cut the orange. Oranges can be peeled first, then separated into segments. Or cut them into wedges and then cut the peel away.
Cooking Tip: Eat as a snack or use as an ingredient in salads or desserts or cooked into sauces or preserves.
Pear (Fall/winter months for most varieties)
Nutrition Tip: One pear (D'Anjou type) contains 5 grams of fiber (mostly insoluble), and 11% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: If your pears are perfectly ripe and you aren't ready to serve them, keep them in the refrigerator to help suspend further ripening.
Prep Tip: Pears go from ripe to overripe very quickly at room temperature, so they are often sold hard. Let them ripen at room temperature for a couple of days before serving. They're ripe when they give in to gentle pressure at the neck. To serve, cut in quarters and remove the core and stem. The skin is usually tender, and can be included in most recipes.
Cooking Tip: They're great raw as a snack (try them with a delicate cheese). Some crisps and other dessert recipes call for pears. They work well in cooked dishes. They have a more delicate texture and sweeter taste than apples, and may require a bit less cooking time and sweetening.
Nutrition Tip: One Japanese persimmon (2.5-inch diameter) contains 6 grams of fiber (mostly insoluble) and 13% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B6, 17% of vitamin C, and 52% of vitamin A.
Storage Tip: The heart-shaped persimmon (Hachiya variety) needs to be fully ripened with a jelly-like texture. But the tomato-shaped Fuyu variety can be eaten either when apple-like firm or softened slightly.
Prep Tip: For the Hachiya, the soft pulp can be scooped out once the fruit is cut in half. The Fuyu type can be eaten sliced or chopped.
Cooking Tip: Add the firmer-textured type chopped or sliced to salads and other cold dishes. Use a puree of the softer variety as a replacement for half of butter/margarine or as a featured ingredient to cookies, quick bread, muffins, or cakes.
Nutrition Tip: One pomegranate contains 1 gram fiber (mostly insoluble fiber) and 12% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium.
Storage Tip: Store the whole fruit at room temperature for up to one week, or refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Prep Tip: The challenge with pomegranates is getting to the seeds without splattering the bright red juice all over yourself. To remove the seeds with no splatter, partially fill a deep bowl with water. Underwater, cut the pomegranate into quarters, then gently nudge the seeds loose. The seeds will float, so you can easily lift them out of the bowl with a slotted spoon or your hands.
Cooking Tip: It's "in" to use colorful pomegranate seeds as a garnish for salads, meat dishes, and desserts. Use the juice to make sorbets, sauces, smoothies, and fruit juice blends.
Nutrition Tip: One quince contains 2 grams of fiber (mostly insoluble), and 18% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Store at room temperature for up to one week, or in refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Prep Tip: Wash in cold water, then cut into quarters, core, and peel.
Cooking Tip: Use cooked, as you would apples, in sweet or savory dishes.
Nutrition Tip: One cup of uncooked rutabaga cubes contains 3.5 grams fiber (a combination of soluble and insoluble); around 12% of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, vitamin B1, B6, potassium, and vitamin A and 47% of vitamin C; and about 0.1 grams of plant omega-3 fatty acids.
Storage Tip: Refrigerate unwashed rutabagas in a plastic bag for up to three weeks.
Prep Tip: Rutabagas have a yellowish and purple skin and are about the size of a softball. Wash them under running water and cut off the ends. Use a potato peeler to take off the skin, then cut them into whatever shape you desire.
Cooking Tip: Rutabagas have an earthy, peppery flavor and can be part of a raw veggie platter. They can also be cooked -- in slices, cubes, or wedges -- until just tender by roasting, steaming, or microwaving.
Sweet Potatoes/Yams: (September-January)
Nutrition Tip: One cup of uncooked sweet potato cubes has 4 grams of fiber, 18% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B2, 26% of vitamin B6, 40% of vitamin C, and 380% of vitamin A.
One-half cup of baked and mashed yams contains 3 grams fiber (a combination of soluble and insoluble), around 10% of the recommended daily amount of potassium and vitamin B2, 19% of vitamin B6, 33% of vitamin C, and over 300% of vitamin A.
Storage Tip: Do not refrigerate, but store in a cool, dry place for a week or two.
