Seasonality Out of Season

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It’s all fine and dandy to talk about seasonality in the peak of summer, when tomatoes and eggplant and such are bursting on the vine. It’s another thing entirely to talk about seasonality when your landscape has been white for over a month. What you do when foods you love are out of season?

It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that “seasonal” and “local” go hand in hand. Seasonal climates are dictated by local geography. If you’re striving to eat seasonally and are buying strawberries in January, for instance, then you’d better be living in Baja California. But there are more options to choose from than you might think, no matter where you live. Here’s how to stay seasonal even during the most challenging times of the year.

Seasonability out of season

Cold-Weather Crops

The first, most obvious step, of eating seasonally is knowing which fresh crops grow when where you live. Leeks, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, for instance, grow in cold weather around the country, along with root vegetables like parsnips, celery root and potatoes. In warmer climes, like California and Florida, citrus are in full force (our neighbor’s orange tree tempts me all day long!). And I just found out, surprise surprise, that kiwi grow abundantly well here where I live.

From kale to spinach, get yo’ greens>

Stored Crops

Long before there were refrigerators, there were root cellars; cool, dark subterranean rooms where families stored their late fall and early winter harvest to use throughout the winter. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, late-harvest apples, winter squash and onions store for months, as do root vegetables like carrots, rutabaga, beets and turnips.

Not sure what the heck do with those turnips? Here are 10 ways to cook with root vegetables>

Indoor Crops

Some crops, like tomatoes, need a lot of artificial heat and light to grow during the winter. Others, like lettuce, arugula, mustard and mushrooms, will thrive with a bit of protection and amplified sunlight (which the glass of a greenhouse provides). So a head of butter lettuce might well be locally grown in winter even in upstate New York.

Preserved Crops

You may not think of preserved crops as “seasonal,” but I would argue that they are. In the past, preserves played an important role of spreading the abundance of a bountiful season across a sparser one. Crops preserved in fall and summer are meant to be enjoyed during the cold winter months. Look for locally made sauerkraut, pickles and preserves, as well as dried peppers, beans and mushrooms.

Frozen Crops

The same principle that applies to preserved crops extends to your freezer, if you grow your own fruits and vegetables (or if you buy a boatload at the farmers market). We love using our No Work Slow Roasted Tomatoes (I just made a killer crostini topping with them the other night) clear up until there are fresh ones on the vine again. Corn, peas, cauliflower and berries (like blueberries, blackberries and cranberries) also freeze beautifully.

It’s worth noting that just because a fruit or vegetable is in season near you doesn’t mean that what’s on the grocery store shelves was actually grown nearby. Check labels or, better yet, join a winter CSA. Enterprising farms (yes, even in places like Vermont and Minnesota) combine a mix of all the above to offer an inspiring selection during even the coldest months.

Not sure if a CSA is right for you? Check out our CSA 101 guide>

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Cabbage Saute with Shiitakes and Crispy Tofu

This cabbage dish is essentially a vegetarian mu shu turned sauté. I love it simply served with brown jasmine rice, but you could also pair it with Chinese pancakes,  thin flour tortillas or our Whole Wheat Crepes.

Cabbage Saute with Shiitakes and Crispy Tofu

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 17 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Cabbage Saute with Shiitakes and Crispy Tofu


  1. 1 ounce dried black mushrooms
  2. 3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  3. 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  4. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  5. 10 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes and patted dry between two pieces of paper towel
  6. ¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  7. 1 large carrot, julienned (a julienne peeler works great for this)
  8. 1 medium red pepper, julienned
  9. 4 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
  10. 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  11. 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  12. 2 tablespoons rice wine
  13. 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  14. 2 pounds Napa cabbage, thinly sliced crosswise
  15. 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce


Place dried mushrooms on a small bowl. Cover with 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon garlic and 1 teaspoon oil with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Toss tofu in the mixture and let marinate through next couple of steps.

In a large skillet over high heat, swirl in 2 teaspoons oil. Stir-fry shiitake mushrooms, carrot and remaining garlic for 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are tinged golden brown and carrots are crisp-tender. Pour mixture into a large bowl.

Add 1 teaspoon oil to the pan and sauté bell pepper and scallions for 5 minutes, or until both are browned in places and just turning tender. Scrape mixture into bowl with the mushrooms and carrots.

Swirl remaining 2 teaspoons oil around the pan and stir-fry the tofu (use a spatula to scrape the garlic out of the bowl as well). Toss frequently until tofu is crispy on all sides, about 5-7 minutes total. Remove with tongs to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

While tofu is cooking, drain the black mushrooms (reserve liquid and rinse any remaining grit off mushrooms) and chop. Spoon 1 tablespoon of soaking liquid into a small bowl and mix in cornstarch (chopsticks work great for this). Stir in soy sauce, rice wine and Sriracha.

Once the tofu is done, add the cabbage to the hot pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, turning over frequently, until just starting to wilt and char. Add the vegetables back to the pan and toss to mix. Stir the sauce mixture and pour over vegetables. Toss well to mix. Cook another 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until vegetables are well-coated and heated through. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Spoon vegetables onto a serving plate, drizzle with hoisin sauce and scatter tofu over the top.

Serves 4

Prep Time: 20 minutes


Cook Time: 17-20 minutes