The Best of Spring Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

by | 25th Mar 2024 | Food, Trivia

Artichoke, a spring vegetables

Introduction to Spring Produce

The transition from winter’s chill to spring’s gentle warmth breathes life into markets and gardens alike, heralding the arrival of a vibrant assortment of produce. This season invites a refreshing change in our culinary routines, infusing our meals with an array of flavours and textures. The abundance of spring not only enhances the visual appeal of our dishes but also enriches them with a myriad of nutritional benefits. Embracing seasonal eating during these months offers a chance to explore fresh ingredients at their prime, aligning our consumption with the natural rhythm of the environment. Spring is an ideal time to refresh our cooking habits, taking full advantage of the season’s bounty to delight our palates and nourish our bodies.

 

Part 1: The Best Seasonal Produce and How to Cook It

 

With the arrival of spring comes a diverse selection of vegetables that please both the eye and the taste buds. Diving into the culinary potential of spring’s key vegetables opens up a world of flavours and cooking possibilities. Adding these vegetables to your seasonal menu not only broadens your culinary horizons but also deepens your connection to the cycle of the seasons. From the crisp bite of radishes to the robust, earthy flavour of artichokes, and the sweet, fresh taste of peas, spring produce invites us to experiment with and savour the season’s generous offerings. Let’s embark on a culinary journey that celebrates the nourishment and joy provided by spring’s freshest produce.

 

 

Spring Vegetables

 

Asparagus stands tall among spring produce, celebrated for its delicate, grassy flavour that can vary from sweet to slightly bitter. This vegetable is not just versatile, lending itself to various cooking methods, but also rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate. Its prime season spans from February to June, offering a wide window to enjoy it at its best. A quick blanch or a light grilling can elevate its natural flavours, making it a perfect side or a base for salads. Pairing asparagus with a lemony hollandaise sauce brings out its inherent brightness, offering a classic combination that is hard to resist.

New Potatoes, harvested in their youth, boast a delicate, buttery texture. These gems are a good source of vitamin C and dietary fibre. Their waxy texture and subtly sweet flavour make them ideal for boiling or roasting. Tossing these potatoes with fresh dill or rosemary not only accentuates their sweetness but also adds a fresh, herbal note. Whether served alongside a main or as part of a warm potato salad, they’re an easy favourite for the season.

Spinach, with its vibrant green leaves, comes into season, packed with iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Its slightly earthy flavour complements the bright notes of lemon or the richness of garlic, making it a versatile component for many meals. Lightly wilting spinach preserves its nutritional integrity while enhancing its natural flavours, perfect for a nutritious and tasty side.

Artichokes can be a little more intimidating to approach than many vegetables on this list and demands a bit of preparation, but the reward is a subtle, nutty flavour that is incredibly versatile and absolutely delicious. Steamed whole and served with a lemon-butter dip, artichokes become a delightful, shared appetizer. Alternatively, the hearts can be marinated and added to salads or pasta, offering a tender bite that complements the lighter fare of spring. Fun fact: artichokes are actually a thistle, although a little tastier than the Scottish ones you might find out on a walk. Like other thistles, it is a source of silymarin, which is thought to promote liver health.

Peas, bursting from their pods with sweetness, signal the full swing of spring. Fresh peas have a natural sweetness and a tender bite, making them a fantastic addition to risottos, pastas, or simply buttered as a side. Their bright, green flavour epitomizes the freshness of the British spring season and can elevate a simple dish to something memorable. Peas are a great source of protein and fibre; pea protein powder has become a popular vegan supplement. A personal spring favourite is sautéing peas in butter then blending with fresh mint and chicken stock for a quick soup that never disappoints.

Radishes, recognised by their peppery crunch and bright pink skin, can invigorate any spring dish whilst providing loads of vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. They reach their peak in spring, adding a splash of colour and zest to any dish. Their crisp texture and sharp taste make them an excellent addition to salads, or when sliced thinly, a colourful garnish that cuts through richer, heavier dishes.

Spring onions, a rather obvious mention given the name, offer a mild yet distinctly sharp flavour that enhances a multitude of dishes. These tender bulbs, along with their green stems, are rich in vitamins C and K, as well as fibre, contributing to healthy digestion and overall well-being. The white bulb has a crisp bite, while the green parts are softer and milder, making them perfect for both raw and cooked applications. Spring onions are particularly popular in far eastern cuisines including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes.

 

Spring Fruit

 

When it comes to fruit, spring is not your strongest season. However, Rhubarb, with its tart, tangy flavour, comes in strong to make sure that even if there isn’t variety, there is still plenty to enjoy. It’s a good source of fibre, vitamin C, and calcium and incredibly versatile. In savoury dishes, its sharp flavour can cut through rich meats, think pork belly, and add some vibrancy to a dish that could otherwise be one note. As a dessert, Rhubarb is perfect for compotes, crumbles, and more. Pairing it with ginger can add a lovely warming spice to round out the sweet tangy flavour.

 

Spring Herbs

 

Spring also sees the arrival of fresh herbs, each with their own unique flavour and health benefits, enhancing dishes with their vibrant aromas and bright tastes. Parsley, mint, and chives are the season’s favourites, perfect to elevate any dish.

Parsley is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, essential for eye health, immune support, and bone health, respectively. Its bright, slightly peppery flavour makes it versatile in a range of dishes, from fresh salads to savoury sauces. If you aren’t using it as a small sprig for garnish, stick to flat leaf as it’s got a better texture and more pronounced flavour.

