The DeLish Bite

Lindsay Evans blogs about food, entertaining and her favourite recipes for Green Living.

By Lindsay Evans

Spring’s bounty is starting to appear across the country, despite the seesawing weather that has taken us from winter to summer and back again. If you have ever tasted the succulent flavour of the season’s first asparagus spears or experienced the joy of creating a mouth-watering crumble made from rhubarb pulled straight from your garden, then you know the child-like delight the first crops of spring can bring.

The earliest produce to hit your local markets is fresh, colourful and crisp. It is the time of year when a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt is all you need to bring out springs bright flavours.

Eating seasonally is one of my favorite ways to green your diet.  By choosing seasonal foods, you’re more likely to eat locally and cut down on the miles your food travels. An added bonus? Your food will be bursting with nutrients, be fresher and taste better. If you are a virgin localvore, spring is the ideal time to transform the way you eat.

Here are five of spring’s first foods, along with a host of information and recipe ideas that are sure to awaken your dormant taste buds.

Asparagus: Early spring is the season for locally grown asparagus. It can be found in green, purple and white varieties. The purple and white ones are less common, but more tender and sweet, making them perfect when tossed raw into salads.

Eating: My favorite way to cook asparagus is to drizzle spears with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt; then roast at a high temp (400 F) for a short duration (4 or 5 minutes) until bright green and crisp. Freshly shaved Parmesan takes it over the top.

Buying and storing: Asparagus spears should be sturdy and bright green with compact tips. Store, wrapped loosely in damp paper towel, for up to 5 days in your crisper.

Bonus: Asparagus is rich in folic acid, fibre, potassium, vitamin A, C and B6 and thiamine. It is low in calories, sodium and cholesterol and thus is considered to be very heart healthy.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb’s bright and cheeky pink stalks are one of the first edible things to burst through my garden, making it one of my favorite spring foods. Local rhubarb is available from early spring to early summer.

Eating: As it is naturally very tart, it is a superb addition to pies, tarts, crumbles and jellies, where the high level of sugar offsets its tartness, and produces a delectable silky texture.

Buying and storing: Look for bright, crisp and firm stalks, free from bruises and cuts. Fresh rhubarb can be stored in your refrigerator for a few days, wrapped well in plastic, and freezes wonderfully for up to 6 months. Wash stalks well, trim ends and remove any brown spots or strings prior to use (discarding the leaves is essential as they contain high levels of oxalic acid salts that are toxic to humans and animals).

Bonus: Rhubarb is a great source of vitamin C and iron.

Artichokes: Although some people shy away from this complex-looking vegetable, artichokes are a nutritious and delicious addition to any spring meal. They peak in spring and fall/winter, but are available all year round.

Eating: Although artichokes are known to be tricky to prepare, they are well worth the effort. This incredibly versatile vegetable can be boiled, steamed, roasted, stuffed or barbequed and is perfect simply dipped into some lemon-flavoured mayonnaise.

Buying and storing: Select artichokes with tightly closed leaves (which snap off when bent) and a vibrant colour. Unwashed artichokes can be sealed and refrigerated for up to one week.

Bonus: Boasting a high content of fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and other essential minerals, there isn’t much artichokes can’t do.

Garden Peas: Many people associate peas with the mushy tinned variety so common in childhood. But garden-fresh green peas are so much more than that, and worth a second look. Three types of peas peak in spring, garden green peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas.

Eating: Peas can be tossed into salads, served as a simple side dish or added to stir-frys, casseroles or curries. My absolute favorite way to use peas in the spring is to purée them along with some buttery baby spinach leaves and a splash of lemon juice to create a velvety chilled sweet pea soup. Delish.

Buying and storing: Purchase green peas with firm and smooth pods. Be sure to cover and refrigerate quickly to maintain their sugar content; they will stay fresh for a few days.

Bonus: In addition to being high in protein and fibre, they are a rich source of Vitamin A and B6, folate, and several other minerals.

Fiddleheads: Fiddleheads are one of spring’s earliest and most unusual delights. This dark green edible, but wild, fern generally starts to appear in late April and lasts just into May.

Eating: Fiddleheads are prepared similar to other greens, often being steamed, boiled or stir-fried. They are wonderful when cooked thoroughly, then sautéed with olive oil, lemon and herbs.

Buying and storing: Fiddleheads are best eaten straight after harvesting, however they can be stored tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for just a few days. Pick those with compact heads, which are well coiled and green (with no yellowing). As fiddleheads must be consumed young, there should be only 2.5-5cm/1-2 inches of stem beyond the coil.

Bonus: Fiddleheads are a great source of iron, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and C.

Note that Health Canada advises that fiddleheads be washed several times in cold water (papery brown bits must be removed) to remove any dirt and grime prior to cooking, and then cooked thoroughly before eating. Consuming raw or undercooked fiddleheads may cause food poisoning with symptoms including diarrhea, nausea and upset stomach.

And remember, don’t stop with these five! Spring also brings green onions, fava beans, fennel, morels, radishes and new potatoes.

Image courtesy of Flickr.com/geishaboy500