February spells spring in the air! Follow our guide to seasonal foods this month, with tips on what to do with them.
February may well be the first month of spring officially, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it weather wise! That reflects on what is growing and available for cooking with this month. We are still in the ‘huger gap’ time of year, when crops are sparse and it really is all about ingenuity in using the few fresh things available.
Kale is still growing and great for healthy and hearty soups. It comes as green leaves or some red ones, which when young are colourful additions to torn leaf salads. Shred it finely and deep fry it for an Irish take on the deep fried ‘seaweed’ the Chinese takeaway serves – which is usually cabbage!
Winter cabbages are also good now. Dark green cabbages are great with the bacon or steamed and served with any roast meat. White cabbage makes great slaws – not just coleslaw but crunchy mixes with crisp apples and celery and a light vinaigrette. You can also try your hand at fermenting this into sauerkraut, a German favourite which increases the nutrients by creating gut friendly bacteria in the fermentation process. Red cabbage is superb, cooked slowly with brown sugar, apples, sultanas and Irish cider vinegar. Serve it with roast pork or duck – delicious.
Roots like carrots and parsnips are stalwart veggies for winter. Aside from the usual stews, soups and roasting, you can make healthy vegetable crisps from these tasty root veg. Simply slice very thinly on a mandolin then deep fry in hot oil, till crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little Irish sea salt before enjoying as a quick nibble or a side serving with a sandwich.
Carrots also make great pakoras, shredded finely and mixed with shredded potatoes and finely sliced onion. Simply make a light batter flavoured with curry spices, and dip clumps of the mixed veggies in. Deep fry in hot oil and serve with yoghurt and mint as a first course before a curry or a snack lunch with naan breads.
Beetroots are available and can also be used to make vegetable crisps, as well as soups and healthy juices.
Winter spinach is good for steaming as a side dish. Mix it with sliced sautéed mushrooms and cream for a luxurious vegetable accompaniment to roast chicken. Also tear it into Thai or Indian curries at the last minute, so it wilts but doesn’t go mushy.
Seashore foraging is now producing some handy finds. We will be discussing that in depth later this month, with JP McMahon of Aniar. As a taster, rock samphire is available as recommended by another keen forager, Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School. A great free food, for those brave enough to scale rocks and cliffs to find it! Rock Samphire likes the nooks and crannies between stones, so you may find yourself precariously perched to harvest it. But it will be worth it if you manage to find some. It’s more delicate than its cousin marsh samphire, but its flavour is more intense and herby, simply steam for use with fish dishes. It makes good pickle too – with rice wine vinegar being the preferred vinegar of choice of Darina, who recommends rock samphire highly for pickling.
Wild Venison is still in season for February. You may find it in the form of roasting joints, steaks, stewing cuts and sausages. Venison sausages in particular make a great warming supper, served with fluffy buttery mash.
Fish is also at its finest from cold waters. Look for whiting – economical and especially good now from Irish catches, with bigger fish yielding long meaty fillets. Fry very gently in a little butter, skin side down, with a squeeze of lemon and seasoning. Cover with a lid for a few moments to steam them through then serve as they come, with extra lemon or tartar sauce. Yummy!