Gardening — it’s not just for summer any more

If you don’t have a winter garden, you may think the earth is lying silent and still. But it’s not. A bounty of cold-weather produce is out there, just waiting for the persistent cook to find it.

I found a treasure in my garden by the light of my flashlight last night. I upset the neighbor’s dog, but harvested Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, beets and their greens - in addition to parsnips.

All of these veggies help prevent cancer and add lots of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K to a healthy diet. All can be fixed without salt to keep heart and kidneys healthy.

Brussels sprouts and cabbage will grow all winter in our climate and are great sources of fiber. If you’re buying Brussels sprouts, look for the tightest, smallest buds you can find.

If you don’t like these pungent veggies, a different cooking technique might change your mind. There’s an easy way to reduce the strong taste and remove the volatile sulfur compounds that create bitterness. The secret is to cook Brussels sprouts in an uncovered pan or pot, so the bitter oils evaporate.

My favorite way to cook Brussels sprouts is a sort of stir-fry technique. Cooked this way, they taste roasted, nutty and sweet, with no hint of bitterness.

Another winter garden treat is the Swiss chard variety called Bright Lights. Each plant has stems of a different color, from magenta to dark burgundy and even neon yellow. When the winter days are dark, you can enjoy the glow of jewel tones on your dinner plate. My favorite chard recipe is a flavorful and easy dish. The recipe works with any kind of greens, but I like a mix of beet greens and Swiss chard best.

Roasted Brussels sprouts
1-2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, butter or half of each
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, tarragon or sage
¼ cups toasted hazelnuts, pecans or almonds
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Rinse Brussels sprouts and remove loose outer leaves. If small, cook whole; if large, cut in half or quarters. Try to make them all about the same size for uniform cooking. Melt butter or heat oil in wok or large frying pan. Add sprouts and stir constantly to avoid burning. Add fresh herbs toward the end of cooking, which should take about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprouts are done when they turn neon green and start to brown. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts, pecans or almonds, and freshly grated Parmesan. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving): 
Calories: 163, Carbohydrates: 14 grams, Protein: 7 grams, Sodium: 89 milligrams

Fiona’s sautéed fresh greens
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ pound (4 cups firmly packed) greens:
mustard, collard, kale, Swiss chard, beet greens or a mixture
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
½ cup white wine or rice vinegar
¼- ½ teaspoon sesame oil and sesame seeds
Cut greens into 2-inch long pieces. Heat oil in wok or large fry pan. Sauté onion until translucent, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle turmeric over onion, and cook another 2 minutes. Add greens. Leave lid off for about 5 minutes. Add sugar and cover. Reduce heat and let greens steam in their own juices until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. While greens are steaming, uncover and turn occasionally, adding a little water if sticking.
Remove greens with a slotted spoon, leaving juices in pan. Add soy sauce and wine to liquid and heat to boiling. When sauce has thickened slightly, remove from pan and pour over greens. Garnish with sesame oil and seeds. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving): 
Calories: 51, Carbohydrates: 4 grams, Protein: 1 gram, Sodium: 100 milligrams

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.]

Eating Well, Living Well classes
Katy leads a team of registered dietitians that teach FREE nutrition classes at convenient times and locations around Puget Sound. The Eating Well, Living Well classes teach people how to eat healthier to slow the progress of kidney disease and postpone dialysis. Studies show that working with a registered dietitian can postpone dialysis for as long as two years. Learn more at www.nwkidney.org/classes