Come April, we are ready to put the heavy coats and heavy foods away for the winter, and welcome warm weather and a fresh crop of delicious spring fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, Mother Nature often has different plans. If you are stuck in the house listening to the pitter patter of rain, try some light, but warming spring fare that will be sure to kick the winter blues.
In certain respects, the artichoke might be regarded as the vegetable equivalent of lobster. It's somewhat labor-intensive eating, but well worth the effort. The artichoke can be served whole or trimmed down to the heart, which, like the lobster's tail, is often considered the tastiest morsel. Artichokes are harvested year round. The crop peaks in the spring--March through May--and again, to a lesser extent, in October.
To keep asparagus fresh, cut 1/2 inch off of the base of the stalk and stand the asparagus upright in an inch of warm water (do not let the tips soak in water!). This will also revive asparagus that looks wilted and limp.For an elegant appetizer or spring salad, steam asparagus, sprinkle with red wine or Balsamic vinegar and refrigerate. When ready to serve, top with chopped toasted almonds.
Avocados are commonly thought of as vegetables, but they are actually fruits. These delicious creamy fruits are known to be high in fat, however, keep in mind that it is a healthful fat.
Cabbage is round in shape with layers of superimposed leaves with the inner leaves often lighter in color than the outer leaves because they are protected from the sunlight. They belong to the Cruciferae family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts.
Cauliflower lacks the green chlorophyll found in other members of the cruciferous family of vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and kale, because the leaves of the plant shield the florets from the sun as they grow. It has a compact head (called a "curd"), usually about six inches in diameter that is composed of undeveloped flower buds. The flowers are attached to a central stalk.
Cucumbers are a refreshing snack that can be used in a variety of ways. They provide a crisp crunch on a salad or sandwich, and they are delicious dipped in hummus. When choosing a cucumber, find one that is evenly colored with dark skin. If the cucumber is waxed, be sure to remove the skin with a potato peeler before slicing it. Un waxed cucumber can be eaten with or without the skin depending on personal preference. The seeds are also edible, although many people like to remove them.
Super nutritious, with a clean flavor that is tart, yet sweet, pink grapefruits make a great snack. They are also excellent paired with many varieties of fish, and are great for added zing in salads.The three major types of grapefruit include white, pink/red and Star Ruby/Rio Red. Each variety has it's own unique flavor nuances, but they all have a clean refreshing, sweet-tart flavor. Grapefruits are traditionally halved, then eaten with a spoon, but they can also be peeled or sliced and eaten like an orange. Grapefruits are excellent paired with many varieties of fish, and are great for added zing in salads.
Choose the small-leaved specimens for tenderness and mild flavor, especially if the greens are to be eaten raw. Kale stems are edible, so check to be sure that this part of the plant is plump and moist, not withered or collapsed. Kale can be substituted for spinach (with some adjustments in cooking time) in just about any recipe you like. Try it in soups, pasta sauces, stir-fries, omelettes, or on its own (sauteed with garlic) as a delicious side dish.
For the sweetest, fullest flavor, choose plump, fragrant kiwi fruit that yield to gentle pressure, like ripe peaches. Unripe fruit has a hard core and a tart, astringent taste. If only firm kiwis are available, ripen them for a few days before eating them. Reject shriveled or mushy fruits, or those with bruises or wet spots.
Fresh mushrooms... Elegant, enigmatic, alluring, adaptable... anything but ordinary. The distinctive earthy flavor of fresh mushrooms partners perfectly with a multitude of other foods and flavors.
This exquisite orange originated in Sicily and is widely available in Italy. In the United States is can be found from December through April. It has a deep maroon colored interior, earthy papaya fragrance, and a rich tart plum flavor, with wild strawberry overtones. It is easy to peel with few seeds.
Despite its tough bristly appearance, fresh pineapple is very easy to prepare, (and well worth the work!). It is a similar process to cutting a melon into chunks or slices. Simply cut the lengthwise into quarters, then cut the quarters into slices. To prepare for fruit salad, cut skin off of the slices, then cut the fruit into smaller chunks.
Radishes are root vegetables with a distinctive flavor that range from the juicy crispness of the familiar red globe radish to the sharp bite of the turnip-shaped black radish. Radishes are usually eaten raw; however, they can be added to cooked dishes such as soups, or pickled, or heated and served as a whole vegetable. As with many other root vegetables, their green tops are edible and lend a peppery taste to salads.
Rhubarb, which looks like a pink celery stalk, is botanically a vegetable, but it is used as a fruit, largely in pies and sauces. Field-grown rhubarb appears on the market from April through June or July. Rhubarb is sold loose and in 1-pound bags, like celery. Choose well-colored, good-sized, straight, firm crisp stalks. Avoid stalks that are limp. If the leaves are attached, they should look fresh and crisp; small leaves usually indicate younger, more tender stalks. Never eat the leaves, they are poisonous.
Although it will not produce the magical effects that Popeye enjoyed, spinach is most definitely good for you. It is exceptionally rich in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lutein, and also contains quercetin, a phytochemical with antioxidant properties. Spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly folate (folic acid), vitamin K, magnesium, and manganese; it also contains more protein than most vegetables.
Not only are strawberries a delicious treat, they are incredibly good for you too. The deep red color of these berries comes from a high content of anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant that has repeatedly been shown to help protect cell structures in the body.
Unlike many greens, the stalks of Swiss chard are completely edible; in fact, in European countries they are considered the best part of the plant. Unless the chard is young, though, the stalks should be separated from the leaves and given a little extra cooking time. Whenever possible, use the cooking liquid from chard in a sauce or add it to a soup; a significant percentage of the nutrient content of greens is released into the liquid as they cook.
Packed with a range of vitamins and minerals, watercress can add a peppery, fresh flavor to a wide range of. From soups and salads to family suppers, you'll find watercress to be an amazingly versatile ingredient for any occasion. Try it hot in sauces, pasta, baked with fish or in a stir-fry. It brings a new dimension to pesto and is delicious in mashed potato - even the kids wouldn't complain.