Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Seasonal Food Guide - Spring

Originally posted on June 11, 2009

Summer might be right around the corner, but it’s prime time to take advantage of Spring’s ripest offerings. There is a great emphasis on returning to seasonal eating these days. However, as you peruse the produce section of your local grocery store, it may be difficult to tell the difference between November and April. Tomatoes, oranges, peppers and cauliflower are available year-round so determining seasonality may be confusing.

Why concern yourself with seasonality when a world of food options is at your fingertips? Three reasons: taste, nutrition and cost. Sure you can get tomatoes in January. They might be anemic looking, tasteless, gas-ripened orbs running upwards of $4.99 or more a pound but you can get them. Let’s face it, what we are really craving is the sun-ripened tomatoes of our childhood. Plus, a sun-ripened tomato is higher in lycopene (an antioxidant associated with lower risk of prostate cancer and heart disease) than its gas-ripened counterpart. And the cost, well, if you are like me you are thinking twice about your monthly food budget these days; seasonal produce is typically less expensive than its off-season counterpart.

I challenge you to plan a menu not by flipping through your cookbooks or your old reliable standards, but by seeking what is fresh and economical for inspiration. So, let’s explore seasonal eating in spring.

Spring is transitional, maybe more so than other seasons. We are coming off the hearty vegetables of winter and not quite experiencing the bounty of summer. If you are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market close by, choosing seasonal produce is much easier. If you shop at a big box grocery store, here are a few examples of spring fruits and vegetables to look for: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, berries, butter lettuce, cucumbers, mangoes, morel mushrooms, pea shoots, radishes, spinach, sugar snap peas and summer squashes (including pattypan, yellow crookneck and zucchini varieties).

The beauty of seasonal eating is that you don’t have to over-do preparation. The food you choose is at its peak. Here are a few of my favorite simple spring dishes:

  • Steamed asparagus, tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper and topped with lightly scrambled eggs with fresh tarragon – delicious for brunch or an appetizer.

  • Simple grilled steak on a bed of arugula with a wedge of lemon – the peppery arugula is a delightful compliment to steak.

  • Grilled artichokes with curry mayonnaise – simply mix curry powder into mayonnaise to taste.

  • Butter lettuce with baby beets and spring goat’s milk cheese – a delicate vinaigrette is perfect with this salad.

  • Where can you find seasonal produce where you live? What are some of your favorite springtime dishes?