Happy Spring!! Even though the season technically started earlier this week, Colorado has been feeling like spring for most of 2017 this far. Springtime always gets me excited for longer days, more sunshine, and spring produce! Eating seasonally guarantees you get the freshest flavors, and can create some delectable dishes. I wanted to start this Seasonal Produce Feature series, to highlight some of the flavors you should embrace in the coming months. Of course there are dozens of fruits and vegetables that come into season each spring, but I just picked a handful to start off with. Along with the nutrient profile for each produce pick, I’ve included tips on how to select, store, prepare, and enjoy these springtime delicacies.
//Spring Produce Feature 2017//
Asparagus, often known for it’s post-meal aroma than it’s incredible health benefits, its rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A and E, folate, calcium, iron, and copper. It is a flowering, spring perennial plant, closely related to the family including garlic and onions.
Its content of asparagine, a natural diuretic and antioxidant, make asparagus great for urinary tract health. A high fiber content benefits gastrointestinal health as well. The antioxidants in asparagus also have anti-inflammatory effects and destroy carcinogens in the body. Asparagus can be found in the well known green, as well as purple and white varieties.
Nutrient content (100g, approx. 6 medium spears)
Vitamins: A, C, E, K, B6
Minerals: folate, iron, copper, calcium
Fat: 0.1 g
Carbohydrates: 4 g
Fiber: 2.1 g
Sugar: 1.88 g
Protein: 2.4 g
Selection: Long, dark green stems, with a deeper, slightly purple tip are going to be the richest in nutrients, and the best in flavor (if you’re choosing green asparagus). Look for well hydrated stems, and ensure the tips aren’t drying out.
Storage: Asparagus can be stored in the refrigerator, however, it’s shelf life is much longer if they are stored like a bouquet of flowers. Clip the stem ends, and store in a glass or vase with water. This will keep the entire vegetable hydrated for much longer than traditional storage.
Preparation: Roasted is my absolute favorite asparagus preparation. Baked at 400deg. F with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper for 10 minutes… It’s delicious. This vegetable can also be steamed, or sauteed. I do not recommend boiling.
Serving: Served on the side of your favorite protein (I recommend salmon or steak), chopped and tossed in a stir-fry, or added into an omelet, asparagus can be served as a substitute for any vegetable with your regular meals.
Another herbaceous perennial, commonly most recognized as a perfect pair for strawberries in spring and summer desserts. Like most leafy greens, rhubarb leaves are high in vitamin K, but so are the stems, containing 24% of the RDA amount for adults. The rich rosey-red stems are packed with vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C and magnesium. Rhubarb is also rich in antioxidants such as lutein and beta-carotene, which can neutralize free radicals in the body preventing cancer causing compounds.
High in fiber, rhubarb aids in digestive health, can benefit weight loss. Other health benefits include, better blood circulation, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nutrient content (122g, 1 cup diced)
Vitamins: C, K, B-complex
Minerals: calcium, magnesium
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbohydrates: 5.5 g
Fiber: 2.2 g
Sugar: 1.3 g
Protein: 1.1 g
Selection: Choose stems that are bright in color, and stiff to the touch. If leaves are attached (some grocery markets remove the leaves), the darker the green, the better.
Storage: Store as you would any other dark, leafy green, or store stems like celery. I refrigerate mine in a non-airtight bag. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t dehydrate before you plan to use them.
Preparation: Commonly prepared with a lot of sugar and cooked down to soften. Lower the sugar used in preparation and pair with other fruits (i.e. strawberry rhubarb pies… there’s a method to that magic combination).
Serving: Create delicious desserts, pair with other fruits, or even pair with certain cheeses in some dishes. Pies, crisps, and crumbles are always a good go-to for a fruit packed, healthy dessert (watch the added sugar!).
Also known as scallions, spring onions bring a sweet, bright flavor to any dish, and are an easy way to pack in more nutritional-punch in your dishes. A member of the allium species, along with garlic, spring onions are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. The dark green stems are rich in vitamin K, beneficial for blood and bone health. Vitamin A content benefits eye health.
