By Celina Jackson, FEEST Journalism Intern

If the blow-up Santas and in-your-face Christmas shopping ads don’t remind you of this every day, we’re coming up on the holiday season now. The holidays mean food, food and more food – but winter produce doesn’t seem to make an appearance on the dinner table often enough.

This is most likely due to the fact that it’s a bit intimidating. Give someone a turnip and they don’t always know what to do with it.

“People are generally apprehensive of anything that they are unfamiliar with, so they will be less likely to cook or eat it if it’s not something they know,” says Seattle nutritionist, Leika Suzumara.

From beets and rutabagas to winter squash and potatoes, there’s tons of variety among winter veggies out there and plenty of underrated choices because people are scared of trying new things – especially when it comes to a subject as delicate as cooking.

The truth is that there are many upsides to buying in-season veggies and it isn’t as complicated as it may seem.

Seasonal produce can be found locally, making it more fresh, tasty, and nutritious.

“[Produce] is going to be at its freshest when you eat seasonally because it’s in its natural cycle of life and being picked and eaten (ideally) soon after it’s been harvested,” says Suzumara.

With local produce, “time between harvest, purchase, and consumption is going to be minimal. As soon as food is harvested, it begins to lose its nutrient value, so the quicker you eat it, the more nutrients you will get from it.”

More fresh also means, simply, the food will taste better.

Short transportation benefits the environment as well. Fossil fuels emitted during the shipment of food and food products are major pollutants.

Suzumara says that seasonal produce will also be cheaper because “it doesn’t have the added cost of shipping and greenhouse costs that an out of season food requires.”

An obvious benefit of buying local is how it supports the local economy. Your money is going to a local farmer, not a large corporation.

This also means you have more knowledge of where your food is coming from and what kind of conditions it has been grown in/the labor conditions of the people growing the food.

Seattle farmer’s markets, local grocery stores and co-ops all tend to have good selections of wintery veggies, if you are so brave to dare try one of these simple classics:

Baked Acorn Squash

prep time: 5 minutes
bake time: 1 hour
serves 2

1 medium acorn squash
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Lay both sides face down on cookie sheet and bake them until they soften – 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Remove the squash from the oven and turn both halves over onto a plate, hollowed sides facing up. Fill each half with ½ Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp brown sugar.
4. Place the squash into a baking dish and bake for another 30 minutes.

Beet Salad

prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 1 hr
serves 4

3 large beets, trimmed
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
½ (8 oz) package baby spinach leaves
1 tomato, cut to bite-sized pieces
1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and cut to bite-sized pieces
¼ red onion, chopped
½ (4 oz) container crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ tsp Dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
2. In large bowl, drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil, salt and black pepper over the beets.
3. Lay out on a large square of aluminum foil. Fold the foil into an envelope, sealing the beets in the packets. Place the packets in a baking dish.
4. Bake the beets until tender, 1 to 1.5 hours. Check for tenderness after 1 hour by piercing a beet with a fork.
5. After removing, open the foil and allow the beets to cool until they can be handled. Peel and slice them.
6. On the serving platter, lay out spinach leaves. Sprinkle tomato and avocado pieces over the bed of spinach. Top with chopped red onion. Lay sliced warm beets over the salad and top with feta cheese.
7. Mix together balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil and Dijon until smooth or use a pre-made balsamic vinaigrette to spread over the salad.

Pureé of Turnip Soup

prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
makes 6 8-oz servings

1 lb white turnips (about 4 medium turnips)
1 medium Russet potato
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup dry white wine
1 qt vegetable broth or stock
salt and pepper

1. Cut turnips into same-sized pieces, roughly ½ to 1 inch thick.
2. Peel the potato and cut into pieces sized similarly to the turnips.
3. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat butter over low to medium heat.
4. Add onion, garlic and turnips. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until onion is slightly translucent, stirring continuously.
5. Add wine and cook mixture for 1-2 more minutes until wine seems to have reduced by half.
6. Add the stock and potato. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until turnips and potatoes are soft enough to be pierced by a knife. (Don’t let them get mushy, though!)
7. Remove from heat and purée in a blender. (Since we are blending hot items, start on a slow speed with the lid slightly ajar to vent any steam and then seal the lid and increase the blending speed)
8. Return puréed soup to the pot and bring to a simmer again, adding more broth/stock to adjust thickness if necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with croutons.