Organic Picks of the Week 12/31/12

Best if Used By 01/08/13

Organic Picks of the week for December 31st, 2012 features
Collard Greens, Meyer Lemons, Cara Cara Oranges, Leaf Lettuce, Hamlin Juice Oranges and Young Thai Coconuts

Organic Collard Greens

BEST FLAVOR | PEAK SEASON

If you believe what you read about the potential cancer prevention and cholesterol-reducing health benefits in Collard Greens, then it might be a good idea to start working them into your diet. In season Organically grown Collard Greens from Florida and California have been looking stellar – big, broad, dark green leaves. Gorgeous. Prices on Organic Collards can be one third more to twice the price of Conventionally grown Collards, but you cannot deny the care and attention in growing that shows in the quality of the Organic Collards right now. Sautéed, steamed, braised – what is your favorite healthy and flavorful preparation of Collards?

Gorgeous, peak season Organic Collard Greens from Florida.

Juicing Recipe – If you’re doing some juicing at home here’s a great way to work nutrient-packed Collards into your diet.  The citrus brightens the flavor and the apples sweeten it enough to enjoy. 

Collard Cruise – Use a juice extractor with the following items for 12-14oz juice.

  • 3 stalks Organic Collard Greens
  • handful of Organic Parsley with stems
  • 4 stalks Organic Celery
  • 1 Organic Meyer Lemon with peel on. (or substitute 1 regular Organic Lemon peeled)
  • 2 small Organic tart-sweet Apples (I like Jazz, Pink Lady or Braeburn for this recipe)

Collard Cruise – dark greens sweetened with apples and brightened with cleansing lemon.

Organic Meyer Lemons

BEST FLAVOR | PEAK SEASON

Chefs and flavor enthusiasts are clamoring over Meyer Lemons. Why? These smooth, thin-skinned, golden-yellow citrus fruits are sweeter and less acidic than regular Lemons. You can even eat a Meyer Lemon wedge without completely puckering up… well, sort of… it’s still a lemon, after all.  They’re actually quite refreshing with tones of tangerine left on your tongue.  Meyer Lemon zest, the shavings of the outer colored portion of skin, is almost floral.

Mellow, culinary-friendly Meyer Lemons (LEFT). Bright, tart regular Lemons (RIGHT).

Meyer Lemons are a cross between a Lemon and a Mandarin. Organic Meyer Lemons can be found in co-ops, natural foods stores and organic markets with a broad produce selection right now as the peak growing season in California is rolling along here in the winter months.  Use Meyer Lemons almost any way you would a regular Lemon, but less sugar is required in sweet recipes since the acidity is less intense.

Can’t find Meyer Lemons?  No worries.  Regular Organic Lemons are in peak season and can become a versatile part of your healthy eating goals for the New Year.  Flavor your cold water or hot tea with Lemon.  Add lemon juice to homemade vinaigrettes or right onto salads.  Did you know that seasoning food like fish, poultry and salads with Meyer Lemons or regular Lemons is a great alternative to salt?

VIDEO: Meyer Lemons vs. regular Lemons

Organic Cara Cara Oranges

PEAK SEASON | BEST FLAVOR

If Navel Oranges taste like sunshine – pleasant and sweet, then Cara Cara Oranges taste like at the beach – sweet with some extra punch!  From the outside they look the same.  The inside is where things get interesting.  Pink-fleshed Cara Cara Oranges are seedless like regular Navels, but the straight-forward sweetness is balanced by a tangy, Cranberry-like finish.  My mouth is watering as I write this, recalling my last tasty, juicy bite!  Cara Cara Oranges have more anti-oxidants and lycopene than regular Oranges too.

Pink-fleshed Cara Cara Oranges (foreground) are like regular Navel Oranges with intense sweetness and notes of cranberry. In season from California – January to April.

Organic Cara Cara Navel Oranges from California are now in peak season and will be readily available through mid-April. Florida grown Organic Cara Cara’s are just finishing their short peak season.  Expect pricing that is little higher than regular Navels, but there may be some stores that offer them at the same price. If you’re an Orange fan, Cara Cara’s are worth a try for tasty snacking and exciting recipes!