Similar to common onions, spring onions bring a brighter bite to dishes and are more easily accepted by non-onion eaters.
Nutrient content (100g, approx. 1 cup chopped)
Vitamins: A, C, K
Minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbohydrates: 7.3 g
Fiber: 2.6 g
Sugar: 2.3 g
Protein: 1.8 g
Selection: Bright green stems and a vibrant aroma are what I look for in a spring onion. The smell should be sweet and bright, and the stems should be crisp, not flimsy, and have a bright green color, rather than a dulled-olive color.
Storage: Refrigeration in a non-airtight bag works best in my experience. These can also be stored with the bulbs wrapped in a wet paper towel to prevent dehydration if you are not planning to use them right away.
Preparation: Raw, sauteed, roasted, grilled; these onions are unbelievably versatile.
Serving: I prefer my spring onions (scallions) in my morning omelets, or mixed in any kind of cooked vegetable salad. Raw in salads, and mixed with rice adds flavor and bite to dishes as well.
A vibrantly-red root vegetable, radishes are typically a garnish on a dish, or added raw into a salad. However it is more than just a pretty salad-sidekick. Radishes are high in vitamins, like B6 and C, as well as minerals, like potassium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Radishes contain anthocyanins, flavonoid and antioxidant found in red, pink, and purple plants, that acts as a natural diuretic, aiding in urinary tract health. They are also a natural detoxifier, eliminating toxins from the blood and body. Low in calories, and high in fiber, adding radishes to meals can aid in weight loss and overall satiety.
Nutrient content (116g, 1 cup slices)
Vitamins: C, B6
Minerals: copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc
Calories: 19 cal
Fat: 0.1 g
Carbohydrates: 4.0 g
Fiber: 1.9 g
Sugar: 2.1 g
Protein: 0.8 g
Selection: Choose radishes that are bight in color and free from bruises and blemishes. They should feel firm, not soft, otherwise the insides will be spongy, not crisp.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator. Trim leaves (if bought with leaves attached) and wash thoroughly before eating.
Preparation: Raw, whole and sliced are traditionally how radishes are presented with meals, but they can also be cooked! Try them roasted or sauteed!
Serving: Mix with roasted potatoes are a lower carb breakfast hash, or slice up and serve in any salad that needs a little pop or color, or extra crisp bite. Or eat them whole and dipped in hummus!
//Flavor of the season//
While not a true spring fruit, nothing makes me think spring more than the bright citrusy bite of lemon. Lemon juice, slices, or wedges can brighten up any dish (almost literally). A little acid balances out bitter flavors, and adds a hint of sweet to your savory dishes.
Lemons are also packed with nutritional value. Almost completely vitamin C, lemons are great for immune health, indigestion, and can even give your skin a boost!
Nutrient content (58g, 1 fruit)
Vitamins: C, B6
Minerals: folate, potassium
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbohydrates: 5.4 g
Fiber: 1.6 g
Sugar: 1.4 g
Protein: 0.6 g
Selection: Look for lemons that are bright in color and have a sweet/sour aroma, If you’re planning on using the zest, choose fruits that are un-blemished. The fruit should be firm with a little give, not squishy. If using lemon juice only, grab a bottle of 100% lemon juice.
Storage: Juice should be refrigerated at all times. Fresh lemons can be kept on the countertop until sliced, and then should be kept refrigerated.
Preparation: Always wash the fruit before using. If using the zest, scrub any dirt off of the peel before zesting. If juicing, I recommend rolling the lemon under your hands on a cutting board to loosen up the fibers in the fruit for a better juice extraction.
Serving: Lemon can be added to almost any dish! Add slices lemons when baking chicken or fish, add lemon juice to smoothies (especially those green ones) to brighten it up, or add the zest to baking recipes.
I hope this encourages you to embrace the produce of the season, and maybe add a few new veggies to your springtime dishes! Keep an eye out for more seasonal features as the seasons move along, and recipes fusing some of the produce featured here!