Ashley Pardo is a private chef in Miami who holds a Masters in Gastronomy, along with certificates in the culinary arts, wine, and cheese from Boston University. She writes a terrific blog full of recipes, videos, illustrations, tips, and tricks for the home cook. We asked Ashley to share tips for using Miami’s winter produce to enhance your meals, and she shared an exclusive seasonal recipe for a warm, Asian-style salad with brussels sprouts, squash citrus.
Have you seen the gargantuan, mistake-it-for-a-weapon and can-totally-knock-you-unconscious stalks of Brussels sprouts lately? That’s what they look like when they grow in nature. We always see the individual mini-cabbages after they’ve been artfully plucked and packaged. Why do they look like this now and not during other months? Why are they the size of tennis balls and mysteriously much more delicious? Because they’re in season.
Seasonality is rearing its head down here in South Florida, slowly. We see restaurants offering local items and changing their menus daily, markets and farmers coming out to play, and seasonal ingredients popping up everywhere. This is new, exciting, and frankly, gives me the giddiness of a toddler.
But let’s be real: most of the time a recipe runs the show. As home cooks, we decide what to make, go procure the necessary items, and make it. The ease of the typical supermarket makes this seamless because it offers whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever quantity we can imagine or request. In this process, though, we often don’t prioritize the freshness and quality of the ingredients, whether they’ve come from three thousand miles away, if they’ve been picked at their ripeness or ripened on a truck. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from cooking professionally, it’s that ingredients should run the show, not the recipe.
Most of the time, when I’m cooking, I don’t have a plan in mind. I get to the market and I look. What looks best? What is the most delicious thing I can make with what is available here, right now? Want to know the secret to amazing cooking? Simple: high quality ingredients. When ingredients are perfect — cared for in optimal conditions, picked at ripeness and grown nearby — they don’t need anything but a little salt and fat to liven them up. It’s so easy to make good food. (Just don’t tell anyone that it’s really this easy or I’ll be out of a job.)
If you visit culinary meccas such as Europe or other parts of the United States, you’ll notice seasonality is as important as breathing. What’s growing is what’s served. It’s summer? Zucchini and tomatoes. Spring? Peas, asparagus, favas, and artichokes. Fall? Apples. Winter? Citrus. It’s just the way it is. No questions asked. Anything grown with care from three feet away is guaranteed to taste amazing. It just makes sense.
The catch is that it takes more awareness and effort. Of course it’s easy to go to the supermarket. It takes diligence to actively pursue and eat what is available. Ask questions. Be curious. Stay in the loop. Luckily, we have lots of farmers and markets to choose from right here in Miami.
During the winter months in South Florida, we are graced with the lovely presence of Brussels sprouts, pomegranates, all sorts of squash, and LOTS of citrus. Why not use what tastes best? Just like the flow of nature, seasons will change, produce will change, and so will your menu, along with your brain, once you get the hang of it.
To get you started, I’ve taken my personal favorite seasonal items and turned them into something vibrant, different, and incredibly tasty.
Warm Asian-style roasted Brussels sprouts & squash salad with citrus
- 1 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
- 1 pound seasonal squash (such as butternut, kabocha, delicate, or acorn), peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup ghee or coconut oil
- ¼ cup Asian fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons water or broth
- ¼ cup orange juice (see if you can find a seasonal orange like the fiery blood orange)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise (include the seeds if you can really take the heat)
- Optional garnishes
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1 blood orange, segmented
- ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
Set oven at 425 degrees F. On a baking sheet, toss Brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons ghee. On a separate baking sheet, toss squash with the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee. Roast for about 45 minutes, tossing every ten minutes, until the Brussels sprouts and squash are browned and caramelized.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine the fish sauce, water, orange juice, honey, garlic, and chile.
Once the vegetables are done roasting, toss them into a separate bowl and add just enough of the dressing to coat them well. Garnish with the scallions, almonds, orange, and pomegranate seeds.