Winter is a great time to experiment with fruits like the kumquat, which can be added to a salad for a low-calorie, high-vitamin option. You can also try star fruits, which are great for heart health, or the flu-fighting quince. Certain varieties of tropical and citrus fruits, which are grown in places like Florida and Hawaii, have the highest levels of heart-healthy antioxidants of any fruit, so you can still make your heart happy without having to purchase fruit flown in from another hemisphere.

Some Not So Common Winter Fruits

Kumquats

The tiny little olive-sized citrus fruits are full of disease-fighting antioxidants, which are contained in their sweet, edible skin. A serving of five (which is about five calories) also contains one-fifth of your daily fiber needs, along with a healthy dose of potassium and vitamins A and C. The most commonly found variety is the Nagami, and California and Florida are home to most of our domestic crop, which peaks between November and March.

Slice kumquats and add to a salad or use in place of oranges in your recipes. Diced kumquats and avocado make a great salsa when mixed with red onion, cilantro and lime. At the market, look for firm fruits that are bright orange in color (green ones aren’t ripe), and store kumquats them at room temperature for two or three days or for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Carambolas or Star Fruit

Exotic fruits are generally higher in vitamin C, higher in potassium and lower in calories than domestic fruits. Carambolas, or star fruits, are no exception. High in inflammation-lowering polyphenols, they’re also great for your heart and full of fiber. Most of the star fruits you’ll see in stores now come from Hawaii or South Florida. Look for firm, shiny, evenly-colored yellow fruit. Handle with care, as star fruit bruise easily. Ripen them at room temperature for a few days until light brown ribs form and a full, fruity aroma develops, then refrigerate them for up to a week. The carambola’s taste has been described as a cross between citrus, apple and pear, and you can eat them as is, or slice them into fruit salads.

Rambutans

In Hawaii, the decline of the sugarcane plantations has led to a growing specialty fruit industry and antioxidant powerhouses rambutans, lychees and longans are now grown there. The rambutan, also known as hairy lychee or hula berry, is a tropical treat and their season runs from September through March. They might even be better for you than green tea. Rambutans have higher levels of the antioxidants: flavonoids and anthocyanins, both of which are believed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cardiovascular problems. They also contain iron and calcium. Look for rambutans in Asian and other specialty markets and handle them with care — they’re fragile and keep only a day or two at room temperature. If you’re not eating them right away, place them in a perforated plastic bag and refrigerate. To enjoy them, simply peel and pop into your mouth or add them to a fruit platter.

Longans

A relative of the lychee, longans are native to China but now are grown in Hawaii and in Puerto Rico. Stock up on them this time of year because they are traditionally used to settle upset stomachs and reduce fevers, making them great natural flu remedies. Also known as “dragon’s eye,” it’s easy to see why—the fruits have a black seed centered in translucent white flesh—and they taste similar to a chewy grape. You can find Hawaii-grown longans in Asian markets nearly year-round. Store them in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for a week or two. You can simply rinse, peel and seed longans to eat as snacks or add them to fruit salads and desserts.

Persimmons

A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that a persimmon a day could be better for your heart than an apple, because they contain significantly higher concentrations of dietary fiber, minerals and phenolic compounds that prevent atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. An added bonus: the antioxidants in persimmons can help control diabetes and the cell damage it causes. Their flavor and texture has been compared to plums or apricots, with spicy undertones, and you can use just the pulp or the entire fruit in puddings, pureed in ice creams, breads or cakes. Try them in savory dishes, too, like salsas, stir-fries and salads.

Asian Pears

Though their softer Bosc relatives are long gone by now, hard-when-ripe Asian pears are perfect for cold storage and easy to find in farmer’s markets and grocery stores this time of year. Asian pears have significantly more fiber than other pear varieties and are good for your heart. Select the most fragrant, unblemished Asian pears when shopping; a sweet scent is the best indication that the pears are ripe. They can be kept for up to a week at room temperature or up to three months in the refrigerator. Their sweet pear flavor and crunchy texture make Asian pears perfect additions to salads and are delicious grated into slaws. They work well in place of apples in recipes from holiday stuffings to baked dishes. Try sauteing them to serve alongside meat entrees.

Some Common Winter Fruits

Oranges

In general, look for plump oranges that are free of blemishes or bruises. As the season goes on, you may find different varieties of oranges popping up, such as Cara Cara and blood oranges. Both of these varieties are very sweet and have a darker flesh, ranging from pink in the Cara Cara to dark red in the blood orange.

Oranges are filled with vitamin C (a large orange has more than the daily recommended value), which may help smooth your skin. If you chose a blood orange, you’ll also be getting anthocyanins, a compound that turns the orange’s flesh red and is associated with helping to keep the heart healthy and the brain sharp.

Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks.

Bananas

Though there are hundreds of varieties of bananas, the Cavendish is the variety most familiar to North Americans. Bananas are in season year-round and are different from other fruits because they can be picked while they are still green. If you do buy green bananas, wait until the skin ripens to a yellow and the starches convert to sugars.

Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure. Also, a medium banana is an excellent source of cell-building vitamin B6 and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber.

