Saturday, May 22, 2010

10 spring vegetables and what to do with them

Most farmers' markets in our area (northeastern Illinois) open in June, but the one in our town brings produce from southern Illinois and southwestern Michigan in early May, and we are feasting. Here are 10 treats for vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, locavores, and everyone who likes unbelievably fresh food, even though it's still May.

1. baby lettuce leaves - no wonder the rabbits love them. The green and red leaf lettuce I've been buying is utterly delectable, dressed with just a little olive oil, a squirt of fresh lemon, and a tiny sprinkle of salt.
2. rhubarb - Barbara Kingsolver, craving fruit in April, discovered rhubarb, which Alice Waters called "the vegetable bridge between the tree fruits of winter and summer."
3. asparagus - steam* or simmer lightly, but be sure it stays crisp. Serve with a little butter and lemon juice in a separate dish for dipping. Emily Post approved of eating short, crisp stalks with your fingers.
4. baby potatoes -steam* for a few minutes, then sauté in olive oil and/or butter. Best with coarse salt and freshly ground course pepper. Add garlic during last minute of cooking, if you like. Remove from heat and stir in fresh parsley.
5. spinach - heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Soften some garlic or green onions or shallots in the oil, if you like. Add spinach and stir until all the leaves are wilted. Immediately remove from heat. Good as is, or add a small squirt of lemon juice.
6. chard - spinach's more colorful cousin. Stalks are delicious. Chop them and cook them separately in olive oil with a little onion and/or garlic. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Leaves can be cooked however you cook spinach.
7. beets - cook the greens however you cook spinach. Stab the red bulbs several times with a fork, wrap them in aluminum foil, and bake for 30-60 minutes, depending on how big they are. Good hot, good in soup, very nice cold, sliced thin, in salad with crumbled goat cheese and orange slices.
8. carrots - steam,* boil, add to soup, grate for salad, turn into juice, or give to small dogs as treats. My dog Muffin often says "Why?" when I ask her to come back in the house, but if I say "Carrot?" she comes immediately.
9. radishes - I have never seen much reason to eat these, which is why I did not renew my C.S.A. subscription - my farmer, a wonderful lady, seemed to have a radish fetish. But you can slice the little ones on salad and stir fry the big ones, and I'm sure God made them for a reason.
10. broccoli - bring a big pot of water to a rapid boil. Drop the broccoli into it. I usually eat just the florets and a small amount of the stem. If you want to eat lots of stem, chop it up, drop it in the water first, and let it bubble for a couple of minutes before adding the florets. Then turn the heat to medium and cook for just a minute or two. You don't want it to turn sickly green. Drain and serve with melted butter, vinaigrette, or a drizzle of olive oil. Alternately, you can steam broccoli, but by the time it's tender enough, it may lose its color.

*I steam many vegetables in my Tupperware microsteamer, usually until they are about half done (this often takes only a couple of minutes). I then finish them by sautéing them in a little olive oil or roasting them in a hot oven. This is not a commercial. The steamer was a gift from my daughter Molly, who also has one and uses it all the time.


Jim Purdy said...

I love steamed veggies. I buy a lot of frozen microwave versions, like the Steam Fresh brand. Typically, they have no salt or preservatives, and I just drizzle a little bit of melted unsalted butter over them.

Carol Furlong said...

I had a delicious salad at a Mexican restaurant: shredded raw beets and jicama, avocado, tomatoes and feta cheese on spring greens.

I have shredded raw beets, dunked them in icy cold water to stop the bleeding and then patted them dry. They are really delicious this way!