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A dozen ingredients for fall

SHAPE October 2017

Chefs, operators add excitement to menus with healthful seasonal fruits, vegetables.

As the summer fades, the changing of the seasons provides restaurants with the opportunity to vary their fall menus and work with vibrant ingredients that are at the peak of their freshness and nutritional value.

Menuing seasonal produce has become popular at restaurants — in fact, the term 'seasonal' is featured on 42 percent of menus, up 13 percent over the past four years, says Joe Garber, marketing coordinator for research firm Datassential.

“The change in season allows us to celebrate and eat the foods that are harvested at that time,” says Nancy Farrell, of Farrell Dietitian Services and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It creates energy, excitement and buzz.”

It also makes financial sense. “Using seasonal produce any time of year is both financially and flavorfully beneficial,” says Blaire Newhard, culinary dietitian for Healthy Dining in San Diego. “When a fruit or vegetable is in the peak of its harvest season, this usually means that there is an abundance growing at nearby farms.”

Since most fresh produce has a finite life, it must be used quickly if it’s not going to be preserved, Newhard continues. “Because of this abundance and short life span, prices usually drop during a fruit or vegetable’s harvest season.”

Seasonal changes also may introduce other food options that supply a noteworthy nutrient. For example, Farrell says, “Maybe you’re tired of the carrots on your summer salad, so in the fall there is acorn squash soup. These are two different seasonal options that would allow you to obtain vitamin A.”

A sampling of fall fruits and vegetables follows, courtesy of Healthy Dining and Farrell Dietitian Services:

Apples

Apples are rich in dietary fiber and available in many varieties. Like pears they can help supply the recommended dose of vitamin C. They are great for roasting or sautéing, add a touch of sweetness to a cabbage or carrot and apple slaw, or can be sliced and added to salad, says Sara Lucero, director of content for Healthy Dining.

Beets

Beets contain folic acid — which is important for females of childbearing age — potassium, fiber, vitamins B and C, iron and magnesium, says Farrell. Magnesium is necessary for muscle contractions — including the heart. It also helps maintain blood pressure. Beets are making it back into mainstream in dishes like beet salads, borscht, beet chips and even beet burgers.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts contain vitamins C and K, fiber, folic acid and contribute to weight management and cancer prevention. They are all the rage on menus, says Newhard, but they can be a little bitter so they pair well with sweet ingredients. Dried currants, cranberries or even a little honey and mustard can elevate these mini cabbages to another level. Brussels sprouts and kale salad with pear, hazelnuts and pecorino would be a tasty addition to a fall menu.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a good source of vitamins C, K and B6, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, folate, potassium and manganese. Available in white, purple and green varieties, cauliflower can be grated with a cheese grater to make cauliflower rice, a healthy, low-carb rice alternative, Lucero says. Try cauliflower au gratin, roasted cauliflower or simply include it in stir fries or a vegetable medley.

Cranberries

Cranberries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and contain potent antioxidants and flavonoids, Farrell says. They also are are helpful in cancer and heart disease prevention. Try them in homemade fresh cranberry sauce, dried in salads, in quick breads or muffins, or in meat salads or stuffings.

Figs

Available in late summer and the fall, figs are a seasonal favorite, says Newhard. They contain soluble fiber as well as vitamins A, E and K. They can be grilled and served on a salad, stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey, or combined with yogurt and granola.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins. They provide an earthy, savory flavor to dishes and are perfect for risotto, pasta or substituting for meat in dishes. A portobello mushroom burger patty provides a great vegetarian entrée, Lucero says.

Parsnips

Related to carrots these root vegetables add vitamin C, folate and fiber to a dish. With a distinctive, slightly sweet flavor, parsnips are generally found roasted with other root vegetables. They have so much potential it may be time to get a little more creative with them, Newhard suggests. Try them in mashes, purees and mélanges.

Pears

Pears are at their peak in the fall, and can be served as a snack, healthy dessert or as part of a salad for both their fiber content and a boost of vitamin C. Try whole, roasted pears for dessert, or slice them up and toss them on salads and pizzas with some walnuts and blue cheese.

Persimmons

These unique fruits are a classic fall seasonal offering. They are great sliced in salads, fruit desserts or paired with more savory ingredients in pork dishes. Persimmons are an excellent source of fiber, and vitamins A and C.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins are the iconic fall seasonal vegetable, and are a good source of fiber, potassium selenium, vitamin A, lutein and Omega 3 fats. They can be purchased whole, and broken down and baked. There are endless pumpkin recipes available, including pumpkin soup, custard, pudding, cookies, pasta and pumpkin chili. Garnish soups, seafood and fall salads with pumpkin seeds.

Squash

Winter squash is available in a number of varieties, including spaghetti squash, butternut squash, winter squash and acorn squash. They are great for baking and make tasty soups. Spaghetti squash is best known as a lower carb, higher fiber alternative to traditional pasta, and offers a slightly sweet base for savory pasta sauce, fresh vegetables and seafood, Lucero says.

All things considered, it makes sense for a restaurant to showcase seasonal fall ingredients. “Restaurants that chose to highlight seasonal produce are celebrating the unique flavors of the season with their customers,” says Newhard. “Seasonal changes also offer an exciting menu change for customer’s to look forward to.”


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