Though bananas are relatively economical–ripening bananas cost about 90¢ per pound–overripe bananas are often on sale for less. Even if banana peels have started to brown, the insides often remain sweet and ripe. Buy a bunch or two and peel the extras before placing them in the freezer. They will keep for several months and are excellent in banana bread and smoothies.

Pineapple

Avoid green pineapples–they are not ripe. A ripe pineapple should smell like a pineapple. There should be a golden color present–starting at the base–and the more yellow a pineapple is, the better it will taste throughout. Some people claim that pulling leaves easily from the top of a pineapple is an indication of ripeness, but this has not been proven. Your best bet is to go with color.

Pineapple is full of vitamin C, delivers a healthy dose of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient involved in bone formation. Though convenient, prepared pineapple chunks in the produce section may cost more per pound than a whole pineapple. Many markets though sell pineapple peeled for the same price as an unpeeled one.

Pomegranates

Color is not a good indicator of a ripe pomegranate. Instead, choose a fruit that feels heavy in your hand.

Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, natural compounds found in plants that help protect the body from harmful free radicals. (Free radicals are compounds in the body that damage tissues and may contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer). Although you don’t get as many antioxidants eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.

Pomegranates aren’t the cheapest fruit in the produce bin (about $2.50 each), but the good news is that one fruit goes a long way. Your best bet is to compare prices at competing stores and buy the cheapest you can find.

Grapefruit

Like oranges, select fruits that are free of blemishes and bruises. Buying grapefruit can be tricky–the skin color of the fruit is not always a reliable way to tell if the fruit is sweet inside. If the fruit is heavy in your hand, that may be a good indication of its juiciness. Grapefruits are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. Studies have shown that the soluble fiber in grapefruit may even be beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Half a medium grapefruit has only 60 calories.

If you regularly buy organic, you may make an exception for grapefruit. According to the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) it is a fruit that is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

Recipes Using Winter Fruits

 

Appetizer

Pears with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 pears, each cored and sliced into 8 wedges
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 ounces blue cheese cut into slices
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cup arugula

Directions:

Roll up an arugula leaf, a piece of pear (lay on its side)and a piece of cheese in a slice of prosciutto.  Repeat with the remaining pear slices.

First Course

 

Sicilian Fennel Salad with Oranges, Arugula, and Black Olives

Serves 4

In Sicily , this salad is traditionally prepared with chicory , a slightly peppery , tender-leafed green. Substitute with arugula if you can’t find chicory .

  • 3 navel oranges
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches trimmed arugula or chicory
  • 2 cored, halved, trimmed medium fennel bulbs
  • 1/4 cup oil-cured black olives

Directions:

Trim off and discard peel and all of the white pith from oranges, then slice crosswise into thin rounds and set aside. Mix together the extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a large salad bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tear arugula into large pieces and arrange in the salad bowl. Slice fennel bulbs into long strips. Toss salad just before serving, adjust seasonings, then arrange orange slices and black olives on top.

Second Course

 

Braised Chicken with Kumquats and Green Olives

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. chicken legs or thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into ¼ inch half-rounds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup kumquats
  • 1 cup green olives
  • Salt and pepper
  • Couscous, cooked according to package directions

Directions:

Rinse and pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large pan with a cover over medium heat. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally , for about 15 minutes, or until evenly browned. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add onion and garlic to pan and saute over medium heat until transparent. Add wine and bay leaves and reduce over high heat until syrupy . Return the chicken to the saucepan, skin side up and add enough chicken broth to cover 2/3 of the chicken. Tuck the kumquats and olives into the broth, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over couscous and serve.

Side Dish

Baked Applesauce

Makes 12 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. (about 10 medium) assorted apples, such as McCoun, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold or HoneyCrisp, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 1/3 cup fresh apple cider
  • 4 lemon slices, paper-thin, or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (3-inch) piece stick cinnamon, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, agave syrup, or honey, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place apples, cider and lemon slices or juice in large Dutch oven or heavy casserole with a cover. Toss apples to coat them with lemon. If using, add cinnamon stick or sprinkle on cinnamon and sweetener and toss again.

Bake apples, covered, for 60 to 75 minutes, until very soft and moist. Stir to combine soft apples and liquid into applesauce. If mixture is too thin, bake the applesauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes longer. Cool to room temperature before serving. Applesauce thickens as it cools. The applesauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Dessert

 

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 1/3 cups sugar or 1 cup plus 2 ½ tablespoons sugar alternative, such as Truvia or Domino Light
  • Cooking Spray
  • 2 1 ⁄2 cups flour, plus more for dusting baking pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 ⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Sugar crystals for garnish, optional

Directions:

Trim about 1/2″ from the tops and bottoms of the oranges; quarter oranges lengthwise.

Put oranges, 1 cup of the sugar or 1/2 cup of the sugar alternative and 4 cups water into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 10″ round cake pan with cooking spray and dust with flour; line pan bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Set pan aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10–12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze. Remove cake from the pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Using a pastry brush, brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely . Garnish cake with sugar crystals, if desired..

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