January can be a depressing month in the kitchen, especially if you aren’t growing anything in your garden. Since we’re lucky enough to live in a mild climate, January in our garden means all-you-can-eat greens, with kale, lettuce, and chard the star of the vegetable beds, and we love picking them for sautéing, salads, gratins, and frittatas. But man cannot live by greens alone (or at least this one can’t). The broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are just starting to produce heads and are still a month or so off. The parsnips are just about ready. The peas that are flowering and producing are getting eaten by me straight off the vine; there aren’t enough to pick for the family. Carrots have lovely foliage but not enough root to pluck out for a meal.
Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of food we dried, canned, or stuck in the freezer back in the summer and fall, as well as stores of winter squash, shallots, and garlic that we’ve got hanging about in cool places. In the busyness of harvest, it’s hard to fathom why we stand over a hot canner or dehydrator, but January makes those days worth it. And even if you haven’t prepared ahead, these things are (mostly) readily available in the store for you to purchase.
One of the best things I did this summer is allow a good portion of my ‘Rattlesnake’ pole beans to dry on the vine. I finally pulled them all up and spent a good week shelling them, yielding about a quart of dry beans. Not only do I have enough to plant again this spring, I’ve also been doling them out a cupful at a time in the kitchen. If you don’t have dried beans, you can buy very fresh dry beans from a reputable place. I like Rancho Gordo, as they sell only the previous season’s beans, and they are local to me. Soaking dry beans requires some preparation (remembering the night before, and then cooking them in the morning before preparing a dish), but they taste great. However there is absolutely no shame in buying canned beans - they are easy and fast and delicious and good for you. I prefer the organic brands with lower salt, but get whatever you can in a pinch. Beans have that special thing that’s hard to describe: They satiate. They make your stomach satisfied. They ‘stick to your ribs.’ This is a quality that’s necessary in winter food, whether you’re in deep snow in upstate New York, or soggy, foggy Northern CA.
We’ve had two bean recipes lately that were simply delicious, and I include them below. A lot of bean recipes also include canned tomatoes, which brings me to…
We just can’t get enough tomatoes. No matter how many I preserve, we always run out long before the first fresh cherry tomatoes make it into our kitchen in June. I put up tomatoes in numerous ways: Canned, as crushed, as sauce, in salsa; frozen, as chunky tomato-basil sauce, tomato paste, or whole; and dried, in slices. I like to add the dried slices to grilled cheese sandwiches (while the men in my family prefer to add dried or frozen jalapeno slices). The chunky tomato sauce from the freezer is used for either pasta or shakshuka. All the other tomatoes get used up mostly in our dinners. I recently found a recipe for a roasted tomato soup that blew us away. See below for that recipe.
All winter squash varieties can easily be stored in a basket or bin in your coolest room. They will keep for months this way. We grow a good amount of butternut squash, and enjoy eating them for months after harvest. Still, we run out before we stop wanting to eat it, so it’s brilliant that there are still squash available in the stores. Acorn and delicata are also usually available in January, as well as other heirloom varieties like kabocha.
I usually resort to roasting squash with olive oil and salt and eating it that way (with ricotta on toast, as a side dish, as a hash with eggs and any other veg), but it’s nice to have a fancier recipe on hand for company or events. The one below is delicious and satisfying.
I mainly freeze or dry peppers (both sweet and hot) to use throughout the year as a seasoning. But we do also use frozen strips of pepper for fajitas all winter, as it’s a quick and easy dish that we all love to eat, and makes great leftovers for a packed salad lunch the next day. We especially love fajitas in the summer with fresh sweet peppers, but it’s not unpleasant to eat frozen in the winter as well. You can use any color sweet pepper for this, and if you haven’t frozen any from your garden, you can easily find them frozen at your grocery. Recipe below.
I also make romesco sauce in the summer and stash it in the freezer. This makes a zingy sauce for steaks or roasted veg all through the winter. Recipe at the link.
Hot peppers, whether dried, frozen, or pickled, make an excellent condiment for many meals in dark months. Adam and Tom like them on sandwiches, sprinkled into soup, tossed with pasta, and with charcuterie like salami or prosciutto. To that charcuterie plate, they also add other pickles, which brings me to…
Tom makes oodles of pickles over the summer, mostly from cucumbers but also from carrots, beans, and hot peppers. You couldn’t imagine, honestly, anyone eating this many pickles, but eaten, they always are. Tom and Adam especially like to eat them as a side at lunch with a sandwich and chips. They like them all - spicy, dill, garlic, bread n’ butter, sweet. I prefer them fermented and always make a jar of half-sours, but those go fast and early with my own lunches. The rest of winter is filled with the crunch of canned pickles. Tom says that using ‘pickle crisp’ (calcium chloride) is the best way to keep them crunchy.
Except for this past year (in which we had a crop failure for alliums), we always have abundant garlic and shallots hung in braids on every available Shaker Peg Rail. Nothing will make your meals taste better than a good addition of some sort of allium. Having plenty about (organic, if you can find it) is a sure-fire way to make your dinners taste even better. I also freeze some cloves each year so I can take those out as needed. I add garlic to nearly everything, but it also tastes wonderful roasted and spread on toast or added to soup. And we’ve already talked about using caramelized onion.
The only fresh fruit we consume this time of year is citrus. We have several neighbors with trees and they are generous in sharing, but the stores all carry wonderful seasonal oranges and grapefruits. It’s fun to try all the different varieties as they become available. I always love the first Satsuma mandarins, and Cara Cara oranges are also favorites of ours. Fresh lemons are squeezed into several pints of juice for the freezer, and if I get a chance, I dry some slices and some zest for cooking and baking the rest of the year. Usually we make some sort of marmalade with any excess citrus given to us from neighbors, or lemon curd, or any kind of orange or lemon loaf cakes, which brighten up cold nights.
OK! Below are the recipes I’ve talked about. If you try one, let me know how it goes. I’d also love to hear about your favorite meals for wintertime, using what you’ve preserved or are growing - I always need new dinner ideas!
All of these recipes are geared for four people with 2-3 servings as leftovers. So I guess you could say each recipe is for 4-6 people. It just occurred to me that most are vegetarian. We are not vegetarian, but have consciously been trying to eat less meat. Some, like the squash recipe, is more a side dish but could be pumped up with the addition of a little marinated tofu.