How to Eat Seasonally and Cook Spring’s Hottest Vegetables

Eating vegetables in season will benefit your wallet, health, and now your taste buds, too

As run in the Observer

You’ve likely heard about the importance of eating seasonally, but do you know why it’s important? Or how to make it easier?

Eating seasonally, which means eating foods grown at the same time of year as you eat them, benefits your health, your wallet, your local community and the planet. For one, eating seasonal produce simply tastes better because fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness. This explains why a peach eaten in summer tastes like liquid candy but a hard, fuzzy rock in the winter. These heightened flavors make it much easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle and eat more vegetables or to adopt a plant-based diet.

Seasonal produce is also more nutrient-dense than produce picked out of season for two reasons. First, plants get their nutrients from the sun and soil, and because seasonal plants are picked when ripe and fully developed, they have higher levels of nutrients. Secondly, fruits and vegetables lose phytonutrients and certain antioxidants the longer they sit in storage or transportation, which is typical for non-seasonal produce.

Eating what’s in season also benefits your local farmers and the environment. Eating seasonally means you’re likely eating food that’s been grown locally, which translates to less transportation and refrigeration, as well as more support for your local farmers. Further, when produce is grown in season, it requires significantly less pesticide usage and genetic modification, both of which remove nutrients from the soil and contaminate our water sources.

If you need a more tangible reason to eat seasonally, look no further than your wallet. When you purchase seasonal food, it costs farmers and distributors less in harvesting and transportation costs, resulting in lower costs to consumers.

With spring in full bloom, it’s time to hit your local farmer’s market and pick up this season’s hottest vegetables.

Garlic Scapes

Grown in late spring and early summer, garlic scapes are twirly, tangly green stems that grow out of garlic bulbs. Scapes taste like garlic but are milder, brighter and more herbaceous. You can eat scapes raw or cooked and use them just as you would garlic or scallions.

One of the easiest ways to use garlic scapes is to make a pesto. If you like your pesto extra garlicky, replace all of the basil with scapes. For a milder version, combine scapes with basil or other herbs like parsley and dill.

Another easy option is to pickle scapes. Just pour a hot brine of apple cider vinegar, water, salt and flavorings of choice over sliced garlic scapes, store in a mason jar and refrigerate for at least a week before eating.

If you want to cook your scapes, chop them up and include them in a stir-fry or omelette. For a unique side dish, grill them whole and finish with lemon juice and sea salt. Don’t have a grill? Coat them in olive oil, sea salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 425°F for 20-25 minutes.

Rhubarb

Your grandmother’s rhubarb pie might have you thinking rhubarb is a fruit, but it’s actually a vegetable. Sold by the stalk, this vibrant red beauty is in season from April to June. Because of its very tart flavor, rhubarb is typically cooked with sugar.

Your first thought might be to make a traditional rhubarb pie or crumble, but don’t be afraid to get creative and try something new, like a rhubarb chutney or a rhubarb simple syrup for cocktails. For a chutney, simmer apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and flavorings such as ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan. Then, add diced rhubarb, chopped red onions and dried cranberries. Cook until the rhubarb is tender and the chutney is thickened.

Artichokes

Packed with fiber, potassium and antioxidants, artichokes promote liver health, aid digestion and lower blood sugar. These nutritional powerhouses are at their peak between March and May, though you may find them throughout the year. The most commonly found variety in the U.S. is the green globe artichoke, which has a buttery interior and plenty of “meat.”

The easiest way to cook an artichoke is to simply boil it. Chop off the ends of the artichoke, add to a pot of salted boiling water, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until fork-tender. Pull the leaves off one by one and serve with your favorite creamy dipping sauce.

For a meal that’s sure to impress, stuff artichokes with your favorite filling. For an Italian flair, make a stuffing out of toasted pine nuts, bread crumbs, capers, olives, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, oregano, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. To prep the artichoke, cut off the woody stem, peel any tough leaves, and cut off 1 inch from the top. Separate the leaves and stuff the artichoke with the filling, starting at the center and working your way out. You can then steam the stuffed artichokes or bake them in the oven in a water bath.

Fiddlehead Ferns

You may have never heard of fiddlehead ferns, but once you spot them, you’ll never forget them. These tightly-wound vegetables are the curled fronds of a young fern, and though they are a rare treat, you can often find them at your local farmer’s market in early spring through early summer.

Fiddleheads are typically eaten cooked and have a taste similar to asparagus. In fact, cook them just as you would cook asparagus, whether it’s roasting, grilling, or steaming.

For a light spring lunch, try this fiddlehead ferns and asparagus salad. First, blanch whole ferns and sliced asparagus for 5 minutes. Then, sauté the vegetables in olive oil for a few minutes with salt and pepper. Dress the cooked vegetables with a citrus vinaigrette made with freshly-squeezed orange and lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a splash of agave syrup. Add sliced oranges and roasted hazelnuts to your salad and top with fresh parsley and dill. Serve over a bed of quinoa or millet.

The next time you visit your local farmer’s market, don’t forget to pick up some of these seasonal spring superstars and get to cooking.

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