Seasonal Eats: Add Local Flavor to Your Holiday Menu

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Cara Cara Oranges (Photo by Heather Parlato)

One of the great things about holiday fare is that it’s usually already seasonal, based on traditions that are older than the globalized food market. However, if you’re anything like me, you like a good blend of traditional favorites with some new and innovative flavors to mix things up. Also, these holidays originated in the north-east in the freezing cold, not the, uh, sometimes-very-rainy south-west.

On the traditional American table, holiday menus usually consist of fermented ciders, a stuffed bird or seasoned roast, mashed potatoes and yams, and late-season fruit puddings and pies. We can depend on these delicious comfort foods every year, but in the southern California landscape, there are a lot more fruits and vegetables that can add a fresh contrast of flavor. If you’re bringing a dish to share, surprise your friends and family with something new that highlights what we have growing in our mild winter climate.

In addition to leafy greens like swiss chard, which we looked at last week we’ve got broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fennel and salad greens ready this time of year. We’ve also got a great selection of squash, like pumpkin and butternut (many are ripe in fall, but keep all winter), and root veggies like beets, carrots, celery root, turnips and radishes. Add a spicy, garlicky broccoli sauté to the table, or introduce this delicious side dish of Chinese broccoli. Combine sweet squash and apples with a roasted butternut squash & apple salad. Mix root veggies into your mashed potatoes to put a spin on tradition with celery root and potato mash. Bring something totally unique like sweet potato kale patties.

As for seasonal fruits, apples keep long after their season, and Asian pears and persimmons are at the ripe end of their season here as well. Citrus of the orange, tangerine and grapefruit variety are all available, and pomegranates are not only in the farmer’s market, they’re all over my neighborhood. Pass up the pie and slice up fresh winter fruit for a refreshing fruit salad, or use them to top a green salad of arugala and sliced fennel—or juice some and make up a spiced holiday sangria! Add crunchy, juicy apples to this pear anise salad. Pair your winter fruits with a tasty cheese plate with nuts for a great appetizer. Consider making some from-scratch cocktail mixers using these amazing guides from La Cucina Italiana and Serious Eats, and get your ultimate eggnog from Epicurious.

Since many of our holiday foods originated on the north-east coast, one way to really kick up the California is to showcase raw citrus. Citrus figures into holiday dishes, but usually as a flavor agent and not front & center. After a trip to the farmer’s market where I found Cara Cara oranges, Satsuma tangerines, Oro Blanco grapefruit, Asian pears and ripe Fuyu persimmons, I made up this winter fruit salad, and then decided it would be even better with a hot sauce champagne dressing.

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Spicy Winter Fruit Salad (Photo by Heather Parlato)

Spicy Winter Fruit Salad

Ingredients

1 orange, peeled, sectioned, & slice sections crosswise

1 tangerine, peeled, sectioned & slice sections crosswise

1 oro blanco grapefruit, peeled, sectioned & slice sections crosswise

1 persimmon, sliced crosswise and then sliced lengthwise into sixths

1 asian pear, cored, sliced crosswise and then sliced lengthwise into sixths

1 tb your favorite hot sauce [Cholula works well]

2 tbs champagne [non-alcoholic, use white wine vinegar]

Instructions

Cut up all your fruit and throw it into a bowl. I’m not big on peeling membranes off citrus fruit, but if you are, go to town! This whole business about slicing and cutting in sixths is really about getting everything to be pie-shaped, but feel free to cut the fruit any way you like.

In a small mixing bowl, pour your hot sauce and the champagne and stir it up with a fork. If you’d like to make a true vinaigrette, add 1 TB of olive oil and 1 TB white wine vinegar, maybe even a teaspoon of Dijon if you like. Whatever you choose, blend it up and pour it over your fruit. Enjoy the satisfying fizz of champagne mixing with citric acid and sugar!

Toss & serve in a pretty bowl. This recipe will serve about 4, double it up as needed. I like to top it with additional hot sauce, so people know what they’re getting themselves into.