Thanks to its well-nourished soil from the Nile, Egypt enjoys a plethora of locally grown produce. The benefits of eating locally grown food are no secret: the fresher your produce; the higher the nutritional value and the better the food tastes. Eating fruits and vegetables grown close to home also supports the local economy and is a great way to keep your own food costs low.
As seasons change, so does the selection of locally sourced produce; therefore, eating local and in season often go hand in hand. Although we surely will miss the juicy mangoes synonymous with summers in Cairo, autumn is now here and with the new season comes sensational produce. Here are some of the delicious fruits and vegetables that we Cairenes can enjoy throughout the autumn harvest.
Eshta: Although summer is admittedly the juiciest season for fruits, the autumnal months can be just as sweet. Resembling an artichoke, eshta doesn’t initially seem worthy of its name with its bumpy green exterior. However, slicing into this fruit reveals a silky white centre, of soft and sweet fruit. Towards the middle of the fruit, eshta is creamier in texture and at the rind it is similar to a soft pear with some graininess. The best way to eat this fruit is just to spoon it out of its skin, but beware of the many large black seeds that can be a choking hazard.
Pomegranate: This fruit is revered in many cultures and has been for ages. Featured in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, European art and a number of religious texts; this round, ruby fruit is incredibly beneficial for your health. Loaded with vitamins and fibre (if the seeds are eaten), pomegranates are also known for their high antioxidant capacity. To get the most out of this wonder food, split the fruit open and eat the arils, seed and all. The fruit tends to be a little tart at the beginning of its season; so look forward to this fruit getting sweeter throughout the next few months. Although it is commonly consumed here in Egypt as juice; try sprinkling the arils on salads or yogurt, or use the juice as a glaze on chicken or duck.
Spinach: Now that the weather is starting to cool down a bit, Egypt’s leafy greens are no longer the wilted tragedy induced by the summer heat. Lettuces have been looking perkier by the day at produce stands across Cairo, and more than a few produce markets have been excitedly advertising their bright green spinach. A high source of vitamins A and K as well as iron, spinach is one of our favourite cold weather vegetables. We love it in salads, soups and lightly steamed. If you find the taste of spinach to be unpalatable, try squeezing some lemon on top or adding a dash of vinegar. There’s always the option of sautéing spinach in a tablespoon or two of butter; but just don’t boil it unless you’re willing to forfeit half of its nutritional value.
Root Vegetables: Autumn is the perfect time to celebrate root vegetables, and carrots, beets and sweet potatoes are among our favourites. Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, rich in vitamins and potassium, and are great for your eyes and skin as well as for lowering cholesterol levels. A popular juice ingredient, carrot is often blended with orange for a delicious vitamin C cocktail, though we also love carrots in stews or eaten raw. Also high in beta-carotene are sweet potatoes, a great source of fibre and vitamin A too. Our favourite way to enjoy these vitamin-packed sweet treats is from one of the many street carts around Cairo. We also love sweet potatoes (and all root vegetables) the way that we love our beets: roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil. This method makes vegetables soft and sweet without losing their nutritional value.
The next time you’re at the green market; make sure to throw a few of these fruits and vegetables in your bag and have a culinary celebration of the cooler weather!