Underappreciated Winter Vegetables

A recent Downton Abbey episode mentions vichyssoise, a leek and potato soup that is served cold and was made famous in 1917 by a French chef at New York’s Ritz-Carlton. Beetroots, leeks and Brussels sprouts, it seems, have shed their boring image and resurfaced as healthy and easy-to-prepare vegetables. Thank goodness for that!  I have roasted beets and broiled Brussels sprouts for the past few months – easy ways to incorporate vegetables as part of the main meal or as a side dish.

Beets: Cut the leafy stalks to about 3-inches above the root and discard or use the stalks to make vegetable stock. Rinse the root and remove any grit attached to it. Place the beet on aluminum foil. Roast or bake at 350°F for one to two hours depending on the size of the beets. The beet is cooked when a fork goes through it easily. Peel the skin off. Roasted beets can be eaten on their own, with goat cheese, or can serve as a nutritious pop of color in a green salad.

Brussels sprouts: Remove one or two of the outer layers. Using a paring knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Mix with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the sprouts on an aluminum foil and broil on high for 2-4 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully flip over the sliced sprouts. Put them back in the oven to broil for another minute or two. Some of the leaves will be crispier than others, which adds a nice crunch when they are tossed and mixed together.

Leeks: A. stated that I omitted to mention the easy way to clean leeks. At Thanksgiving, her aunt had shown us how to do so – with a far easier way than what I had been doing for years! Leeks often have mud and grit, acquired during their growth, embedded between the outer dark-green leaves.

  • After trimming the roots near the white base, remove any outer leaves that are damaged or tough.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut a slit through the interwoven leaves as shown in the video. Hold the leek under the faucet and let the water run through the slit, slightly fanning the leaves out so the dirt washes away.

Leeks are members of the onion family, but instead of the growing into a tight bulb like the onion, the leek bulb grows into a long, elongated shaft of interwoven leaves. The usable part above the roots is the white base, the inner light-green leaves, and the outer, dark-green ones.

Leeks can replace onion or garlic in a stir-fry dish or omelet. Alternatively, pair with sliced potatoes, Swiss cheese, cream, and chopped chives and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F.

Ask the Chef: How to Clean and Devein Shrimp

This year, we incorporated the Italian Christmas Eve meal tradition of using seven fish into our holiday plans (upon A’s suggestion and some timely New York Times recipes). One of the dishes was roast shrimp with aioli (see the NYT recipe here) Preparing this feast meant that A. and N. had to look closely at the fish and shellfish that we were planning to use, and it turns out that they had the most questions about the shrimp.

It is almost always cheaper to buy whole shrimp (look for shrimp with firm flesh) and clean it yourself. I devein the shrimp before cooking. My mother would also do the white vein on the underside, but I have noticed that most cooks do not bother with this step.

How to clean shrimp:

  • Hold the shrimp with its head between your dominant thumb and two fingers, and yank firmly away from your body. Its shell should come off cleanly.
  • Next, position the tail between the dominant fingers and pull away from your body with a firm tug.
  • Remove the legs and all the other shells


  • Turn the body so that the curved side faces you
  • Use a small, sharp knife and run it a quarter inch below the flesh
  • Carefully remove the black/brown string-like vein that runs the length of the skin
  • Rinse the shrimp.