Adapting to Change – Cooking with the Seasons

By Chef Leslie Cerier

The seasons change and with them the availability of fresh, local produce. Crisp fall apples, tart cranberries, juicy summer strawberries, fresh figs — would they be so special if we could eat them all year round?

Reinventing a recipe keeps it fresh and enjoyable. For example, you can make apple blackberry pie in fall, pumpkin pecan pie in winter, lemon tart in spring, and blueberry crumb pie in summer. For variation, you can use the same piecrust and change the filling. Create a new variation to the pumpkin pie filling by adding sweet potatoes, or substituting butternut, or kuri squash. Use more cinnamon or cloves. Modify the piecrust, too, by changing the flour, oil, or sweetener.

Likewise, keep your basic minestrone new and inspiring all through the winter by swapping vegetables. Use butternut squash instead of carrots or leeks for onions, for example. At other times, change the beans from pinto to kidney to other beans. Cook the beans from scratch with a sea vegetable, like kelp. Or switch the sea vegetable to dulse, skip the seaweed and just use spices. And, of course, you can vary the herbs, too. Flavored oils can take the place of some herbs and spices.

My enthusiasm for creating new recipes and menus comes from the local harvest. For instance, in June the markets near my western Massachusetts home offer strawberries, spinach, baby red kale, arugula, radishes, lettuce, mustard greens and mizuna (an Asian green leafy vegetable that you can eat like spinach). Perennial herbs like chives, oregano, garlic chives, sage and sorrel are plentiful. Simultaneously harvested, they become the natural choices to mix and match into savory salads, dressings, quiche, scrambled tofu, sushi rice rolls and pasta dishes.

During the summer, crunchy fresh string beans, cherry tomatoes and sweet baby carrots are wonderful in salads dressed with aromatic basil. The first zucchinis and eggplants inspire me to fire up the grill. Come fall, collards, red peppers and cilantro revitalize the tofu scramble. The vibrant cool-weather leafy kale, moist to the touch, seduces me in winter when spinach is out of season. Kale becomes the green to use in quiche, soups and stews.

When we take our cues from Mother Nature, she gives us plenty of guidance. The weather affects our cooking methods as well. In hot weather, you may want to stay away from the stove. Quickly grilled vegetables and tofu, refreshing smoothies, marinated salads with corn, berries and chevre can cool you off. To beat the heat, cook beans, pasta or grains in the early morning or the night before when the house is cooler. Cold winter days are ideal for long-simmering soups, garlicky roasted vegetables and spicy stews made with the vegetables of the season such as potatoes, carrots, winter squash and yams.

An attractive garnish can enliven any dish. Decorate summer pasta salads with yellow calendula flowers and bright red bee balm for a splash of color. Toasted nuts and seeds on top of green salads add a contrasting texture. Chopped herbs on cooked rice give a delicate fragrance. These simple pleasures charm the heart.

Recipes are not etched in stone in my kitchen, nor should they be in yours. The more you cook, the easier it becomes to improvise. Calm and confident, you can focus on your creations. Choose your ingredients, rinse, chop, mix and taste. Your own wisdom will tell you when to follow pure intuition and when to stop and think it through.

Leslie Cerier, who calls herself “The Organic Gourmet Chef, Author and Educator,” teaches culinary nutrition and vegetarian cooking for health and vitality. Her cookbooks focus on eating local, seasonal, organic foods that are healthy, pleasurable, delicious and sustainable.

She is the author of: Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook, A Seasonal Vegetarian Cookbook (New Harbinger Publications, 2010), named as one of the 12 best cookbooks of 2010 by Natural Solutions Magazine; Going Wild in the Kitchen (Square One Publishers, 2005); The Quick and Easy Organic Gourmet (Barrytown Ltd, 1996); Sea Vegetable Celebration (Co-author – The Book Publishing Company, 2001); and Taste Life! Organic Recipes (Editor – Square One Publishers, 2002). For more information, please visit

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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