A dish such as spiced sweet potatoes with charred satsumas, pecans and pomegranate yogurt dressing celebrates the bounty of Georgia’s late fall and early winter crops. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA RADER FOR GEORGIA GROWN

Cooking seasonally comes with a lesson in Georgia agriculture

The time I went nearly six months without buying a fresh tomato was revelatory.

I’d grown a bumper crop of tomatoes that summer. What we didn’t eat raw or cooked, I canned. And canned. And canned.

The pantry stash lasted until January. Man, was that a sad day when I pulled the last jar off the shelf.

Grocery store tomatoes taste terrible in winter. They’re mealy, and have zero flavor. I pledged not to purchase a single one until tomato season came around again. Never have I appreciated a sun-kissed tomato more than the day that first crop arrived at my farmers market the following June.

That 2002 tomato-deprivation experiment taught me a powerful lesson: Cook seasonally — not just because the food tastes better, but to stay mindful that most crops don’t grow year-round, and to appreciate each time they rise again from the dirt or dangle from trees and vines.

Hoop houses extend growing seasons, and greenhouses enable year-round cultivation, but a winter tomato tastes nothing like a summer tomato. Why buy it, when other produce is ripe right now?

This time of year, the soil and climate in this state are conducive to hearty greens, cabbage, winter squash and root veggies. I recently celebrated this bounty by cooking with Holly Chute, executive chef of the Georgia Departments of Agriculture and Economic Development, and the face of the Georgia Grown program, which highlights food and beverage commodities from the state. (Georgia Grown also offers a seasonal food guide on its website).

As we tossed collards in a salad version of a hoppin’ john, turned beets into a veggie Reuben sandwich, and made an all-Georgia side dish with sweet potato, satsuma, pecans and pomegranate, we chatted about the state’s agricultural scene.

I was surprised to learn about the lack of parsnips raised in these parts right now. Woodlands Gardens, near Athens, is one of the few farms currently growing the root vegetable (and selling it Saturdays at the Freedom Farmers Market on the grounds of the Carter Center).

If there were a demand, other farmers probably would grow parsnips, Freedom Farmers Market manager Holly Hollingsworth told Chute.

In comparison, collards are as easy to spot as kudzu along the highway. Kroger, Walmart — and, soon, Whole Foods — carry fresh collards grown by Baker Farms. The Norman Park grower-shipper of leafy greens and other vegetables also offers 1-pound serving-sized bags of Rootables — prepackaged and washed turnips and beet roots. In the past, Baker Farms beets and turnips were sold in 25-pound containers, which necessitated repackaging by grocers. The new packaging is a win-win for everyone: convenient portion sizes for consumers, reduced handling (the product is washed and packaged on the farm, removing the need for grocers to do so), and increased brand awareness for Baker Farms.

This time of year, the soil and climate in Georgia are conducive to hearty greens, cabbage, winter squash and root veggies. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA RADER FOR GEORGIA GROWN
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As we sliced, charred and juiced ripe satsumas for a sweet potato mélange, Chute gave me a primer on Georgia citrus, particularly the burgeoning growth of the satsuma industry.

According to a 2019 Georgia Citrus Growers Association report, about 100 growers in 32 counties in South Georgia have planted satsuma trees. Most are small landowners whose plants are less than 5 years old, but there are a few commercial growers of this seedless, easily peeled mandarin variety.

Through the end of the month, you can find bags of Georgia-grown sweet satsuma mandarins, labeled Besties, at Publix, Kroger and Walmart. You also can purchase satsumas, clementines and mandarins online, directly from Franklin’s Citrus Farm in Statesboro.

Also in South Georgia, growers in Alma, which is blueberry country, have expressed interest in using pomegranates to extend their growing seasons with a crop that would not compete with blueberries. Chute’s tip: Look for pomegranates from family-operated Alma Fruits.

Oh, and one tip from me: If you aren’t putting yourself through a tomato-deprivation experiment this winter, you can find Pure Flavor’s grape tomatoes, grown in their Fort Valley greenhouses, at your nearest Whole Foods.

New Year’s Day Collard Green Salad takes inspiration from hoppin’ john, a classic Southern dish often served New Year’s Day. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA RADER FOR GEORGIA GROWN
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

New Year’s Day Collard Green Salad

This salad takes inspiration from hoppin’ john, a classic Southern dish of rice, black-eyed peas, smoked pork and onions that often is served on New Year’s Day.

Recipe: New Year’s Day Collard Green Salad
  • 6 cups collard greens, washed, stems removed, cut in thin strips
  • ¼ cup sunflower oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 ounces country ham, cut in thin strips
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas (keep warm)
  • Cornbread croutons (see recipe below) or substitute croutons of your choice
  • Place collard greens in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon sunflower oil and a pinch of salt. Massage collard greens with hands to soften and break down fibers. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a skillet over high heat. Add country ham to the hot skillet and cook until crisp. Remove the ham from the skillet, leaving the grease in the pan. Add cider vinegar to the skillet, stirring to deglaze. Pour the grease-vinegar mixture from the skillet over collard greens, then toss to evenly coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Transfer greens to a serving bowl, top with warm black-eyed peas, country ham and croutons. Serve immediately, with cornbread on the side. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 392 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 13 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 23 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 547 milligrams sodium.

