Some of the best vegetables in season right now offer many health benefits and are delicious in fall dishes from soups and stews to casseroles, side dishes and more. See what these vegetables have to offer nutritionally, and how to pick the best at the market.
Studies at Johns Hopkins University have shown that compounds in broccoli, rich in antioxidants, may be beneficial in fighting stomach cancer and ulcers. Though raw broccoli offers the most health benefits, quick cooking preserves its sweet crunch and many of its nutrients.
Health Benefits: Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins C, K and A, folate and fiber.
Shopping Tip: A head of broccoli is composed of a large stalk branching out into several smaller stalks, containing hundreds of florets. Large supermarkets usually sell full heads of broccoli, broccoli crowns (which have most of the stem removed) and florets. Look for sturdy, dark green spears with tight buds and no yellowing.
Storage Tip: Broccoli will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least a week. If the florets start to look dry, wrap the head in damp paper towels.
Crunchy and versatile, cabbage is more than just the base for your backyard-barbecue coleslaw. It adds texture to a tossed salad, makes a great topping for your taco and, when sauteed with apples and bacon, is the perfect accompaniment to roast pork.
Health Benefits: Like most of its Brassica relatives, cabbage is full of health benefits. Rich in vitamin C and fiber, it also supplies isothiocyanates—chemicals that amp up the body’s natural detoxification systems. Studies suggest that cabbage may help fight breast, lung, colon and other types of cancer.
Shopping Tip: Choose the right cabbage for the recipe. Hard white (a.k.a. green) cabbage and red cabbage are delicious raw in coleslaw or cooked in soups, stews and sautés. Mildly flavored, delicate napa (Chinese) cabbage, with ruffled leaves and white ribs, is widely used in Asian cooking. Try it shredded in salads, quick-cooked in stir-fries or slow-cooked in soups or stews. Savoy cabbage is a loosely packed, wrinkled cousin of common green cabbage. It’s our favorite choice for cabbage rolls and is sturdy enough for roasting.
Storage Tip: Refrigerate cabbage for up to 1 week.
Earthy and sweet, chard has more substance than spinach. It’s easy to find and its colorful incarnations can be used interchangeably (though green chard tends to be mildest).
Health Benefits: Chard abounds in phytochemicals that have been shown to help prevent various types of cancers, maintain healthy eyes and may even protect the heart. As for essential nutrients, a 1/2-cup serving of cooked chard provides over 300 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin K and 100 percent DV of vitamin A. It is also a good source of vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.
Shopping Tip: Rainbow chard, white or green chard and ruby or red chard are the most common varieties available. Look for fresh, crisp, brightly colored greens; avoid those that are wilted or blemished.
Storage Tip: Wrap the stem ends in damp paper towels and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to a week, depending on the freshness of the chard when it was purchased.
These days, the produce aisle routinely offers white button mushrooms, portobellos (also spelled “portobella”), their younger sibling cremini (also sold as “baby bellas”), oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Exotic varieties like morels and chanterelles make their appearance when foragers are lucky enough to find them in the wild.
Health Benefits: All mushrooms contain nutrients like potassium, copper, niacin and selenium. Research suggests that white button mushrooms seem to have as many antioxidant properties as (and in some cases more than) other mushrooms.
Shopping Tip: Fresh mushrooms should be firm, with a fresh, smooth appearance.
Storage Tips: Keep mushrooms in their original container up to a week in the refrigerator. Once opened, mushrooms should be stored in a porous paper bag to prolong their shelf life. Do not store fresh mushrooms in airtight containers, which will cause condensation and speed up spoilage. Never freeze fresh mushrooms.
Endlessly versatile, potatoes come in all sizes and textures. Stuff baked russets with vegetables and cheese for an easy crowd-pleasing supper or mash them with nonfat milk and garlic for a simple side. Turn boiled red-skinned potatoes into a creamy potato salad. Small, long, flavorful potatoes called fingerlings make an elegant side when simply steamed and tossed with fresh herbs.
Health Benefits: Rich in carbohydrate, the potato often gets a bad rap. However, potatoes boast healthy doses of vitamin C, potassium and some fiber, especially when eaten with the skin on. And recent research has found that compounds that give purple potatoes their colorful hue (anythocyanins) may help lower blood pressure.
Potatoes are classified by the texture of their flesh:
Nothing says “fall” quite like butternut squash or other winter squash. Its creamy texture and sweet flavor is a welcome addition to many dishes. Add cubes to soups and stews or roast it along with potatoes and root vegetables for a hearty side dish.
Health Benefits: One cup of cooked winter squash is high in both vitamin A (214 percent of the recommended daily value) and vitamin C (33 percent), as well as a good source of vitamins B6 and K, potassium and folate.
Shopping Tips: Choose squash that is very hard: press firmly all over to make sure the rind isn’t soft (a sign of immaturity or improper storage.) During harvest season, look for vivid colors—the skin color should not look washed out. Later in the year, after the squash has been stored, the skin color may fade as the flesh becomes sweeter. Regardless of the season, the skin should not look shiny—a sign that it’s either underripe or that it’s waxed, possibly masking bad quality. Choose squash with a remnant of the dried-out stem still attached, like a small knob at one end. A missing stem can be a sign of mold and bacteria growth inside.
Storage Tips: Store in a cool spot with good air circulation (not the refrigerator, but a cool pantry or cellar) for up to a month. If you buy precubed squash at your market, make sure the pieces are dry, firm and vivid in color. Avoid those that look wet or desiccated with sunken striations in the flesh.