The Best Ways to Eat Seasonal Ingredients This Spring
Spring has sprung! Find out more about our favorite ingredients, including tips on how to prepare the best of what the season has to offer.
The cold weather has finally begun to dissipate and the first signs of spring are emerging. With spring brings feelings of renewal and rebirth, evident in the return of the seasonal bounty of vegetables and greens after many unforgiving, barren winter months. Read below to learn more about some of our favorite spring ingredients, and find preparation tips from our talented culinary team.
Often referred to as “the first fruit of the season,” rhubarb is not actually a fruit! These sour pink-and-green stalks are stringy when fresh, but become soft and supple once cooked. They are served most frequently in desserts like pie and cake, and as a base for jams and preserves. Make sure to skip the leaves though, they’re poisonous!
This small, orange stone fruit is tangy and sweet, with soft, juicy flesh. It’s versatility lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes, from delicate tarts, jams, and upside down cakes to dishes with gamey meats like lamb and duck.
Also known as a honey melon, this light green-fleshed variety has a fragrant, mild flavor and a juicy, refreshing texture. Honeydew can be enjoyed on its own or in a fruit salad.
- Tip from Culinary Manager Suz: Ripe, sweet honeydew is secretly fantastic in a savory preparation. Finely dice honeydew and toss with scallion, lime juice, cilantro, olive oil, and diced serrano or jalapeño chile for a sweet salsa with a spicy kick. Use on fish, shellfish, or chicken and soak up compliments about your culinary innovation.
These small, compact lettuces resemble a miniature version of romaine with sweet, crisp leaves. Little Gems stand up particularly well to grilling, and make for a terrific grilled Caesar salad, or any other type of salad for that matter!
- Tip from Test Kitchen Assistant Michelle: My favorite way to use Little Gems is to quarter them and throw them on the grill with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. They get a great char on the outside but soften a bit on the inside, and go really well with a tangy/creamy dressing. The quartered lettuces make for a great presentation topped with colorful salad fixins.
With delicate, soft leaves, this bright green lettuce is often sold with the root still attached. Butter lettuce leaves make a wonderful salad base and a great “wrap” for many prepared ingredients—and they have just enough crunch for a sandwich.
- Tip from Test Kitchen Assistant Michelle: Butter lettuce is my favorite salad base. It’s not too crispy, but has enough crunch to keep you coming back. Its texture is velvety (aka buttery) and its flavor is mild. I love tearing it with my hands and throwing it into my salad of the moment. It’s great with vinaigrette, as creamy dressings can sometimes weigh it down and make it soggy.
This water-cultivated leafy green is a fast-growing plant, with tender green leaves. With a slightly peppery flavor, watercress makes a great base for soups and salads, and is a tasty sandwich component.
These delicate greens consist of tender leaves attached to a thin, entirely edible stalk. Pea shoots make a wonderful addition to salads, and are a very common and refreshing garnish for a variety of dishes.
Resembling spring onions or shallots, these wild leeks have long stalks, large green leaves, and rooted bulbs at the end. Ramps have a very short window of seasonal availability, and are very popular pickled, roasted, grilled, or used in pesto.
- Tip from Head Chef Elana: Since ramps are only in season for a few weeks a year, it’s really important to make the most of the short time you have with them! They have a mild herby-oniony-garlicky flavor that’s great in pasta or with eggs. My two favorite preparations are Ramp Cacio e Pepe and a Spring Greens Frittata with Ramps. For both, I just chop them up and sauté them in olive oil before adding them to the dish.
Available in white, purplish, and most commonly, green, asparagus is ubiquitous on springtime menus. Asparagus has a slightly sweet flavor, crunchy texture (if cooked correctly), and can be prepared in a number of ways, whether wrapped in bacon, puréed in soup, or simply grilled or roasted.
These thin, reed-like plants protrude from the ground alongside hard-necked garlic, and are harvested in the late spring and early summer. They have a flavor similar to their cloved counterparts, and are delicious grilled, or as a base for pestos, dips, hummus, or light, brothy soups.
Sugar Snap Peas
This green climbing legume is a cross between a snow pea and a garden pea, with a crunchy texture and a sweet flavor. Serve sugar snap peas raw and whole with other crudité, lightly sautéed with herbs and lemon, or in grain salads.
- Tip from Head Chef Elana: I love sugar snap peas in pretty much any form—from raw as a snack to sautéed in a stir fry—they’re crunchy and a little sweet and very delicious. One of my favorite preparations is to slice them very thinly on a bias. They look really pretty this way, and taste sweeter somehow. Sliced sugar snap peas are a great addition to salad or slaw, and a great garnish for grilled meat or fish.
Also known as broad beans, favas are a green, kidney-shaped bean with a rich texture and nutty taste. Favas must be peeled and then skinned, but are excellent as a side, whether roasted, sautéed, or even incorporated into a springtime omelet.
- Tip from Recipe Editor Jen: Tossed with a bit of olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper (and combined with some feta or goat cheese, if that’s your kind of thing), fava beans make a great stuffing for chicken. Slice open a chicken breast to create a pocket, stuff it with this irresistible filling, and you have yourself an entrée and a side in one fell swoop. These springtime beans are also delicious mashed up for a hummus-like dip.
These bulbs emerge from the earth with a crunchy texture and spicy flavor, and possess a vibrant, colorful interior. While radishes are often served raw, pickle or slice them to dress up a salad, gently roast with olive oil, salt, and pepper, or serve on generously buttered toast—the richness will cut the spiciness of the radish.
- Tip from Test Kitchen Assistant Andrea: My favorite way to consume watermelon radishes is to blanch them in boiling water for 1–2 minutes. As soon as they come out, squeeze fresh lemon juice all over them. The lemon juice turns the radish a stunning bright pink color. Toss the radishes with shaved fennel, Parmigiano-Reggiano and pieces of blood orange in a lemon juice and extra virgin oil vinaigrette. Finished with salt and pepper, this light and healthy salad is perfect for a warm spring day.
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About the author: Leah Bhabha is a cookbook co-author, recipe tester, and food writer who has written for numerous publications including Food & Wine, Marie-Claire, The Guardian, and Food52. She chronicles her cooking and eating experiences on her blog, OneHungryPickle.com.