Spring has Sprung
Fruits and Vegetables that Peak in Spring
Seasonal produce is purchased and consumed very close to the time it is harvested, making it fresher, more nutritious and more delicious than foods consumed out-of-season. If seasonal fruits and vegetables are also local, purchased from growers in your part of the country, they can be eaten even closer to peak ripeness, and peak tastiness. Fruits and vegetables eaten out-of-season, longer after harvesting, also tend to lose their nutritional value. Try these 8 spring fruits and vegetables to take full advantage of their vitamins and minerals, and of the phytonutrients that give them both their bright colors and a variety of health benefits.
Apricots look like smaller peaches but share the sweet-tartness of purple plums. They are high in vitamins A, C, E and potassium, and contain many antioxidants, including beta carotene, which gives the fruit its orange color and promotes healthy eyes. To pick the ripest apricots, choose bright orange fruit with no green tinge, and enjoy them raw. Try them in a crisp, cobbler or pie, or reduce them into a jam or compote. For more savory options, cook them down as a glaze for ham, pork or chicken wings, or chop and add to grain salads or stuffing.
Asparagus comes in green, white, purple and wild varieties. Choose a bunch with the thinnest stalks possible, as they will be most tender. Asparagus is very high in folate and vitamins A, C and K, as well as fiber, antioxidants, flavonoids and polyphenols. The purple variety also contains heart-healthy anthocyanins, which gives the vegetable its color. Asparagus is delicious blanched, roasted, sautéed and grilled, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, added to pastas, omelets or frittatas and pureed into a soup.
Radishes, which are most often sold with their leafy green tops attached, come in shades of purple and pink and are high in fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, anthocyanins and flavonoids. They are also a natural antifungal and their high-water content helps to keep you hydrated. The French serve them sliced raw, with butter, but they can also be pickled, julienned and tossed into a risotto, chopped as a taco garnish, roasted, added to salads or made into a pleasantly pink chilled soup. Radish greens can also be sautéed or used in pesto.
While it is a leafy green, spinach is actually part of the amaranth family, related to beets and quinoa. It is loaded with fiber, nutrients and antioxidants, and is especially high in Vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, iron and calcium. It also contains many healthy phytochemicals. Fresh spinach leaves can be sold as loose leaves or still attached to the stem, or pre-packaged in bags or boxes. Smaller leaves are most tender while larger leaves are tougher and will stand up to soups and sauces. Add spinach to eggs, blend it in shakes, use it in salads in lieu of traditional lettuce, add it to pasta sauces, soups, stews and stir-frys, puree it into pesto, stack it on a sandwich or sauté it with garlic and oil as a side dish.
Yes, purslane is the green, leafy succulent that often grows wild in the cracks of the sidewalk, but it can be eaten raw or cooked, much like spinach. It is high in vitamins A and C, magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron, along with antioxidants and flavonoids that combat oxidative stress on the body. Purslane also has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other green vegetable, most notable alpha-linolenic acid. It has a bright, slightly tart and lemony flavor that is perfect for summer salads, pesto or chimichurri. Or, simmer it into soups, use it in place of spinach in a yogurt-based dip or try as a topper for fish tacos.
Yellow summer squash comes in many shapes and sizes, but smaller squash typically have a better texture and more concentrated flavor. Larger squash are better suited to baking and stuffing. All are high in vitamins A, B6 and C, folate, and the minerals copper, manganese and phosphorus. They are also high in antioxidant carotenoids, which give the squash their yellow color. Try roasting or sautéing your squash, stuffing it with ground beef, sausage or bacon and other chopped vegetables, adding it to a veggie shish kabob on the grill, or baking it into a cheesy casserole.
Mushrooms are a rich, low calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They are also high in the minerals selenium, copper, thiamin, magnesium and phosphorous. They are also the only item in the produce section with a significant source of vitamin D. And while mushrooms are available year-round, many varieties like morel, oyster, porcini and hen-of-the-woods peak in spring. Because mushrooms grow in wet areas, they can be waterlogged, so choose mushrooms that are firm and moist but not soggy, without any slimy or black spots. Mushrooms can be eaten raw, or roasted, sautéed or grilled, sliced or whole. Chop a variety and shape into a burger with egg, breadcrumbs and shredded cheese, or use roasted and sliced mushrooms in place of meat in a taco. Add mushrooms to pizzas, pastas, stir-frys and salads, use in soups or scramble them into eggs. And, if you roast mushrooms until crisp with a little soy sauce and maple syrup, they can even taste like bacon!
While avocados are available year-round, those grown in the United States – mostly California – peak from May to August. Avocados are nutrient-dense, packing in more potassium than bananas and containing high levels of vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamins B5 and B6. The avocado is also the only fruit that contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, and they are loaded with fiber. Their creamy consistency makes them great for babies and toddlers, and even adults can enjoy an avocado simply sliced or mashed and sprinkled with salt and pepper. More adventurous sorts can add lemon juice and cayenne. Or, add avocados to scrambled eggs, smear them on toast, use in place of mayonnaise in sandwiches, make guacamole, add them to salads or even throw them on the grill.