Mint, known for its refreshing and cooling effect, is not only a palate cleanser but also aids in digestion and can help relieve indigestion and inflammation. This herb is perfect for adding a burst of freshness to drinks, salads, and desserts. Mint is a well-known pairing for lamb, it also has great use across much of Eastern Mediterranean & the Middle East in their cuisines. Be cautious substituting dried for fresh as they often provide very different flavours for a dish.

Chives, with their mild onion-like flavour, are a great source of vitamin K and allicin, an antioxidant known to reduce inflammation and may have antibacterial properties. They’re excellent for adding a subtle bite to dishes such as baked potatoes, soups, and egg recipes. This is also a great time of year for ramsoms, read our article all about garlic and onions here.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider some wild foraged nettles! Nettles are rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium, making them a potent addition to any diet. Cooking them removes the sting and leaves them with a mild earthy flavour reminiscent of spinach. You can use them to make tea, soups, or even a fantastically fresh pesto (just make sure you blanch them first!).

 

Part 2: Selecting and Storing Spring Produce

Knowing how to select and store your spring produce properly can significantly enhance its flavour and longevity. Whilst the storage advice is not essential, given that modern refrigerators do an excellent job of keeping produce fresh, following these tips can help you maximize the time your fruits and vegetables remain at their best. Here’s how to make sure you’re bringing home the finest of what spring has to offer and keeping it fresh for as long as possible.

 

Selecting Spring Produce

 

  • Asparagus should have tips that are tightly closed and stalks that are firm and straight. The cut ends should not be too dry or woody, indicating freshness. Look for bright green or purplish stalks that are uniform in colour.
  • New Potatoes should be firm to the touch and free of blemishes, sprouts, or green spots. Smaller new potatoes are often sweeter and more flavourful, perfect for boiling or roasting whole.
  • Leafy greens like spinach or lettuce, choose bunches with vibrant, unblemished leaves, avoiding any that are wilted or yellowed.
  • Artichokes are at their best when the leaves are tightly closed and squeak upon being gently squeezed, a sign of freshness. The stems should be firm, and the artichokes should feel heavy for their size.
  • Peas should be bright green, with pods that are plump and smooth. The peas inside should feel firm through the pod, indicating they are fresh and not overmatured.
  • Radishes should have vibrant, crisp leaves and bright, unblemished roots. The radish itself should feel firm and solid, not soft or spongy. Smaller radishes tend to be younger and more tender, with a milder flavour, while larger ones can be more pungent.
  • Spring onions should have crisp, bright green tops and a firm white base. The roots should still be intact, indicating they were recently harvested.
  • Rhubarb should have firm, thick stalks that are deep red or pink with a bit of green; this coloration usually indicates a good balance of sweetness and tartness. The stalks should be crisp and snap easily when bent, similar to celery.
  • Herbs such as parsley, mint, and chives should look fresh, vibrant, and green, without any brown spots or signs of wilting. The aroma should be strong and pleasant; a good sniff can often tell you a lot about the freshness and quality of the herb. For herbs sold in bunches, check that the stems are moist but not slimy, a sign they have been freshly picked and properly stored.

 

Storing Spring Produce

 

    • Asparagus and herbs benefit from being stored upright in a jar of water in the fridge, much like a bouquet of flowers. This keeps them hydrated and fresh for longer.
    • New potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place to prevent them from sprouting. Avoid washing them before storage as moisture can lead to spoilage.
    • Leafy Greens should be stored in the crisper drawer of your fridge, ideally in a produce bag with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. This helps keep them fresh and prevents wilting. The crisper drawer provides a slightly higher humidity environment ideal for leafy greens.
    • Artichokes can be sprinkled with a little water and stored in an airtight bag in the fridge. This helps maintain their moisture and freshness.
    • Peas are best stored in a reusable vegetable bag in the main compartment of your fridge. They prefer a bit of air circulation, so avoid sealing them in airtight containers. Once shelled, it is better to keep them in an airtight container in the fridge and used within a day or two to retain their sweetness.
    • Radishes are best kept in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, ideally in a perforated bag with a slightly damp paper towel to maintain humidity without causing excess moisture, which can lead to spoilage. The tops should be removed before storing, as they can draw moisture from the roots, causing the radishes to lose their crispness.
    • Spring Onions can be kept in the high-humidity crisper drawer of your fridge, ideally in a perforated bag to allow for some air circulation. For longer freshness, you can store them the same way as asparagus and herbs.
    • Rhubarb should be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in a plastic bag or with its ends sealed in foil to retain moisture. This method prevents it from drying out and keeps it fresh for up to two weeks. Avoid washing rhubarb before storing it, as the extra moisture can cause it to rot.

Final Thoughts on Spring Cooking

 

Spring is a great time for refreshing our cooking repertoire with ingredients that promise both flavour and nutritional benefits. The diverse selection of vegetables and herbs available—each with its distinct taste and cooking potential—invites experimentation and culinary creativity. Smart selection and proper storage of these seasonal items ensure that we make the most out of their peak freshness and inherent flavours. It’s about enjoying the best of what the season has to offer while making practical choices that extend the shelf life of our favourite spring ingredients. As we incorporate these springtime gems into our meals, we not only brighten our plates but also take advantage of the season’s natural abundance to enhance our dining experience. Let this be a season of culinary exploration, where the simple joy of cooking with fresh, seasonal produce takes centre stage.

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