VIDEO: How to use a Citrus Peeler.

Organic Leaf Lettuce

PEAK SEASON

Fresh, vibrantly colored – burgundy and green – Red Leaf and Green Leaf Lettuces are great for starting salads and ideal for topping sandwiches because the large leaves pull apart easily from the head. The mild-flavored broad leaves are tender enough to be foldable yet crisp enough feel freshly crisp to the bite when stacked.  One of my simple-pleasure favorites is to pile Leaf Lettuce about an inch high on thick-cut wheat toast slathered with Dijon Mustard and a slice or two of Swiss Cheese.

Get more green into your sandwiches with Red Leaf and Green Leaf Lettuce.

Red and Green Leaf Lettuces, and especially Romaine, do have more phytonutrients than lighter colored Iceberg Lettuce (head lettuce).  The darker the green and the darker the red – the better, since dark color is an indication of beta-carotene levels. Here in early January, Organic Red and Green Leaf Lettuces are in steady supply from Florida, but strong “diet season” demand and cooler temperatures in California and Arizona growing regions may drive prices up later this month.

Leaf Lettuce lasts longer when kept cold and moist. Store Leaf Lettuce wrapped in damp paper towels in a plastic bag (ideally perforated) in the vegetable crisper of your fridge for up to a week. If it looks a little wilted, trim the stem base and soak the Lettuce in cold water, allowing the cells to draw up some water. Remove any damaged or discolored outer leaves. Wash Leaf Lettuce in cold water before using and dry the leaves in a salad spinner or pat them dry with a paper towel.

Organic Hamlin Juice Oranges

PEAK SEASON | BEST FLAVOR | VALUE PRICED

What are the best oranges for Homemade Orange Juice?  During January, Hamlin variety Organic Juice Oranges from Florida are some of the best.  Underneath their thin, scratched up skin these oval citrus fruits feature dark yellow to orange flesh that is very sweet, juicy and has very few to no seeds.  And unlike the juice from Navel Oranges, Hamlin variety Orange Juice will hold up for more than a day in your fridge… if it makes it that long.

Not exactly pretty, but ideal for Home-squeezed Orange Juice: In-season Organic Hamlin Juice Oranges from Florida.

Young Thai Coconuts

PEAK SEASON | BEST FLAVOR

NOT ORGANIC:  Young Thai Coconuts are often sold in Co-ops, health food stores and organic-centric markets because they are such an important part of raw foods, smoothie and juicing diets.  BUT this fruit NOT certified organic. 

So if you’re like me, you grew up tasting coconut in the form of dried coconut shavings sweetened with some sugar and mostly on desserts.  Well, there’s a whole other world of healthy, flavorful recipes ideas for Coconuts that involves fresh Coconut Flesh and Coconut Water – smoothies, juices and Asian-inspired cuisine.  Young Thai Coconuts are sold at Asian markets, specialty foods stores and health food stores.

Healthy Food Specialty Pick! Young Thai Coconuts – the water inside is “Nature’s Sports Drink”

Young Thai Coconuts are picked before the outer green husk opens naturally and the Coconut’s inner husk ripens to a tough brown shell.  The outer green husk is carved down to a cone shape and the fruit is wrapped in plastic and exported from Thailand.  The prize inside is Coconut Water, “nature’s sports drink.”  Coconut Water is loaded B-vitamins and electrolytes.  Smoothie and juicing enthusiasts add the water and soft, white flesh to their blends or simply drink the viscous, sweet liquid straight-up.

Opening at Young Thai Coconut takes some work.  You must hack open the top with a butcher knife or hammer a clean screw-driver through the top to get your straw inside.  I’ve also seen Coconut hole-punch tools that make a straw-hole too.  If you want a laugh, watch me try to open one in the video below…

VIDEO: My “attempt” to open a Young Thai Coconut

What is Organic Produce?

Certified Organic Produce meets a set of standards for growing, handling and labeling that is governed by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use synthetic chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. The terms “Natural” and “Local” are not the same as “Organic.” Learn more about Organic.

Buy Smart. Shop Healthy. Live Organic.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy