WINTER can be a lean time for fresh produce in some parts, but in our sub-tropical climate it’s considered one of the best growing seasons, and there’s always an abundance of quality produce at the market. Here’s a guide to what’s fresh, new and tasting great now:

RHUBARB: The perfect winter comfort food, Rhubarb brings back childhood memories of Grandma’s rhubarb crumble. To stew, cut into chunks, sprinkle with sugar to taste and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes until it’s soft. Make a big batch and you can store in the fridge to use on your morning porridge or muesli, to eat with ice cream or custard or yoghurt for dessert or make a rhubarb and apple crumble. Find fresh rhubarb at Summit Organics.

TOMATOES: It’s the nature of farming that there are ups and downs, and for Coopers Shoot Tomatoes, the long hot summer had a big impact on production. They took a break from the farmers markets for a while, but much to the delight of their customers, have recently returned. Their stall is stocked with beautiful Romas, cherries, gourmet truss, plus weekly bulk specials on tomatoes, perfect for all those home made sauces

PEAS: Sure, frozen peas are convenient, but nothing compares to the flavour and sweetness of a fresh pea straight from the pod. Eat them raw, lightly steam as a side dish or use in pasta and rice dishes or soups. Find fresh peas at the Everest Farm and Jumping Red Ant.

LEEKS: Just in time for all those warming winter dishes,  leeks are now in season locally. Their mild sweet flavour is perfect in soups, casseroles, pies, pasta and risottos, or just saute with some butter and/or olive oil and salt and pepper for a delicious side dish. Leeks available from the Everest Farm stall.

PECANS: Northern NSW may be famous for macadamias, but it’s also one of the country’s biggest pecan-producing regions. The local pecan harvest usually starts around now, and new season nuts are starting to appear at the markets. Like macadamias, pecans are  full of healthy fats and a good source of fibre. They’re delicious in cakes and desserts, sprinkled in salads for some extra crunch and nutrition, or on your morning porridge. They’re available shelled or unshelled at the markets. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer to keep them at their best and their nutrients intact. Available from Morrow Farm and The Spice Palace.

BERRIES: As if it’s not exciting enough to have Brooklet blueberry farm, Blueberry Fields, back at the farmers markets with their new season blueberries (after a few months away for the off season), they’ve returned with a completely new and delicious berry crop –  raspberries. Grown spray free, they’re available fresh or frozen in bulk one kilo buckets. Blueberries are also available fresh in punnets or as seconds in bulk buckets.

BEETROOT: Antioxidant-rich fresh beetroot is a winter veggie staples. Eat it raw, grated onto sandwiches or thinly sliced into a salad, roast it in cubes and toss in a vegie salad, slice thinly and roast with olive oil and salt for beetroot chips or make your own fresh beetroot dip.  If you’re buying from the farmers market, your beetroot will most likely come with tops attached – don’t throw them away! Beetroot greens are especially nutritious – packed with calcium iron and vitamins A and C. Use them in the same way you would spinach, steamed, sautéed, in soups or stir-fires or in a green smoothie.

CORIANDER: This fragrant herb thrives in our cooler months, and its fresh flavour will take your curries and soups to the next level. The leaves are also delicious sprinkled on Mexican foods like tortillas or nachos or steamed or baked fish. Use the roots and stems for making Thai curry pastes. Look for fresh coriander at the Gourmet Salad Hut, Summit Organics and Glenyce Creighton Organics at New Brighton and Mullumbimby Farmers Markets.

CITRUS

Citrus season is underway – the limes arrived first and now the lemons, mandarins and oranges are coming into season. There are two main varieties of lemon available – the Meyer – a rounder, slightly sweeter lemon believed to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or orange, and the Eureka, which is an oval shape and more acidic. Numulgi citrus grower Jane Boniface, or Rancho Limes, says both have plenty of juice, but the Eureka has a thick rind with a strong lemony flavour that makes it is better for zesting. Use lemon juice in dressings, squeezed on fish or avocado, or make a lemon ginger tea. And don’t waste the zest – if you’re juicing a lemon, always zest it first – you can store the zest in the freezer and use it later for making gremolata, adding to deserts, or mixing into your breadcrumbs. Find lemons at Rancho Limes, Neville Singh’s stall, Mt Chowan Organic and Organic Forrest.

FENNEL

Fennel’s mild liquorice-like flavour complements and enhances so many foods. Use slivers of fennel raw and crunchy in coleslaw, with orange segments and salad leaves for a beautiful winter salad or cut bulbs in half and roast with some olive oil until sweet and tender to serve as a side dish with chicken or fish. Look for fresh fennel at Summit Organics and the Everest Farm stall.

AVOCADOS

 The popular Organic Avocado stall is back with new season Fuertes. Avocados also available at Mt Chowan Organics, Jumping Red Ant and  Morrow Farm.

PUMPKIN

 Autumn is traditionally harvest time for pumpkin and there is plenty about at the farmers markets now. Great in soups, roasted in salads, curries or vegie lasagne. Don’t throw away the seeds either  – they’re highly nutritious and a great snack. To prepare, give them a quick rinse, and rub off as much stringy pumpkin bits as possible.  Dry on a tea towel, then toss in a little olive oil and salt and roast  at 150 for about 20 minutes. Eat them as a snack, sprinkle on salad or on your pumpkin soup

SEEDLINGS

It’s a great time to get out into the vegie garden and plant some winter crops. Vegies like snow peas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and carrots can all be planted  now, and the cooler weather means there are lest pests about to nibble on your plants. Once you’ve prepared your soil, pick up some organically raised seedlings from local growers One Organic or Pam Morrow, where you can also get plenty of helpful advice on caring for your plants.

KALE

This highly-nutritious leafy green is at its best during the cooler months and there should be a good supply from now on. There are three main varieties to look out for – each with a slightly different taste and texture, so it’s worth trying them all to find out what you prefer. Cavolo Nero is the dark green type with slender rumpled leaves and is good in soups and stews, Curly Kale is the one with frilly edges that’s best for kale chips or in salad and Red Russian is a sweeter, more tender variety, good in salads or pasta. Find kale at Summit Organics, Organic Forrest , The Salad Hut  and Everest Farms .

Also in season: Apples, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, coriander, macadamias, mushroom, radish, rhubarb, rosella, silverbeet, spinach, sweet potato.