Enjoying Spring Vegetables
Here in the northeastern United States we are seeing the first signs of spring. It’s a season of renewal after the long winter. Small green sprouts are showing themselves as they reach for the sun. Gardeners are out clearing away the winter mess and getting ready to plant the first early seeds. It’s these early vegetables we’d like to explore today.
Radishes, onions, lettuces, peas, spring onions, and seed potatoes or potato eyes can go into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, you can grow them for yourself in containers or small beds. They don’t take up much room at all. Within 6 weeks of spring weather, you’ll be able to harvest baby lettuce, pea shoots, those first radishes and spring onions. A little later we’ll begin to see asparagus, and before long we’ll be shelling peas and pulling baby potatoes, carrots and beets.
Before the age of modern refrigeration, people looked for the first signs of early greens. The new, tender sprouts of wild asparagus, dandelion and wild mustard in the field, as well as the new "fiddle-heads" of fern sprouts in the woods were eaten as a kind of spring tonic to replenish nutrients lost over the winter. I don’t recommend doing this unless you know the field you are picking is free of pesticides and herbicides. Greens growing along roads can be contaminated by car exhaust or even lead, lingering from the days before unleaded gasoline. If you do decide to do this, use the greens the same day you picked them, either raw in salad or steamed and seasoned. Whatever you do, don’t overcook them.
The southern United States is already seeing these spring treats. Strawberries won’t be far behind. It’s doubtful you’ll see them in the supermarkets, but if you have local farmer’s markets or road side stands you should be able to buy them very fresh. And these tender vegetables must be fresh to be fully enjoyed. Of course there are regions of the country where everything can be grown year round, and where people are fortunate to be able to grow or buy them. We’re lucky to be able to buy almost anything shipped in from far away, but it won’t be as delicious as fresh, local food. Whatever region of the world you live in, locally grown vegetables and fruits vary with the seasons and taste best when they are eaten fresh.
I found a wonderful, comprehensive article on About.com, where you can learn more about these wonderful foods.
You’ll have to know how to store and serve these tender items. Refrigerate them immediately in the crisper drawer. Don’t seal them in airtight plastic because moisture will collect and cause wilting. Wash them just before using in a deep bowl of water, swishing them. Let them sit for a minute so any grit falls to the bottom of the bowl. Lift them out gently and repeat with fresh water if needed. Radish and beet tops can be used in salad if they are young and tender, then the radish root can be stored for a crunchy treat or addition to salads. If you plant peas, you’ll be thinning the rows and it’s nice not to discard the little plants. Pea shoots are very tender and sweet eaten raw or used as you would fresh bean sprouts. The same goes for lettuces. You’ll want some to grow into heads, but when you thin them, the baby leaves are wonderful. Other vegetables such as beets can be handled the same way.
Personally, I like all these vegetables raw. If you haven’t tried raw asparagus, you’ll want to try it. Just snap off the tough end and enjoy the crunch and mild sweetness. Early peas can be eaten the same way. We’ll look forward to salads of fresh, young, tender vegetables that only need a light dressing if that. Young vegetables are also good lightly roasted with your choice of seasonings. Simply toss them in a bowl with a little olive oil and sprinkling with your favorite seasoned salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for just 10 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit. Baby beets and carrots are especially good this way. You may find that even picky eaters will accept them.
Using the Recipe Browser, we found some recipes by Calorie Count members. We hope you’ll enjoy them.