There’s no hunger quite like the craving for spring. I see that the season has arrived not by a date on the calendar. It’s only when the daylight has lengthened and the ground has warmed enough to produce the first fiddleheads that I know it’s really spring.
Like all young things, there’s an unspoiled tenderness to spring’s bounty. And like youth, it fades far too quickly. Some spring veggies—like baby carrots (not the pre-washed, finger-sized, peeled baby carrots) and new potatoes—continue to be available later in the year in their more mature form. Others, such as ramps and English peas, make an appearance only for a short time before disappearing for another year.
A few of my favorite short-lived and not-to-be-missed spring vegetables are below. Keep in mind that chefs take a lighter touch with spring veggies. To make sure you don’t overwhelm their subtle flavor and delicate texture, stick to shorter cooking times, lighter sauces and gentle seasoning.
Fiddleheads are tightly coiled, edible ferns that eventually become pretty green ferns that no one eats. They have a woody-grassy flavor similar to asparagus or green beans. They last only 2 days in the fridge, so use them as soon as you get them. Snip off an inch from the bottom and simmer, steam or sauté in olive oil and top with lemon.
Ramps are wild onions. Both the greens and the bulb can be eaten and taste like a cross between garlic and leeks. Ramps are always foraged, so they can be hard to find. If you see them at a farmer’s market, grab them. Just beware—they’re pungent, so tread carefully if you’re using them raw. They can stand in for leeks, scallions or onions in any dish.
Fava beans are a bit of a tease. You’ll only find them fresh in the pod from spring to early summer. When you do get your hands on them, they need to be shelled twice—once from their pod and again from the tough skin surrounding each bean. But it’s worth it. With their nutty flavor and meaty texture, fava beans are can be sautéed and tossed into pasta, mashed, or pureed into a dip and served on crostini.
English peas, or what the French call petit pois, are small bright, green peas with sweet taste and crunchy texture. Peas begin converting their sugar to starch as soon as they’re picked, so buy them as fresh as possible and use them quickly. In their pod, they’ll keep in the fridge for 2 days. Blanch quickly and add them to salads or simmer and puree them into a spring soup.
Rhubarb is the first fruit of spring. The only edible part is the vibrant, cherry-colored stalks (the leaves contain oxalic acid, which is mildly toxic) and it’s almost always served cooked. The flavor is intensely tart, so you’ll find it commonly stewed into compotes, sauces or jams using a fair amount of sugar or maple syrup. Rhubarb pairs beautifully with strawberries or ginger and adds a zing to cakes and baked goods.
Other favorite fruits and veggies also pop up in springtime. Head to the farmer’s market or your local grocer for asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, baby lettuces and radishes.
Need some inspiration to celebrate spring? This Olive Oil Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote shows off the season's best.
It’s hard not to get excited when spring is just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, winter is beautiful: Who isn’t awed by the quiet power of a snowstorm or the cool stillness of a frozen pond? But there’s an understated quality to the season of scarfs and mittens. Even most of the seasonal produce is low-key. That is, except for beets. With their splash of colour and tender texture, this root vegetable brings touch of sweetness and glamour to any late winter dish.
Beets aren’t just gorgeous; they’re super good for you too. Beets are rich in fiber, vitamin C, iron and potassium, and their pigment is full of powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help protect against heart disease and some cancers. The greens attached to the beet are edible, delicious and also packed with their own vitamins and minerals. Beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, but they have very little fat or calories.
The most common types of beets are a dark reddish-purple color, but you can sometimes find them in orange, white or striped like a candy cane. I love to mix and match them in recipes for a pop of color. Look for beets that are firm with smooth skins and bright, crisp greens (if still attached). Don’t worry about the occasional knobby parts, 2-inch tail and hairs, that’s normal, but stay away from any that are shriveled or have browning, wilted leaves, which indicates that they are old.
