The motto of “what grows together goes together,” has been practiced by Italians since the beginning of time. Or at least as long as Italian grannies have been sharing the secrets of their fresh, simple, ingredient-centric cooking. We can all learn a thing or two from this wisdom, especially when it comes to planning delicious, fresh, vegetable-focused meals, every season of the year.
Spring is the season when we get to harvest the bounty of late fall seeds and winter sprouts — and some of the earliest, most delicate vegetables are available to us at this time. Little peas and asparagus shoots are characteristic of spring, as are tender baby lettuces, young carrots and the earliest radishes. All of these ingredients are edible raw (especially those tender baby lettuces) — but peas, asparagus, carrots and radishes can all be steamed, roasted, sauteéd or grilled as well.
SPRING VEGETABLES TO SEEK OUT
Peas: Snap peas! Snow peas! English peas! All of these delicious beauties are seasonal spring foods. Snap peas and snow peas are edible whole, either raw or cooked, but English peas (also known as shelling peas), need to be shelled before consuming as just the pea is edible.
Asparagus: In most regions, asparagus shoots have just one growing season on the farm, meaning we look forward to their short growing season all year long. Asparagus can be eaten raw if its tough ends are peeled with a vegetable peeler, but it’s also delicious steamed, roasted, grilled and sautéed. The more slender the stalks of asparagus, the more delicate the flavor, and tender the texture.
Baby Greens: These tender greens are among the first lettuces of the season, and while they’ve withstood the unpredictable weather of early spring, they’re very delicate. Best used with light dressings and eaten raw, fresh spring baby greens are a true treat.
Young Carrots: We can typically find carrots at the farmers market all through the spring and summer, but springtime is when carrots are the snappiest and brightest. The longer carrots stay in the ground, the more their sugars develop and the sweeter they’ll taste. Eaten perfectly raw, or cooked in myriad ways, young carrots are a perfect ingredient to crunch up a baby green salad, toss with tender peas or sauté with asparagus.
Radishes: Like carrots, radishes can be found in our farmers markets through the summer, but the flavor of spring radishes is the most potent. Pungent and punchy, almost like horseradish, fresh radish flavors beautifully offset the sweetness of peas and the brightness of carrots. A fresh salad of tender greens, peas and carrots with light lemon vinaigrette is a true seasonal pleasure.
HOW TO COOK SPRING VEGETABLES
There are myriad ways these beautiful, flavorful, healthful ingredients can be prepared. Here are a few favorite recipes and combinations:
CREAMY ASPARAGUS + PEA SOUP
This creamy asparagus and pea soup captures the vibrancy of the season in a single bowl. This soup freezes well, is a great main dish for a light dinner, side dish or as a bright lunch.
- 2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil, divided
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
- 2 cups (300g) peas, fresh or frozen
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups (375ml) unsweetened plain almond milk
- 1 1/2 cups (375ml) vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
- Toasted sesame seeds and pepitas, to garnish
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC) and spread asparagus on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil of choice and season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
Roast for 15 minutes, then set aside. Heat a large saucepan or pot to medium heat. Once hot, add oil, shallot and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook for 2–3 minutes or until fragrant and translucent. Reduce heat if garlic begins browning.
Add peas, vegetable broth and almond milk and season with salt and pepper once more.
Transfer soup to a blender along with the asparagus (reserve some for garnish if desired). Blend soup until creamy and smooth. Transfer back to pot, heat to medium and simmer.
Add nutritional yeast and whisk. Continue cooking until warmed through and simmering, then reduce heat to low.
Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, adding more salt and pepper if desired. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Top with toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds
Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 1 cup
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 241; Total Fat: 15g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Monounsaturated Fat: 10g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 790mg; Carbohydrate: 18g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Sugar: 5g; Protein: 8g
SPICY ROASTED CHICKEN LETTUCE CUPS WITH SPRING VEGGIES
A spicy gochujang dipping sauce pulls together store-bought roasted chicken or pork and fresh, bright vegetables. Use lettuce leaves to make fresh little tacos with meat and rice, top with crispy fresh vegetables and peanut sauce. This is a fun meal to serve a crowd or for a fresh weeknight dinner.
