Let's Eat

Finding February's flavours

Bring a pop of colour to your plate with bright citrus fruits and pretty pink, forced rhubarb plus a basket of healthy brassicas and green leaves


We’re deep in our third lockdown, it’s mid-winter and we’ve been cooking three meals a day for what feels like forever.

On the bright side, the days are getting longer; supermarkets didn’t as we’d once feared, run short of food (or toilet paper) and the vaccine is rolling out. Although spring may not have sprung, February brings its own seasonal produce and culinary treasures to help dispel the gloom of dark winter days and help us mix up our menus.

Top of my shopping list are the gorgeous, ruby-tinged sanguinello oranges from Sicily and Spain. Slice them thickly and drizzle with olive or argan oil, and a smattering of black olives and you’ve whipped up one of Morocco’s iconic salads — perfect for a Shabbat lunch side. Alternatively, sprinkle with cinnamon and a dash of rosewater for a wonderfully refreshing, parev dessert.

Blush or blood oranges are also delicious paired with paper thin beetroot slices and tiny sprigs of rocket or watercress. Use them to make a zesty curd for your hamantaschen; or showcase their crimson beauty on a luscious Sephardi-style almond, citrus and polenta cake. Find my version of the orange and almond cakes that are one of the glories of Spanish-Jewish cuisine on the JC's recipe pages. 

Citrus fruits may be the crowning glory of the Iberian winter harvest, but closer to home this month brings the deep, earthy flavours of root vegetables — carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac, a root that is fabulous for soups and a wonderful low-carb alternative to potatoes in everything from latkes to mash.

Brassicas — spring greens, Savoy cabbage, cavolo nero — are all packed with the immunity-boosting antioxidants and minerals our bodies need right now. Instead of steaming or boiling, I love to roast or stir-fry them until they’re lightly caramelised. Food writer, Rachel Walker, co-founder of Rooted Spices, which sells spice blends, suggests adding warm flavours like smoked paprika, cumin and coriander plus a little ground fennel for a hint of anise.If you have veggie-averse kids (or grown-ups) in the family, chop the leaves finely in a food processor and sneak them into your favourite meatball or kofte mix. Once cooked, the dreaded greens should be undetectable or taken for “harmless” herbs.

Rhubarb adds a pop of colour to the otherwise sombre tones of the vegetable drawer at this time of year.

And there’s good news for rhubarb lovers: unusually mild temperatures meant the forced rhubarb harvest arrived early, and with lockdown keeping restaurants closed, plus Brexit teething troubles, producers are having to find new outlets for their products.

That means a plentiful supply of British rhubarb for consumers. By adding it to your shopping list, you’ll be helping support growers, many of which are old family businesses up in the Yorkshire “rhubarb triangle.”

Look for slender, firm, pale pink stalks (the very thick or green-tinged sticks tend to be coarse, stringy and sour). Just don’t use the leaves — they’re toxic.

It’s great in crumbles or pies but rhubarb is also delicious in crostata — a rustic Italian-style tarte/pie. Or you can simply poach or microwave it with fresh ginger, a little brown sugar and sections of fresh orange for a perfectly parev pud. For a savoury twist pair with mackerel or any other oily fish.

The humble cauliflower, put in the spotlight by Israeli chef Eyal Shani has become a mainstay of modern Israeli cooking thanks to its extraordinary versatility.

It works not only as a superb side act, but also as a veggie stand-in for couscous, rice, steak, and spuds. Cauli also makes a tasty Friday night side dish — florets tossed in good olive oil, sea salt and cumin seed, roasted until tender and tinged with brown, then topped with tahini. Or make it a main by adding spiced lamb mince if you’re a meat-lover — serve with a wedge of roasted Hispi (sweetheart) cabbage and transport yourself to Jaffa Market.

Winter greens can taste bitter to some — it’s the plant’s defence against being eaten — although to those of us who don’t have the “brassica” gene, they taste quite sweet and nutty.

You can tenderise tough kale leaves and remove the bitter juices by giving them a gentle massage with a little fine sea salt. Follow with a quick rinse and add to cooked quinoa with a handful of cashew nuts and mixed seeds for a quick and easy lunchtime salad.

Sautéeing leafy greens in olive oil helps the body absorb their phyto-nutrients. Add a handful of dill and crumbled feta and you’ll have the makings of hortopita, a traditional Greek-Jewish filo pastry pie — check out the recipe on the the JC's recipe page. A dish that hails from the ancient Jewish community of Ioannina in Northern Greece.

Trust me. Once your kitchen is filled with the aromas of a Greek hillside or the sanguinello orange groves of Spain, spring sunshine will start to feel just a little bit closer.

 Judi is the co-author with Dr Jackie Rose of To Life! Healthy Jewish Food  More info here 


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