Spring is a time of renewal and home chefs look forward to its rich bounty of fresh produce. It’s a season that welcomes lighter, vegetable-forward dishes, following the rich, hearty dishes of wintertime. Let’s take a look at a few of the best spring ingredients and why they should make it onto your grocery list!
Canned and frozen peas are one thing, but nothing beats fresh peas found at food markets during the spring. Often underrated, peas lend color, texture and sweetness to a wide range of dishes. Whole, pod peas are a wonderful addition to stir frys and shelled, fresh peas incorporated into pasta with pancetta (or bacon) is a classic way to use this heart-healthy vegetable. Sauteed in butter, peas are a simple spring side dish and herbs like mint and tarragon are the perfect compliment.
Often underrated, peas lend color, texture and sweetness to a wide range of dishes.
One of the first plants to wake up in spring, rhubarb is a vegetable that can be prepared like a fruit, like in a pie or compote. It is also used in savory dishes, typically with pork or chicken. Roaching, stewing and roasting are the most common cooking methods for rhubarb. The redder the stalk is, the sweeter the rhubarb will be, but all rhubarb is quite bitter in taste so it pairs well with sweeter fruit like strawberries. Ginger and orange are other classic pairings and think lamb, fennel and rhubarb for delightfully balanced spring fare.
The sweet, grassy flavor of asparagus is reason enough to celebrate spring. This perennial vegetable varies in size, from jumbo to thin pencil-sized spears. Asparagus is excellent when grilled is a common side dish served at outdoor barbecues. You can also saute it, steam it and blanch it, which is a great method to use if you’re going to serve the vegetable cold, in a salad, for example. While it is standard practice to cut off the woody ends of the stalks since they aren’t pleasant to eat, don’t throw them away! They are perfectly suitable for soup – just boil and puree them. Asparagus has an earthy flavor with a similar flavor profile to artichokes and broccoli. It is most commonly paired with almonds, mint and fish as well as the classic hollandaise.
The sweet, grassy flavor of asparagus is reason enough to celebrate spring.
Often thought of as a winter vegetable, early spring beets are an especially sweet and tender variety that make an excellent addition to smoothies, salads and, when roasted, a great accompaniment to seafood. Their earthy flavor and vibrant color, alone, make them a culinary treat, but they also happen to be packed with nutrients like zinc, fiber, calcium and more iron than spinach! Speaking of spinach, you can cook the green, leafy stems of beets very similarly. No matter how you choose to enjoy them, remember they stain so be sure to protect your wooden cutting board and counter with an old dish towel and wear plastic gloves.
This bulbous green vegetable can be eaten both raw and cooked. Commonly used in Indian and Italian cuisine, its sweet, vegetal licorice taste lends a nice spice to both sweet and savory dishes. Used raw, its crisp texture and fresh flavor is best enjoyed in salads and slaws or paired with fish. When roasted or braised, fennel mellows in flavor and gains sweetness, making it a complimentary addition to chicken, pork and pasta dishes. Its seeds are dried and used, whole or ground, in sausages, curries, herbal teas and more. In India, the seeds are commonly chewed after eating to freshen one’s breath.
When roasted or braised, fennel mellows in flavor and gains sweetness, making it a complimentary addition to chicken, pork and pasta dishes.
The harvesting of citrus fruit depends on the part of the world but lemons and grapefruits tend to be at their juiciest from January until early summer. The bright, tangy flavor of citrus adds wonderful flavor and acid to everything from seafood to creamy risotto. That goes for the zest as well! While the flesh and juice are wonderful, the zest adds bursts of flavour in savory and sweet dishes. Lemon is an ingredient you should always keep handy at this time of the year. They are delightfully diverse and can be used to tenderize meat, enhance the flavor of vegetables and added to steamed vegetables will help them keep their bright colors and add refreshing flavor to dressings, marinades and pan sauces.
Fresh mint is the quintessential spring herb that imparts a fresh, crisp flavor to everything from lamb to vegetables to cocktails. Some of the best spring salads include mint and spring vegetables like peas, asparagus and artichokes. Due to its mild flavor, mint is also an ideal ingredient for savory dishes like grilled and roasted meats. There are literally hundreds of varieties of mint, all of which fall into two categories: spearmint or peppermint. The most commonly used kind in cooking is spearmint, since it’s the most versatile, whereas peppermint can stand up to stronger flavors like dark chocolate and ginger. Remember, that mint starts to blacken after it’s cut, so don’t chop it until the moment you’re ready to use it.