Summer Produce All Winter Long

You're heard of the ant who works all summer, saving food for the winter while the lazy grasshopper just watches. It was that enjoyable, old Aesop's fable about the importance of hard work and a lesson on saving the fruits of summer for the cold months ahead. Indeed, a big hooray to the ant for his foresight.

Growing up in a Mediterranean culture, I would sometimes visit my grandparents' farm in Turkey. What I saw there was this same practice of saving summer produce for the winter. It was not just a fable though; it was a way of life. There was no Whole Foods in the eastern part of Turkey to get anything and everything at anytime. If one wants a particular food item, one must either save it or wait for it. This was not only a practice of culture, but the essence of sustainability. Seasonal was surely not a trendy word for my grandmother and those around her in their Mediterranean community, it was how they ate.

What I have done in my home is used this practice as a way to honor the goodness of foods — both in nutritional value and in the principle of playing my part for more sustainable practices for the environment.

Here is one way to incorporate the lesson of the famed fable in your life: Start by growing summer vegetables such as red peppers, eggplant and zucchini, and then roasting them in the summer to freeze them for the winter!

By roasting, you prolong the life of the vegetables by stopping enzymatic reactions from degrading the food. Also, by roasting, you don't lose any of the water-soluble vitamins like you do with boiling. When you grill or roast vegetables, they take on a soft texture that is perfect for adding to healthy dips, soups or stews to have throughout the year.

My grandmother grew loads of red peppers this past summer in Turkey. It was a great season! I spent time grilling the red peppers with her, and then we peeled any charred skin and put the peppers in plastic bags for the freezer.

I particularly love red peppers from the garden. They are crispier, have no pesticides (red peppers are one of the "dirty dozen" pesticide-laden vegetables when grown conventionally) and they impart so much more flavor! Not to mention, buying ready made roasted red peppers in a jar is quite expensive. Once you freeze the red peppers, you can make Muhammara dip which is a delicious Mediterranean red pepper spread made of grilled or roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. All you need is a bit of foresight to freeze vibrant red peppers of the summer for the winter and a food processor to make this delicious dip!


Muhammara: Mediterranean Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Recipe by Jackie Arnett, RD

Ingredients
2 cups grilled or roasted red peppers
1 cup walnut, very finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onions
1 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. sugar
Freshly cracked pepper
Salt
Dash of cayenne (optional)

Directions

  1. In a processor, mix red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, olive oil, onion, pomegranate molasses, cumin, sugar, salt and cayenne. It should have a grainy texture.
  2. Spread over serving dish and drizzle a little more olive oil. You can also garnish with pine nuts or parsley.
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Jackie Arnett
Jackie Arnett, RD, is a New York City-based registered dietitian, public health policy attorney and cooking instructor with a focus on Mediterranean cuisine. Read her blog, JackieArnett.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.