Perking up the palate

“Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them.” — Vincent A. Simeone

Thank goodness for the simple serenity of January! After the heavily seasoned, buttery rich, and severely saccharine selections of the holiday months, now is the time to enjoy recipes that will cleanse and rejuvenate, without sacrificing a scrap of delicious flavor.

Seasonal local produce, such as nutrient-rich root vegetables, including sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabagas, onion and garlic are the cornerstone of many deeply warming, comforting and nutritious winter dishes. When roasted, mashed, pureed, pan-fried, or made into soups or stews, gratins, casseroles or pot pies, the rather earthy flavor of root vegetables turns appealingly sweet and satisfying.

If you are still trying to wean yourself off the stash of Christmas cookies that remain secreted in your freezer, roasting root vegetables is a sensational swap. Simply peel and cube up any variety of root vegetable, place the cubes in a bowl and drizzle them with grapeseed or olive oil. Roll the cubes around until they are well coated with oil. Add a few chunks of Vidalia onion and several cloves of peeled garlic, if desired. Season it all with salt and pepper, or any combination of assertive spices such as cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cayenne pepper, chili powder or smoked paprika, stirring until all the cubes are covered. Roast in a hot oven, at least 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and begin to caramelize. Don’t let them burn, but do encourage a nice, brown edge.

Baked sweet potatoes are the perfect snack for refueling after a winter sports session such as ice skating or skiing. Crack open the skin to release the vibrant orange, steaming hot flesh and enjoy with a sprinkling of cinnamon or ginger.

Beautiful beets make bold and bright winter salads. Wrap well scrubbed, but unpeeled red and golden beets in aluminum foil, place in a 400-degree oven and roast until a knife can easily be inserted into the beets, then remove from the oven. When cool, remove the foil, rub off the skin and slice thickly. Arrange on a platter with slices of Cara Cara oranges, clementines or blood oranges. Sprinkle  with chopped, toasted walnuts and add a smattering of blue cheese crumbles. Dress your gorgeous beet and citrus salad with balsamic glaze and feel the power of colorful nutrients reviving your senses.

What marvelous alchemy it is that turns knobby and gnarly root vegetables into superbly silken soups!

The unusual, unique flavor of parsnips are reinvented into something quite regal when cooked and pureed with nutmeg, thyme and a touch of cream. Humble carrots take an exotic turn when blended with fresh ginger, coconut milk and homemade vegetable or chicken stock. Soups are so soothing, so warming and a luscious means of introducing a healthy dose of energy-boosting benefits to the body. Even children who are particularly anti-vegetable may sometimes be coaxed into enjoying the smooth texture and tantalizing flavor of root vegetable soups.

Prepare your delicious life with delightful winter root vegetables.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Serves 4-6.

½ stick butter

1 ½ cups finely chopped sweet onion

1 ½ tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger (remove the peel with the back of a spoon)

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 pounds peeled, chopped carrots

2 peeled chopped parsnips (optional)

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground fresh nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4-6 tablespoons sour cream

Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring until golden. Then add ginger and garlic and continue cooking until they turn golden. Do not let garlic burn. Add carrots, parsnips and lemon peel, cook for a few minutes more. Add stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and let simmer until carrots are quite tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Puree soup in batches in blender or food processor. Return soup to the pot, mix in the lemon juice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Taste and add more spice, along with a pinch of salt and pepper if desired. If soup is too thick, add a bit more broth until desired consistency is reached.

Serve very hot, topping each serving with a tablespoon of sour cream.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook”, is a passionate food and wellness professional who earned her certification in holistic health counseling from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. She earned her cooking experience in the kitchen! Robin specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes to children and adults utilizing, fresh, natural ingredients and simple, delicious recipes. She conducts cooking demonstrations for many local organizations and is available for cooking parties and private instruction as well. For more information go to Robin’s blog is