Prep Tip: Scrub the outside of sweet potatoes under running water. If cutting them into slices or cubes, cover the sweet potato pieces with cold water to prevent discoloration. If you need to peel the sweet potato, a potato peeler works well.
Cooking Tip: Sweet potatoes have a sweet flavor that tends to increase with storage and cooking. They can be baked, boiled, steamed, or microwaved. If baking whole, pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork to give the steam somewhere to go.
Tangerine: (December-February, some varieties)
Nutrition Tip: One tangerine (2.5-inch diameter) contains 2.3 grams fiber (mostly soluble), 13% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, and 40% of vitamin C.
Storage Tip: Store tangerines at room temperature for up to one week or refrigerate, wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to two weeks.
Prep Tip: If you need the zest (outer peel) for a recipe, remember to do that first before you cut the tangerines. Tangerines are easily peeled and segmented by hand.
Cooking Tip: Tangerines are less acidic than most citrus fruits. Use them as you would oranges in fruit or green salads, stirred into yogurt or cottage cheese, or as a topping for dessert.
Winter Squash: (November-September for some varieties and August-December for others)
Nutrition Tip: One cup of uncooked butternut squash cubes contain 5 grams of fiber and around 9% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid; 13% of vitamin B1, B3, and potassium; 15% of magnesium; 17% of vitamin B6; 39% of vitamin C; and 150% of vitamin A.
Storage Tip: If uncut, winter squash with hard rinds can be kept in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place for one to four months. Once the squash is cut, though, you'll need to refrigerate the pieces in a plastic bag.
Prep Tip: It's often easier to cut the squash into pieces, remove the seeds, cook until tender, and then cut the flesh away from the thick outer shell. Use a hefty chef's knife to cut the squash into pieces.
Cooking Tip: Winter squash needs to be cooked -- steamed, baked, or microwaved. If baking, place the halves or pieces flesh-side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or canola or olive oil, and bake in a 375-degree to 400-degree oven until tender.
Winter Fruit and Vegetable Recipes
Roasted Garlic & Parsley Green Beans
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat + 1/2 cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat
An easy way to dress up green beans.
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
About 8 cloves of roasted garlic*
Pinch or two of salt
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley
4 cups green beans, washed and both ends trimmed (cut longer beans into two-inch pieces)
Freshly ground pepper (optional)
- In small bowl, combine olive oil, roasted garlic, salt, and parsley. Stir to blend, mashing roasted garlic with the round end of a small spoon.
- Microwave green beans in two tablespoons of water just until crisp-tender but still a vibrant green. In colander, rinse beans with cold water and drain well.
- In a large, nonstick skillet heat olive oil mixture over medium-high heat until hot (about one minute). Add the beans and continue to cook, tossing often, until hot and mixed together well (about one minute.) Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, if desired.
*To roast garlic: Lay a sheet of foil on a flat surface. Cut about 1/4 inch off the pointed end of a whole garlic bulb. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over the exposed cloves; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap foil around the garlic and bake 30-40 minutes at 400 degrees until soft.
Yield: 4 servings
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 serving medium dessert OR 1 serving fresh fruit + 1/2 cup sweetened cold cereal
This recipe makes individual desserts. You can make them ahead of time, pop them in the microwave to warm them up, then top off with a cookie-size scoop of light vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
4 tablespoons less-fat margarine (use a brand with 8 grams fat per tablespoon) or whipped butter
2 tablespoons lite pancake syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
Pinch of salt
Light vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If you haven't already, cut pears (discarding the core) into 3/4-inch pieces until you get about 5 1/2 cups. In a large bowl, add pears and lemon juice and toss to coat pears well. Stir in cranberries and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
- Divide pear mixture between eight, 8-ounce ramekins or custard cups.
- In a food processor, combine whole-wheat flour with margarine and lite pancake syrup by pulsing for about five seconds. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, oats and salt to food processor bowl and pulse until moist clumps form (about five more seconds).
- Sprinkle topping evenly over the pear-cranberry mixture in the individual baking dishes and bake until topping is golden (about 25 minutes). Let cool for about 15 minutes, then serve warm, each topped with a mini-scoop of light ice vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2007 Elaine Magee
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.