UAE: Did you eat your greens, today?
Building up a culture and habit of eating seasonal vegetables and fruits helps one stay connected to the natural cycle of produce — is not only good for our bodies, but also for the environment. Local experts weigh on why it's important to eat food that's in the season
It's the season when the UAE witnesses the growth of locally grown vegetables and fruits. Eating seasonal foods is known to be extremely healthy as their nutrients are better intact. American author and editor Rosalie Muller Wright described the winter garden beautifully in these words — “But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants. The feasting earthworms tunnel along, aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come.” So, what should you eat and why during these months? Local food enthusiasts weigh in on the benefits and choices. “Every culture around the world has its identity in gastronomy and food habits from the region they belong to. The food habits are in fact formed by the geo agro and climatic conditions of the area. The food consumption changes with every changing season to get the human body nutritionally aligned to face the change in weather and season. It is also reflective of the crop cycles and the agricultural availability,” explained Ankur Chakraborty, Chef and Co-Founder, The Crossing, Dubai.
Kale and corn are my favourite winter veggies. Kale is one of the most nutritious leafy greens available and is loaded with micronutrients and antioxidants. It’s also so versatile to cook with, its earthy, nutty, flavour works well in a host of recipes. Sweetcorn is a great source of the carotenoids, which plays an important role in keeping your eyes healthy.
Ali Yazdi, Chef and Founder, SLAW, Dubai
Start by counting the benefits
“Seasonal food provides greater nutritional value – vegetables that are eaten in season are harvested at ripeness, which means you can get the optimal taste and nutrients, which your body needs. In season produce is less likely to be stored with preservatives or subject to quick ripening processes, which reduce the taste and quality,” said Omaka Marie, Sous Chef, NIRI Restaurant & Bar, Abu Dhabi. Indian celebrity chef and restaurateur Kunal Kapur pointed out a significant reason why eating what’s in season is a wise idea, “With the change of each season, there is a possibility of body-picking infections that can naturally be avoided by strengthening the immune system using the seasonal bounty. The longer the fresh ingredients sit in the cold chain the less is the nutrition and taste so consuming fresh and seasonal by using them smartly in your daily recipes promotes good health.” Kapur recently opened his restaurant Pincode at Dubai Hills Mall, Dubai.
Not just vegetables, there is a massive play on spices for the seasons. In winters, the warming spices like the saffron, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, etc. play a massive role. However, in summers the spices to use will be cumin, red chilies, mustard seeds etc.
Ankur Chakraborty, Chef and Co-Founder, The Crossing, Dubai
“The biggest benefit of eating seasonally sensitive produce is that it is conducive to the human body to sustain the nourishment needs of the body. It enhances digestion, keeps the body temperature to where it needs to be,” added Chakraborty. He explained further how winter is when the leafy vegetables are in their prime — due to the optimal growing conditions and more exposure to sun, these are packed with antioxidants and vitamins,
“Hence, winter is the best time to consume these, as they are fresher, they don’t travel long and are more nutritious.” Fact-check, as explained by Chakraborty, “On the other hand, in summers, the best product to consume often comes with high water content, which is again nature’s way to compensate the build loss in bodies during the hot summer, for example watermelon and gourds. The seasonal ingredients also are sustainable to the local economies and restaurant businesses due to cost benefits too.”
Consume more red, yellow, and green capsicums, corn, spinach, zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, and kale. Vegetables consumed in season have been shown to have a higher concentration of vitamins that those which are not.
Omaka Marie, Sous Chef, NIRI Restaurant & Bar, Abu Dhabi
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“Produce that is purchased in season is more likely to be fresher, consumed closer to harvesting and higher in nutritional value. Some antioxidants such as Vitamin C, may be reduced by prolonged storage,” said Ali Yazdi, Chef and Founder, SLAW, Dubai. Kapur advises to eat winter kale, spinach, green leafy veggies, red carrots, black carrots, pomelos, tangerines, avocados, apples, Brussels sprouts, and celery, “They are easy to cook and wonderful in taste.”
Eating fresh and seasonal gives a complete range of essential nutrients to the body required as per the season.
Kunal Kapur, Indian celebrity chef and restaurateur
“The UAE sees a massive influx of locally grown green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green peas, etc.” added Chakraborty. At The Crossing, they have introduced winter-inspired dishes like Saag (tempered mustard and spinach leaves with garlic), Nimona (winter peas with butter and ricotta) and Malai Broccolini (chargrilled broccolini in a creamy marinade with cardamom and mace). “Kale, watermelon, tomatoes, carrots, baby spinach, cucumber, and figs are must-eats during this season,” said Juan Patricio Vasquez Sanmartin, Chef De Cuisine, Laguna Beach Taverna & Lounge, Dubai.
The taste of something grown and picked locally will always be preferred over days or weeks old produce. Eating a newly harvested produce is ideal as you will consume its highest nutritional value.
Juan Patricio Vasquez Sanmartin, Chef De Cuisine, Laguna Beach Taverna & Lounge, Dubai
“Local in-season sourced fruits and vegetables will also appear brighter and more vibrant rather than limp and dried up. Fruits and vegetables that are stored for long periods of time due to transportation also have a reduction in phytonutrients, which helps maintain our immune system,” added Yazdi.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.