The Foodie

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What’s Fresh in Mid-September: Grapes, Beets and Cauliflower

September 16, 2008
by Erin Harris
You may already be longing for the vibrant colors of summer—golden peaches, emerald-green peas and ruby cherries—that have left the market. But their vacant spots make room for a new array of delicious fruits and vegetables. The arrival of grapes, beets and cauliflower signals the start of autumn.

Grapes

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In 1769, Spanish friars began cultivating Mission grapes in California to make sacramental wine. Today European varieties still flourish there, where the dry climate is perfect for growing old-world grapes. You’re probably most familiar with Thompson seedless (green) and Flame seedless (red) grapes, both European strains. But don’t pass up on American varieties like Concord and Niagara, which have their own distinct sweetness. LifeScript recommends looking for bunches on strong, green vines for the ripest grapes and explains that the powdery substance found on a grape’s skin is perfectly safe to eat. Called the “bloom,” it is naturally produced as the grape grows.

To keep arteries clear of plaque buildup and prevent coronary heart disease, reach for a handful of grapes. Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the fruit’s skin, may protect arteries from LDL or “bad” cholesterol. According to A 2 Z of Health, Beauty and Fitness, grapes are also high in tannin, a polyphenol that Canadian scientists believe may eliminate disease-causing viruses.

Ditch the can of Welch’s and whip up a batch of your own homemade grape jelly. RecipeCurio.com, a Web site that features “charming vintage recipes” provides a simple-to-follow grape jelly recipe from an old newspaper column. Spread the jelly on muffins, toast or waffles for a sweet start to your morning. Grapes can also bring a juicy twist to chicken salad, curries or pasta salad.

Beets

No, they’re not pretty, with those ugly, bulbous roots and pointy tips. But don’t pass up beets for their more attractive peers—the rosy tomatoes, the jewel-like peppers— sitting nearby at the market. Beets can be a rewarding surprise for your taste buds if you can deal with stained fingers. Firm but tender when cooked, beets have a taste all their own and slice like a potato. Mother Earth News reports that beets were originally used by the Romans to restore the flavor in wine that had gone bad. Today’s beets come in red, white, purple, gold and even striped “candy cane” varieties.

Beets are a powerhouse of vitamins and nutrients. The World’s Healthiest Foods cites several experiments that suggest beets help protect against heart disease and cancer, particularly colon cancer. Betaine in beets may also reduce inflammation while high levels of vitamin B folate help prevent birth defects. And don’t forget about the beet tops: the greens are loaded with beta-carotene, calcium and Vitamin C. No wonder the New York Times dubbed beets “the new spinach.”

Roasting beets concentrates their sugars, letting you fully enjoy their natural flavor. Simply wrap beets in foil (don’t forget to save the stems!) and bake as you would a potato. No need to peel, as the skin easily rubs off of a cooked beet. The food blog A Veggie Venture drizzles olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the roots in this simple roasted beets recipe. Once roasted, beets make a great addition to salads or pair wonderfully with cheese and hearty nuts.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower, a close relative of broccoli, does not develop the green florets that its cousin does because heavy green leaves grow up over the head, blocking the flower from sunlight. The plant is therefore unable to produce chlorophyll and ends up with creamy white curds. As with beets, the leaves should not be discarded, as they taste delicious, either sautéed or added to soup. When selecting cauliflower, the U.S. government site Fruit & Veggies Matter advises looking for closely packed florets and keeping in mind that a medium-sized head will feed four to six people.

If it’s good enough for a king, then it’s good enough for you. According to WebMD, cauliflower was a staple in Louis XIV’s court, and probably kept the royal family healthy for years. The vegetable is high in vitamin C, which helps the body produce collagen, a protein essential for making “skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.” Like its cruciferous relatives, cauliflower boasts impressive levels of potassium as well as a sulfur compound that may ward off certain diseases.

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education,” Mark Twain once wrote. Indeed, cauliflower is often shunned from the table, cast off as boring and tasteless. NPR’s Nicole Spiridakis, however, insists that when prepared correctly, the softened, caramelized florets are “nothing less than transcendent.” If creamy white cauliflower doesn’t appeal to you, look beyond to its orange, purple and green cousins. Orange heads contain 25 percent more vitamin A than white heads and purple varieties have fun nicknames like “graffiti” cauliflower. See Spiradakis’s recipe for Bestemor’s Blomkal Gratin, a Norwegian dish that brings together cauliflower, tomato, garlic, basil, earthy nutmeg and pungent Parmesan cheese. Maybe cauliflower doesn’t have to taste so bland after all.
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