Beet greens can be used in place of spinach or chard in recipes so don’t throw them away. The greens do leach moisture from the beetroot though, so cut them off, leaving about an inch of the stem attached, and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. (You’ll need to wash them and blot dry before using.) As for the beets, place them in a plastic bag and pop in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for about 2 weeks.
Before cooking, wash the beets gently, trying not to pierce the skin. It provides a barrier during cooking that holds in the nutrients and color. Beets can be shaved and eaten raw in salads. They add a vibrant flavour and texture and pair beautifully with fennel, toasted nuts and goat cheese. Or blend them into a smoothie; their natural sweetness works well with fruits.
You can boil beets, but I like them best roasted. Place whole, unpeeled beets in aluminum foil pouch, leaving it open at the top. Drizzle with olive oil and a teaspoon of water, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven for 25-30 minutes. A knife should be able to pierce through the beet without any resistance. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets.
With a pan of roasted beets in the kitchen, the world is your oyster. Puree them to use as a spread on crostinis or toss in an arugula salad with a little blue cheese. Toss them into soups or risottos, add to sandwiches, or do it up Aussie style and top your burger with slices of roasted beets. If you’re like me, you’ll probably just sprinkle with salt and pepper and dig in.
Working with beets can get a bit messy. The stunning red pigment can temporarily stain your hands and cutting boards, so consider throwing on a pair of gloves and laying wax paper over the board while working.
Dress up your winter dinner plate with this Oven Roasted Beets with Orange recipe.
People ask me all the time for gluten-free recipes and I always point them to quinoa. It’s the ancient grain that has it all. Healthy, flavourful and so simple to cook, it deserves a place at your dinner table whether you’re going gluten-free or not.
Quinoa isn’t technically a grain. We call it that because you can use it like rice, barley, couscous and pasta. But quinoa is actually a seed from the quinoa plant and thousands of years ago, Inca warriors in South America relied on the nutrient-packed seed for power. We now know why. Unlike grains, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also an amazing source of antioxidants and heart-healthy fatty acids, which remain intact even after cooking.
But the best reason to start eating quinoa is the flavour. Cooked quinoa has a delicate, fluffy texture and a slightly nutty flavor. The most common variety is white and looks deceptively like couscous or millet. But red and black quinoa are popping up more often these days. As a rule, the darker the quinoa, the more crunchy in texture and nutty in flavor.
Cooking quinoa couldn’t be easier. Add one cup of quinoa and two cups of water or stock to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes. The white variety will become a translucent body with a little spiral tail and the seeds will stick together a bit. The red and black keep more of their seed shape when finished. Don’t panic and add more water to the pan, they’re supposed have a sturdier texture. Longer cooking won’t soften the seeds more.
You can use all three varieties of quinoa interchangeably in any recipe. As a guide, think of the white as a good substitute for rice. While lighter in texture, it has a similar creaminess that works in stir fries, soups, casseroles and warm side dishes. Some people even like it as a hot cereal, in place of cream of wheat or oatmeal. The texture of red and black quinoa makes them a beautiful addition to cold salads; they won’t go mushy when tossed with vinaigrette. These types also shine when paired with smooth, buttery foods like avocados, winter squash or creamy cheeses. Black quinoa has a slight fruity flavor that underlies the nuttiness, so try it with citrus fruits and pears.
Tips and Tricks
Store uncooked quinoa in the fridge in an airtight container. It should keep for 3 to 6 months.
Rinse quinoa before cooking, using a fine-mesh strainer. This removes any bitterness from the seed’s coating.
Grind quinoa seeds in a coffee grinder to make gluten-free flour.
Easy Quinoa Recipes
Toss into spinach or arugula salads with peaches and almonds.
Add eggs, breadcrumbs and grated cheese to cooked quinoa and form into patties. Sautee in a pan like a burger.
Top quinoa with a roasted vegetable hash and serve with a poached egg.
Serve quinoa under grilled asparagus or green beans. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.