Say hello to springtime! Bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, and you’ve probably noticed some changes at the farmer’s market too. For veggie-lovers, spring may just be the most exciting time of the year. Coming out of winter’s long slog of root vegetables and winter squashes into a world of fresh greens, bright red radishes, and perky asparagus can feel like stepping out of a cave and into the sunshine.
Cooking with spring’s bounty, however, isn’t obvious. On the heels of winter’s hearty soups, stews, and braises, the tender shoots and roots of the greenest season need more delicate treatment. But don’t worry—we’ve got you covered! These easy tips for cooking this season’s iconic produce will help you brighten up your kitchen table in no time flat.
Tip #1: Think Fast
Much of spring’s tender produce needs very little, if any, cooking time. Asparagus is a perfect example—a few quick minutes in a steamer, boiling water, or a very hot oven are enough to concentrate the vegetable’s flavor while preserving its color and fresh taste. Try tossing it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasting it at 425℉ just until crisp-tender, about 8 minutes. As soon as the asparagus comes out of the oven, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over top.
The takeaway? The faster a vegetable cooks, the hotter the heat should be. While tougher veggies need more time at a lower temperature to tenderize without overcooking on the outside, don’t be afraid to apply a lot of heat for a short period of time to more tender spring vegetables.
Tip #2: Dress It Down
Avoid taking the fastest train to Flavortown by smothering spring’s veggies in spices and seasonings. Instead, let the vegetables speak for themselves. For most spring produce, simplicity is king—high-quality extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, lemon, and fresh herbs are really all you need.
For an easy, herbaceous accompaniment to drizzle over almost any tender veggie, finely chop a mixture of fresh herbs in the food processor or with a knife—flat leaf parsley, chives, and thyme are a good place to start (use more parsley and less thyme, since thyme is more aromatic and pungent). Mix in some fruity olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, and you’re set. This no-cook condiment is especially tasty on steamed or roasted baby carrots, as a dipping sauce for artichokes, or as a dressing on an arugula and strawberry salad.
Tip #3: Keep It Raw
Sometimes the best thing to do with spring vegetables is leave them alone. Sure, you can transform bright, fresh asparagus spears into a velvety smooth cream of asparagus soup or spend the better part of an hour whipping up risotto with peas, but often, when a vegetable is in its prime, you should do as little to it as possible. Let this be your excuse to spend less time fussing in the kitchen and more time enjoying the springtime weather outdoors.
A shaved asparagus salad is a simple but unique dish that requires no cooking. Hold onto the tough bottom parts of asparagus spears and use a vegetable peeler to shave them into long strips. Toss the asparagus ribbons with a simple vinaigrette (or the herb sauce above) and garnish with thinly sliced red radishes and fresh mint leaves.
Tip #4: Team Up
One of the best things about spring vegetables is their ability to play nice with other spring vegetables. Asparagus, peas, radishes, spring onions, carrots, and artichokes have complimentary flavors. If you become so awestruck by the colorful produce at the farmer’s market and wind up overloading on veggies, no problem! Let them combine forces.
Start out with a generous splash of oil in a hot skillet. Add in your vegetables—perhaps a combination of quartered radishes (yes, you can cook these), green peas, sliced scallions, and asparagus cut into 2” pieces—and sauté until they are just starting to soften. Then add a pinch of salt & pepper and the juice of half a lemon. Cover and remove from the heat to allow the steam to cook the vegetables until crisp-tender. To serve, sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs.
Now you’re set for the season. Time to head out the door and stock up for spring!
Megan’s abiding passion is culinary arts. Her career in food began on a small farm, transitioned to extensive food and cooking research, and finally led her to working for the iconic cookbook, the Joy of Cooking and with natural food brands across the country in her role at HEART: Creative Culinary Agency.