Cooking in winter demands patience to soften sturdy roots into smooth mashes, patience to allow vinegar to penetrate and pickle and preserve, patience for a tough piece of meat to break down so that you can slice it—even if you don’t have a knife.The required patience is also why I love being in my kitchen this time of year: I get to really cook. Whereas in summer I can just slice a tomato and sprinkle it with salt, maybe throw a fresh ear of corn in some hot water and call it a day, winter kitchens demand more. And responding to this demand means rolling up our sleeves and being resourceful and creative. We get to turn hearty ingredients into comforting meals, get to fog our kitchen windows with steam from our pots and get to gather the people we love around our tables.
The five ingredients that inspire these recipes are celery root, turnips, mustard greens, citrus and chuck roast. Each ingredient lends itself to a variety of dishes, all made memorable by combining them with flavorful accents. They remind us that cooking in winter is in many ways like cooking at any other time of year: You need bursts of salt and acid — such as miso paste and punchy anchovies, vinegar and briny olives — to wake things up.
I love celery root (also known as celeriac) because it has such a distinctive flavor, not unlike a parsnip, and it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. But its gnarly look makes it a little intimidating. Remember: The roots come in such a variety of sizes, so it’s best to use the scale at the grocery store to make sure you are purchasing according to your needs and chosen recipe. Use a sharp knife to peel away the brown, craggy outside, and then go in any direction you want.
Enjoy the root raw: Slice it into thin matchsticks and dress with a creamy dressing for the traditional French salad known as remoulade. I offer a version with a creamy anchovy dressing because the Caesar-like flavor complements the root so well. Or simmer pieces of celery root with sauteed onions and puree with vegetable broth and creamy coconut milk for a smooth, vegan soup. You could spice the onions with turmeric and ground coriander seed for extra flavor and color. When it’s very cold outside, though, my favorite way to enjoy celery root is to slice it thin and layer it with grated cheese and garlicky cream and bake the layers to form a decadent gratin that could be a meal on its own alongside a salad and a bottle of wine.
This is another reliable root worth keeping in your repertoire. With a sweet but also sometimes bitter flavor, these roots too often turn up (sorry) eaters’ noses because their flavor is typically boiled away and not embraced. To celebrate them, try skipping cooking altogether and just quick-pickling pieces in a caraway-heavy brine. These pickles are such a bright and crunchy delight and offer a nice counterpoint to something rich like corned beef and cabbage or any braised meat. Also try serving them in (or next to) your favorite sandwich. They’re equally at home with pastrami as with falafel. To turn the pickles a beautiful shade of pink, add a few pieces of raw beet to the pickling liquid.
Turnips come in many shapes and sizes. The small Japanese ones are particularly delicate and are especially lovely when steamed and then tossed with a mixture of one part miso paste and two parts butter. Serve with broiled fish and some rice. And if you’re fortunate enough to find fresh turnips at your farmers market or grocery store with their sturdy greens still attached, know you’re lucky. Turnip greens can be prepared like collards, kale or any other cooking green. I say keep them with their roots and make a turnip version of the Irish mash known as colcannon (which folds cabbage into potatoes) and mash the turnips with their greens. A little butter and cream go a long way.
They’re one of the most flavorful vegetables available all winter. I like to blanch them before I continue cooking them in other ways, taming their bite and also making the large bunches more manageable. Sauteed with minced garlic, cumin seeds and mustard seeds, the greens get a double dose of mustard. Note that you could add a quart of chicken or vegetable broth to these and a can of cooked chickpeas and enjoy a beautiful soup. Or skip the spices and top the garlicky greens with ricotta and mozzarella and broil to achieve the appeal of white pizza.
You can also blitz the blanched greens with pecans and garlic and then enough olive oil to turn the mixture into a pesto to top whole baked sweet potatoes that you’ve split down the middle. Or spoon it on top of eggs, spread thickly on toast, or swirl into a pot of polenta or cooked pasta.
From satsumas to pomelos, citrus fruits brighten up every winter fruit bowl and don’t need to be limited to snacking. Try squeezing the vivid juice from a blood orange and mixing it with bourbon, Campari and vermouth for a Boulevardier-inspired cocktail (which is Negroni-inspired, which is to say that everything is inspired by something). Or think of citrus via a savory lens and combine slices of ripe, sweet orange with spicy, crunchy radishes, chopped olives and a simple dressing of vinegar and olive oil. A thinly sliced red onion soaked in vinegar wouldn’t be unwelcome here.
Or lean into the sweetness of citrus and combine fresh juice (and some zest if you’d like, too) with sugar to make a simple syrup that your pour over a warm pound cake that you’ve poked a bunch of holes into. Let the syrup soak all the way through the cake while it cools and enjoy with a cup of hot tea or a bitter espresso.
Finally, I want to remind you that winter kitchens aren’t dictated by produce. Rich cuts of meat such as chuck roast, which is as marbled with delicious fat as it is affordable, need nothing but time to become tender.
For the easiest and least-boring one-pot meal I know, brown the roast in a pot, add an entire jar of kimchi and let the mixture cook in the oven for a bit until it’s on its way to soft. Then add some sweet potatoes and allow it to arrive at its sublime destination, where the kimchi’s bite totally surrenders into the sweet potatoes. For an alternative, combine the browned roast with an umami-heavy mixture of tomato paste, mustard, raisins and olives. The result is a vaguely Cuban-inspired, sweet-and-sour mixture that is addictively good.
Or skip the browning and the oven and let the chuck roast simmer gently on the stove top with root vegetables for pot au feu. Serve with something to cut the richness, such as prepared horseradish mixed with sour cream, or just a jar of mustard, or even a simple parsley salsa verde. Better yet, put each of them on the table and let everyone adorn their dinner to their liking.