As autumn gets under way in the Northern Hemisphere, here are three tips for transitioning out of summer and into the cooler weather. For our many readers from the Southern Hemisphere, I realize that it’ll be a few months before you can put these tips into action. In the meantime, here’s a tip on making the most of spring vegetables.
Fall Nutrition Tips
- Harvest your herbs.
- Become a soup ninja.
- Make a new fermented friend.
Let’s fall further into each tip.
Fall Nutrition Tip #1: Harvest Your Herbs
Fresh and dried herbs are a terrific way to add both flavor and nutrition to foods. Herbs tend to have higher levels of antioxidants and other phytonutrients than other types of vegetables. So even though we tend to eat them in relatively small quantities, herbs can add a lot of nutrition to foods.
How to Dry Herbs
If you grew fresh herbs in your garden this summer (or bought them at your local farmers’ market), now is a great time to dry some to use over the winter. Herbs like thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, dill, and tarragon can be tied in small bundles and hung upside down in a cool dark cupboard to dry. (If you stash them somewhere out of sight, put a reminder on your calendar to check on them after 5-6 days.)
As soon as they crumble easily off the stems, store them in airtight containers. Some nutrients are lost when fresh herbs are dried. But, because they are so potent to begin with, dried herbs can still be a great source of antioxidants and other nutrients. If they still have aroma and flavor, they still have nutritional value.
If, on the other hand, you have some herbs that have been hanging around your cupboard so long that you’d have a hard time telling what they were by the smell, it’s probably time to toss them out.
Don’t Dry These Herbs
Herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro have almost no flavor when dried. For these, your best bet is to blend them with a small bit of oil into a paste. If you like, you can add grated cheese, garlic, and pine nuts or walnuts and make pesto. Pour the stuff into ice cube trays and freeze. Then place the frozen cubes into labeled plastic bags. Use them to add a burst of flavor to soups, stews, pasta, and vegetable dishes throughout the winter.
Don’t Forget the Seeds
If some of your herbs have gone to seed, you can harvest those as well and use them whole or ground. Cilantro seeds are better known as the spice coriander. Dill and fennel seeds are also highly aromatic and useful.
Fall Nutrition Tip #2: Become a Soup Ninja
Getting into the habit of making a big pot of soup every weekend is a great way to improve your nutrition all week long. Although they may take several hours to cook, soups usually require very little active time. And if you’re using a pressure cooker or slow cooker, they also need very little supervision while they are cooking. You can be watching the game on TV, outside raking leaves, or taking a nap. Come dinner time, it’s ready and waiting. Make enough so that you’ll have leftovers to take for lunch or to freeze for the future.
Try a hearty bean soup, a pureed root vegetable or winter squash soup, or an old fashioned chicken and veg or chili. You could literally make a different soup every weekend for the rest of your life and never run out of recipes. And yet the techniques involved are very simple. Once you’ve mastered a couple of basic formulas, it’s just variations on a theme.
Why not start this weekend? Post your photos and/or recipes on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.
Fall Nutrition Tip #3: Make a New Fermented Friend
You’ve heard me talk before about the benefits of cultured and fermented foods. These probiotic foods help to promote the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. Good gut bacteria can aid in digestion, nutrient absorption, and help you maintain a healthy weight. But if yogurt is the only probiotic food in your repertoire, I’d like to challenge you to branch out.
Kefir is another cultured dairy product with a slightly different mix of micro-organisms. If you find you like it, it’s also super easy to make at home. Unlike making yogurt, which requires heating and cooling the milk and then holding it at a certain temperature for several hours, making kefir is as easy as pouring milk over kefir grains and leaving it on the counter overnight.
Probiotic foods help to promote the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut.
For those who don’t do dairy, there are also lots of fermented foods that are dairy free. Miso, natto, and tempeh are all made from fermented soybeans. In addition to the beneficial bacteria, they provide other health benefits specific to soy. You can find more information about natto here and some delicious ways to use miso here.
There’s also the wild and wonderful world of fermented vegetables to explore. Unpasteurized (not canned) sauerkraut and traditionally fermented pickles and other vegetables are great options. You’ll usually find unpasteurized sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of your grocery, often near the fresh pork. A good deli should have the kind of old-fashioned fermented pickles. And with the growing popularity of fermented foods, it’s getting easier and easier to find a variety of fermented and pickled veggies.
If you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian grocery, pick up some spicy kimchi to use as a condiment or side dish. It also makes a delicious omelet filling. When cooking with any fermented food, you want to keep the heating times as brief as possible to avoid killing off all the beneficial bacteria before you eat them.
Kombucha is a type of fermented tea that has gotten so popular that you’ll find it in virtually any grocery store, convenience store, and rest stop. It’s also possible to make at home.
If you catch the fermenting bug (so to speak), the website culturesforhealth.com is a great resource. They sell supplies and equipment for fermenting all kinds of foods, along with lots of great tips, recipes, and suggestions for ensuring your success.
Autumn food image © Shutterstock