Spring Sustenance

Seasonal spring foods are packed with nutrition.

Spring has officially sprung. Tulips are blooming. Flip flops have emerged from their long winter’s nap. And farmer’s markets are once again bustling with fresh bounty. Though the growing season has just begun, spring has its own selection of seasonal crops that are sure to delight your palate and infuse your diet with valuable nutrients.

Eating with the seasons is one way to stay connected to the natural plant cycle and to find food that is fresh, local, and tastes best. Seasonal foods don’t have to travel as far to reach you, so they’re a better choice for the environment, not to mention for the freshness factor. Seasonal foods just feel right—your body and your taste buds just know the difference. A strawberry in January that has traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate just doesn’t taste quite right. On the other hand, there is something so natural about fresh asparagus in the spring.

If you’re craving fresh produce after a long winter of root vegetables, here are some spring foods to pick up at the market:

Asparagus: Asparagus is the star of the spring produce line-up. It is loaded with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. True asparagus season is very short—there is about a three-week window for harvesting it, which occurs anywhere between March and June, depending on the region. There is no comparison between fresh, local asparagus and the asparagus that is trucked in from afar throughout the winter. So get thee to the farmer’s market for some fresh asparagus this spring. You won’t be disappointed.

Dark leafy greens: Dark leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, and arugula are considered cold-weather crops. They are best in the spring and fall. These nutrient-dense greens are usually among the first crops to appear at farmer’s markets in the spring. They’re loaded with B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K. A healthy diet should include a healthy dose of fresh greens.

Rhubarb: You know it’s officially spring when the first strawberry-rhubarb pies start to appear at potlucks. The tart, red stalks are ready for harvest early in spring and are high in vitamin C and calcium. Though officially a vegetable, rhubarb is often treated as a fruit and is typically paired with sweet ingredients to offset its tart flavor. Rhubarb is sometimes referred to as “pie plant” since it is often used for pies.

Leeks: Leeks are part of the Allium family (along with garlic, onions, chives, and shallots). They look like giant green onions and have a sweet, subtle onion flavor. Like their Allium brethren, leeks can help the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens. When they’re fresh in spring, leeks are delicious braised or in soups.

English peas: Freshly shelled peas are a far cry from their mushy, canned counterparts. English peas—also known as shell peas—have a short season in late spring and early summer. They typically peak in May. Peas are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber. Shell them immediately before cooking and then discard the pod.

Artichokes: Canned artichoke hearts are no substitute for the real, fresh thing. Artichokes are harvested between March and June and they’re loaded with vitamin C, folate, fiber, magnesium, and phytonutrients. Artichokes have been shown to have a positive effect on the liver. If you’ve never tried preparing fresh artichoke, spring is your opportunity to learn. Steam artichokes for about 30-40 minutes for a delectable treat.