Eating seasonally is an eco-friendly choice that will not only benefit your health and help the environment, you are also showing much-needed support for the local farmers who wake up every day to provide for the nation’s food supply. Another bonus, locally-sourced, in-season fruits and vegetables are at their peak of flavor and nutrition, giving you the most delicious opportunity to feature them in your family’s meals. Though there is a wide selection of fruits and vegetables available for your spring picking, here are 10 of our favorite spring ingredients and recipes that will further your quest to eat healthier, buy local and support the farmers in your community.
1. Baby greens
Baby greens, micro-greens, or spring greens are now available at farmers’ markets, co-ops and your grocer’s produce aisle (or, perhaps, even in your own backyard garden plot). Delicate in texture but rich in flavor, these nutritious little leafies are just waiting for you to craft an appetizing array of satisfying spring salads. Though a spring mix is lovely dressed simply with a light vinaigrette, baby greens are fabulous when tossed with fresh fruit, chunks of gourmet cheese and toasted nuts.
Boasting its stately red stalks of addictive tart flavor, the spring crop of rhubarb is ready for the classic rhubarb strawberry pie or jam and more inventive recipes, such as rhubarb muffins, chutney and drinks. Despite being an often overlooked culinary gem, rhubarb also provides a number of nutritional benefits. Low in sugar and calories (a mere 25 calories per cup), rhubarb is a rich source of vitamin K (a whopping 45 percent of the Daily Value), vitamin C, manganese, calcium and potassium. In addition, rhubarb has been shown to fight cancer, lower blood pressure, and help relieve indigestion.
Herbs add an unparalleled freshness to every dish they grace. Best yet, herbs are leafy green powerhouses of nutrition, fighting everything from cancer and heart disease to promoting respiratory function and reducing inflammation. The tasty variety of fresh herbs give you near endless culinary potential, from salads and soups to drinks and desserts. Add tarragon to vinaigrettes and quinoa sides, stir thyme into your next blueberry pie, and substitute basil for a refreshingly unique mojito-inspired drink. Experiment with new herbs and even try your hand at growing your own.
Time to head to your farmers’ market for fresh peas, those gorgeous pods of natural sweetness, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron, phosphorus, fiber and protein. Green peas are second only to lima beans as a fresh vegetable source of protein, making them ideal for vegan and vegetarian diets. Blanch fresh peas and add to green salads and rice dishes, add to pasta (along with prosciutto for an extra special treat), or puree into a warm or chilled pea soup. Since peas are most flavorful right after picking, eat right away or freeze for later in the season.
Asparagus is a much-anticipated harbinger of spring, sporting its deep green color and purple tips, giving home chefs and professional chefs a veggie to celebrate. These flavorful spears can be cooked until tender on the grill, roasted in the oven, chopped into risotto and spring salads, and tossed in pasta, grain salads and stir-fry. And no matter how you cook them, asparagus is considered one of the leading suppliers of folic acid, a vital nutrient for moms-to-be.
Not only are artichokes fun to peel and eat (or fill with flavorful ingredients), they also deliver a bevy of essential health-promoting nutrients. A study from researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that artichokes rank seventh in total antioxidant capacity per serving; that means these ornamental-looking vegetables rival other superfoods, such as broccoli and spinach, in fighting cancer and heart disease as well as boosting the immune system.
Peaking in late spring, this low-calorie fruit (yes, squash is botanically a fruit) can be peeled into strips for a stir-fry, grated into pasta, or diced and sauteed for any number of healthy side dishes. You can also shred this spring and summer favorite into a zucchini muffin, bread or an amazing bundt cake recipe.
California produces over 95 percent of the nation’s apricots and boasts numerous fruit farms. If you live or are visiting in California, you can even find orchards to pick your own. Generally, apricots are in season from May to August. Chockfull of lycopene, vitamin A and other cancer-fighting phytochemicals, apricots can be included in both sweet and savory recipes or simply noshed as a healthy snack.
Red, juicy, delicious strawberries are one of the healthiest fruits you can sink your teeth into. These much-loved berries are rich in antioxidants and other essential nutrients that can flavorfully help you reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory diseases, and birth defects as well as mouthwateringly manage your weight. Add them to your morning bowl of cereal, green or fruit salads, and luscious desserts (dark chocolate dipped strawberries anyone?) or simply pop them in your mouth as a low-calorie nibble.
Sweet, juicy watermelon is a quintessential all-American fruit that is usually eaten plain in all its luscious glory or with a simple sprinkle of salt. This typically red-fleshed melon (yellow-fleshed watermelons are fun for a change) is ripe with cancer-fighting lycopene, very low in calories, and ultra-versatile in the kitchen. You can juice it, dice it, slice it, or use a melon baller for eye-catching orbs of yummy melon flavor. Add watermelon to fruit salads or salsa, puree into smoothies, slice and warm on the grill, or feature it in a frosty sweet dessert.
Refresh with this simple Watermelon Sherbet