Are you as excited as I am about Spring produce? Though it’s been a little tough to say goodbye to my beloved winter squash, I will gladly open my heart (and mouth) to Spring’s bounty. I want to highlight a few of this season’s most delicious, nutritious and versatile offerings. You’ll learn why they rock nutritionally, how to prepare them, and how to spot the perfect vegetable at the market. Of course I’ll be hooking you up with some of my favorite recipes too!
So, where shall we begin? Why not start with fennel!?
1. Fennel is your friend
…whether you like it or not! Well, maybe that’s a little dramatic; but fennel has got some pretty impressive health promoting qualities. Phytonutrients abound in the fennel plant. One in particular, called anethole, has been proven to reduce inflammation and prevent the occurrence of cancer! Fennel is also a fantastic source of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant known to neutralize free radicals in the body, which equals a strengthened immune system. What’s more, fennel is a great source of fiber, potassium and folate.
Available from Fall to Spring, select fennel bulbs that are clean, firm and without bruises. Fresh fennel smells like licorice. For the freshest taste and most bioavailable nutrients, consume fennel soon after bringing it home. Fennel seeds can be found at most grocery stores and stay their freshest when stored in the refrigerator.
There are so many ways to enjoy fennel this spring. I love raw fennel in salads, and even dehydrated fennel chips (like the photo above)! Try my fennel chickpea salad with citrus vinaigrette. (recipe follows)
2. Glorious Peas
My list of favorite spring foods definitely includes peas! This is what I had to say about peas in a post I did back in February. “Like other legumes, peas are a fantastic source of fiber and protein. Surprisingly though, peas also contain an impressive array of phytonutrients. What are phtyonutrients? They’re special chemicals found in plant food that promote human health. An example would be the must-have antioxidants found in plants like peas. The humble pea is high in the antioxidants vitamin E and vitamin C. Other phytonutrients present in peas include their anti-inflammatory nutrients, some of which are found almost exclusively in peas. Though very low in fat, green peas are a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids (also great anti-inflammatory agents).
But let me not breeze over the fiber and protein. Peas contain an exceptionally high amount of fiber and protein, and the combination of the two play an important role in regulating our blood sugar levels. They’re also the perfect food to satisfy our hunger and keep us full for hours. ”
Fresh peas are in season in some parts of the country, but frozen peas are great too. When shopping for fresh peas, they should be firm, smooth and vibrant green. You’ll want to choose pea pods that feel full. Use immediately, or refrigerate for several days.
This season you’re going to see a lot of pea recipes coming from my kitchen! Check out this recipe for Pea Mint Dip from the My New Roots blog. Or my Avocado Pea Tartine.
Did you know that the mango is the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines? And it’s the national tree of Bangladesh! I’m sure you’ve noticed that mangoes have all of a sudden popped up in your local grocery store. While they aren’t a locally grown produce, Mango season has begun in the tropical regions of the world. High in antioxidants, phytonutrients and B vitamins, mango is a great fruit to chow down on this season. One thing I love about mangoes is their versatility. It’s a fruit that can be used in a number of desserts and savory meals. Green unripe mangoes are used in many traditional East Asian and Southeast Asian dishes. I had my fair share in Thailand and Bali last summer. When mango shopping, I prefer the smaller yellow varieties. I find them more reliably sweet and fresh. If you purchase unripe mangoes, set them on the counter for a few days to ripen. They’ll be soft and fragrant when ready to eat. Green mangoes can be purchased and used right away in savory dishes. Here’s an inciting recipe for Sticky Rice with Mango, one of my favorite desserts. Try it with black sticky rice if you can! For a savory option try my Miso Mango Red Cabbage Salad.
4. Dandy Dandelion
Mother Nature is so wonderful! Spring is naturally a time for cleansing, and she delivers the perfect produce to aid in our inner renewal. Dandelion is one of the best plants for detoxification. The root and leaves are both known to support detoxification of the liver, kidneys and digestive system. As a natural diuretic the plant stimulates removal of wastes and toxins. The bitter quality of dandelion contributes to a mild laxative effect in some people. The leaves are high in Vitamin A and K, which is crucial for proper absorption of Vitamin D (hopefully you’re getting lots of that!).
Look for dandelion greens that are crisp and fresh, with a vibrant green color. Try them them in a salad with other greens, or a smoothie with other greens to cover the bitterness.
I can eat a whole bunch of raw asparagus for a snack. No salt, no oil, just pure unadulterated asparagus. Which is fantastic because asparagus is one healthy vegetable. But aren’t they all? Yes, asparagus will fight inflammation and free radicals; and it’s loaded with an array of nutrients and minerals. But what makes asparagus really unique is how it supports a healthy digestive system. Like chicory and sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), asparagus contains a very special carbohydrate called inulin. Unlike other carbohydrates, inulin isn’t broken down until it reaches our large intestines where it becomes food for healthy bacteria that live there. Also known as a “prebiotic”, inulin feeds and supports the healthy bacteria which in turn keeps your digestion and overall health on track. It’s also high in fiber, which is certainly a necessary substance for healthy digestion.
Buy asparagus from your local farmer’s market when possible. This will ensure quality and great nutrient availability. Choose vegetables that are firm, and with tight tips.
Sure, asparagus can easily be eaten raw as a snack, but it’s also delicious grilled, sauteed, tossed in salads, in sushi… the possibilities are endless.
This recipe for asparagus with edamame, and fennel with a lemon-chive dressing sounds like a perfect spring recipe. In the recipe for the dressing it asks for cream, try substituting tahini : )