Lunch ‘n’ learn: leafy winter veggies

We enjoyed a winter rainbow bowl (rainbowl!) for lunch today, while going over ideas for how to eat regional and healthy even in the depths of winter.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale and brussel sprouts were some of the highlights, and I give some more details about each below.  We also went over winter salad options such as corn salad (Nüssler in German), delicate purslane (Portulak in German) and bitter radicchio and chicory leaves. Winter is citrus fruit season for our friends in the south, so blood orange slices are a great way to make salads shine. While fresh herbs are not available, try boosting beauty and flavour with your favourite sprouts (onion, alfalfa, radish, watercress, etc). Finally, we revisited some winter roots such as candy and golden beetroot, purple carrots and watermelon radish, whose bright, beautiful appearance can wow even the most avid winter veggie sceptics out there. Try this easy recipe for pickled watermelon radishes and then use them as a condiment to almost any dish, like I do 🙂


Kale is the undisputed king of winter leafy greens, given how whole-heartedly it has been embraced by health enthusiasts around the globe in recent years. Check out Dr Greger’s kale page for more info on its nutritional properties, and enjoy it prepared in a myriad ways. These preparations, aside from the kale chips, also apply for most other leafy greens, such as chard (Krautstiele in German), beetroot / kohlrabi / mustard greens, broccoli rabe, bok choy, etc. When they are in season, you can find them at the farmers’ market.

  • raw: remove the stems (save them for a stir-fry, sauce or stew) and wash and dry the leaves. Put them in a large bowl, sprinkle with some salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you have some, and then dig in with your hands, massaging the leaves until they soften, turn a darker shade of green and reduce in volume. It generally takes about five minutes of massaging until you get yourself a beautiful, deep green salad. Add your favourite salad sauce (minus the salt) and enjoy! Some people add the olive oil while massaging already, like this My New Roots Kale salad recipe.
  • sautéed: wash the kale, remove the stems and chop them up into small pieces. Dry the leaves and chop them up. Heat some oil (I usually use olive oil or raps oil) in a pan, and when it is hot (but not smoking), add the stems and sauté until they are bright green and soften, about five minutes. If you’re a garlic fiend like me, add some chopped garlic and sauté a couple of minutes longer, before adding the leaves. Sauté just until the leaves are bright green and cooked through, a couple of minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and enjoy immediately.
  • in a stew: add kale stems / leaves to any of your stews or soups for a boost of green goodness — to your pasta tomato sauce, curry dhal soup, Italian Ribollita, Japanese miso soup, or anything else!
  • kale chips: preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius, then line a baking sheet with paper/baking mat. Remove the stems (save them for a stir-fry, sauce or stew) and wash and dry the leaves. Put them in a large bowl, drizzle in a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the leaves well in oil, then spread out well on the baking sheet; don’t over-pile. Bake for about 8-12 minutes, or until they are crispy but not brown / burnt. You can add any spices you like before or after baking (depending on the spice’s heat resistance). Enjoy as soon as possible after baking, since they tend to lose their crispiness once cooled and stored in a container.

If you look past cabbage’s humble heritage, there are a million ways to enjoy this versatile winter staple. And there are different varieties too, besides the well-known white and red versions. Hunt around the farmers’ market to find a beautiful light violet specimen!

  • raw: a good coleslaw is a wonderful thing from a great burger side to a simple lunch with some tofu cubes and a slice of good bread. The dressing is traditionally creamy, but I also like a simple version with oil + vinegar + lots of tasty mustard + a hint of sweetness (Birnel is my go-to) + cayenne pepper for a spice kick + salt + pepper. Try this fancier version with toasted sesame and creamy tahini dressing from My New Roots (with bonus cabbage nutrition info). Or use the raw leaves instead of flatbread or pita for your wraps, like the wonderful people from Green Kitchen Stories do for their falafels.
  • baked: super simple, super good.
  • fermented: everyone knows, and hopefully loves, Sauerkraut. If you’ve got your fermentation pants on, try a batch yourself, or start with a faster kimchi (Korean-style fermented cabbage) and go from there. Also, sauerkraut soup. Something along the lines of this, although it’s already pretty fancy, with the chickpeas and all. Skip those if you don’t have any around, or top with some fried smoked tofu cubes for a spike of flavour.
  • natural food colouring: we had some unicorn noodles for lunch — thin vermicelli noodles naturally coloured blue by soaking them in water in which you have previously boiled a few red cabbage leaves. Adding a bit of baking soda to the water makes them go more in the blue direction, whereas adding acid makes them go pink. A simple, fun, natural way for you and your kids to play with your food 🙂
Brussel sprouts

Another sadly misunderstood vegetable, often thanks to merciless over-boilage, is the brussel sprout. Prepared in one of the following ways, the vibrant colour, crunchy texture and pleasantly nutty, cruciferous flavour are a revelation, and sure to turn most doubters into brussel sprout believers. Most important with all approaches is to enjoy them as soon as possible after they are prepared. Sitting around getting luke-warm, they lose quickly lose their appeal.

  • raw: simply, like so.
  • sautéed: once again a 101 cookbooks recipe, this is actually the one that firmly put me in the brussel-lover camp.
  • roasted: only tried a few times myself, but if Ottolenghi says so, it must be good.
  • cooked: in a risotto, once again courtesy of Ottolenghi. I veganized it by using vegan margarine (Kokos margarine from Migros is my current favourite) and skipping the cheese and adding some nutritional yeast and vegan creamy something at the end — some cashew butter, a splash of oat/soy/almond cream… Would honestly be fine without these decadent additions. The estragon adds a wonderful flavour twist!

Once you’ve made friends with the regular brussel sprouts, you are ready to enjoy the ultimate wunderkid — the flower sprout. Someone had the genius idea to cross brussel sprouts and kale, and the result is the coolest new cruciferous kid on the block. You can find these beauties on the farmers’ market but also in well-stocked Coops, like the Ryfflihof by the Bern train station –they even wrote about it in their newspaper.

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