For the gochujang dipping sauce
- 2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 1/4 cup (60ml) mirin cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons gochujang
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 head butter lettuce, washed and drained
- 1 carrot, sliced into ribbons
- 4 small radishes, sliced into thin rounds
- 1/2 cup (150g) kimchi
- 8 ounces roasted chicken, store-bought rotisserie chicken or pulled pork
- 1 1/2 cups steamed sushi rice
In a small saucepan, combine the Bragg’s, mirin and ginger and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid into a blender and add the gochujang and oil. Blend until emulsified. Let the dressing cool.
To assemble and serve, lay out the carrots, washed and dried lettuce leaves, radishes and kimchi into bowls. Divide the pulled pork or chicken and rice into two portions. Use lettuce leaves to cradle bits of meat, rice and fresh vegetables. Serve with gochujang dipping sauce, additional rice vinegar and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, if desired.
Serves: 6 | Serving Size:
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 268; Total Fat: 10g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5g; Cholesterol: 36mg; Sodium: 860mg; Carbohydrate: 33g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugar: 7g; Protein: 13g
PEANUT RICE NOODLES WITH RADISH AND CARROT SLAW
There are lots of simple spring veggie noodle dishes out there, but this one features a bright slaw of carrots and radishes, allowing the bright flavors of the vegetables to shine. It’s easy to whip this one up as a dinner side dish, then save some for packable leftover lunches.
For the peanut sauce
- 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
For the salad
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1 14-ounce package soba noodles
- 2 large carrots, finely julienned
- 1/2 cup fresh radish, finely julienned
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1/2 pound mung bean sprouts,optional garnish
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
For the peanut sauce: In a small bowl with a whisk, or in the bowl of a food processor, blend together the ginger, garlic, peanut butter, liquid aminos, rice vinegar, maple syrup and crushed red pepper until well blended. If the sauce is too thick to pour, add water by the teaspoon to achieve desired texture. Set aside.
Next, place the fresh radish and carrot in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar plus a pinch of salt and massage with your fingers. Allow the slaw to marinate while you finish the noodles.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Boil the soba noodles until tender, 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and set the colander in the ice water. Toss the noodles to cool; drain well, shaking out the excess water and transfer to a bowl. Add the pickled radish and carrots, bean sprouts, scallions, sesame seeds and peanut dressing to the noodles and toss to coat. Serve lightly chilled or at room temperature.
Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 1 cup
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 320; Total Fat: 18g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Monounsaturated Fat: 8g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 692mg; Carbohydrate: 27g; Dietary Fiber: 8g; Sugar: 8g; Protein: 13g
SPRING GREEN SUMMER ROLLS
These fresh summer rolls look intimidating but they’re fun and easy to make, and a fresh way of enjoying more greens all spring long. Mix and match the vegetables based on what you have on hand. And, if you’re going to pack them for lunch or eat them later, keep the sauce out of the rolls and use it as a dip instead!
For the avocado-coconut sauce
- 1 avocado
- 4 ounces (118ml) coconut milk
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 package summer roll wrappers
- 8 ounces (30g) fresh spinach leaves, ends removed and leaves washed clean
- 1 cup (150g) snow peas, sliced in half lengthwise
- 1/2 pound (225g) asparagus, trimmed and halved
- Cilantro leaves, mint leaves or basil leaves
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the coconut milk, avocado, cilantro and rice vinegar and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Bring a small pot of water to boil and add the asparagus. Boil for just 30 seconds, then blanch in ice water. Set aside.
Gather together your ingredients to assemble spring rolls, along with a broad bowl filled with warm water and a damp towel. Place the damp towel on your work surface, attempting to remove any wrinkles in the cloth. Dip one rice paper wrapper in the warm water, turning it for 5 seconds — the paper starts to wilt a bit. Place the rice paper on the damp towel.
Layer the spinach leaves, peas, asparagus and herbs into the very center of the rice paper wrapper in a neat little pile. Then, fold the top and bottom of the rice paper in toward the middle, covering the vegetables. Next, gently lift the right side of the rice paper up over the vegetables, sealing the seams of the top and bottom of the paper. With your right hand, roll the vegetables in the rice paper toward the right, sealing all seams.
Summer rolls are best eaten immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight. Summer rolls keep for one day.
Serves: 4 | Serving size: 1 roll
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 250; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 4mg; Sodium: 385mg; Carbohydrate: 41g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 11g