Cornbread Croutons

This recipe will make a 9-inch pan of cornbread. You will need only a quarter of the prepared cornbread to prepare enough croutons for the collard green salad. Serve the remaining cornbread with the salad.

Recipe: Cornbread Croutons
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • Heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan with 3 tablespoons of shortening and place it in the oven as the oven warms up.
  • Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together cornmeal and self-rising flour. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg and buttermilk. Combine wet and dry ingredients, mixing. Pour hot shortening from baking pan into batter, mixing quickly. Pour batter into the hot pan. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Cool slightly then cut out one quarter of the cornbread and cut that section into 1-inch squares. (Reserve the remaining cornbread to serve with the salad.)
  • Decrease the oven temperature to 200 degrees. Add the cornbread croutons to a large bowl. Drizzle with the sunflower oil and toss gently to coat. Spread the croutons on a baking sheet and bake 20-30 minutes, until slightly crispy.

Recipe: Spiced Sweet Potatoes With Charred Satsumas, Pecans and Pomegranate Yogurt Dressing
  • 14 ounces small or medium sweet potatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • ¼ teaspoon whole fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons pecan oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 satsumas (peel on)
  • Chili powder of your choice, such as ancho, smoked paprika or cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt (nondairy is fine) or sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped toasted pecans
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare the sweet potatoes: Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly, then cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into long wedges about 1-inch wide (like steak fries). Heat 1 tablespoon pecan oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin and fennel seed and fry 10 seconds, until fragrant, but not brown. Using a small strainer, strain pecan oil into a medium bowl and transfer drained spices to cutting board. Crush toasted spices using the side of your knife and the heel of your hand. Transfer crushed spices back to the pecan oil in the bowl, add the sweet potato wedges and toss to coat. Season potatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan and bake 30-45 minutes, tossing potatoes halfway through cooking time. Set aside until ready to serve.
  • Prepare the satsumas: Slice a satsuma, starting from the stem end, into 4-6 thin rounds, about ¼-inch thick. Cut the remaining satsuma in half. Cut one half into ¼-inch thick rounds. Set aside the remaining satsuma half for the yogurt dressing. Wipe out the small skillet and warm over high heat. Char satsuma slices, in batches if necessary, about 2 minutes per side. Use a wide, flat heat-safe spatula to remove slices if they stick to the bottom of the pan. Once charred, set slices on a plate to cool and sprinkle lightly with salt and chili powder of your choice.
  • Prepare the yogurt dressing: Juice the remaining satsuma half and add to a small bowl. To the bowl, add the remaining 2 teaspoons pecan oil, the yogurt, pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk well. Taste and adjust seasoning. (For a thicker dressing, add additional yogurt.)
  • To serve: Drizzle some of the yogurt dressing onto a serving dish. Arrange sweet potato wedges over the yogurt, drizzle with the remaining yogurt dressing and top with satsuma slices. Garnish with toasted pecans, pomegranate seeds and scallions. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 178 calories (percent of calories from fat, 42), 2 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated), trace cholesterol, 149 milligrams sodium.

Turn beets into a veggie Reuben sandwich that even carnivores will love. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA RADER FOR GEORGIA GROWN
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pastrami Beet Reuben

Beets in a Reuben? You betcha — especially when seasoned with this tasty spice blend. Use the leftover seasoning for grilled cabbage, oven-roasted chicken or caramelized carrots. The dressing and fixings in this meatless Reuben are enough to make two sandwiches, but easily can be multiplied to feed a crowd.

Recipe: Pastrami Beet Reuben
  • For the pastrami spice blend:
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seed (substitute with 2 teaspoons ground coriander)
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Smoked salt to taste (optional)
  • Pinch ground cloves (optional)
  • For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 ½ teaspoons spicy brown mustard
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • For the sandwich:
  • 1 medium-large beet, roasted, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
  • 4 slices deli rye bread
  • Butter for frying
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced Sweetgrass Dairy Thomasville Tomme, rind removed, or similar Swiss-style cheese
  • 2/3 cup sauerkraut, drained
  • Prepare the pastrami spice blend: Toast coriander seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, crush coriander seeds until coarsely ground. In a bowl, combine coriander with remaining pastrami spice blend ingredients. Set aside.
  • Prepare the dressing: Combine sour cream, mustard and Worcestershire in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Arrange beet slices on a plate and sprinkle liberally with pastrami spice blend. Set aside.
  • Warm a large skillet on low heat on the stovetop. Liberally butter each slice of rye bread on one side. Add the slices to the skillet, butter-side down. Place half the cheese on one slice and half on another slice. Repeat with the beet slices, sauerkraut and dressing. Top with the griddled bread slices, butter-side up, to form a sandwich. Press down with a spatula to help melt the cheese. Cook until both sides of the sandwich are golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes per side. Serve hot with potato chips and a dill pickle. Serves 2.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Pastrami spice blend per 1/2 teaspoon: 5 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

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