It’s time, it’s time! We’re two days away from the official beginning of spring, and I’m ready to start harvesting that beautiful produce for my meals! Let’s check out some of the best ingredients and how to use them.
Why Buy In Season?
From your wallet to your waistline, buying in-season produce can benefit you.
First, price. When you eat a great deal of produce, it can get costly. We spend fully 2/3 of our grocery budget on fruits and vegetables, and we buy almost exclusively in season. Although we enjoy bananas year-round, you won’t catch me spending $5 a pint on raspberries out of season!
As much as I love those ruby orbs of joy, I can’t justify spending that sort of cash when I could easily get six pounds of oranges for the same price in late winter.
Second, flavor. A winter peach usually comes from Chile. From Atlanta, Santiago is approximately 4100 miles away.
From the time produce is picked until it lands in your local market, you can expect to lost many nutrients. It is almost always picked underripe to ensure a long shelf life for the journey, which is often many weeks.
In the case of tomatoes, they’re picked when still green. Then they’re gassed, literally, with ethylene to make then appear red for purchase. Have you ever tasted a tomato picked from the garden, still warm from the sun? Contrast that with the the greenish pinkish reddish thing you get at Target and tell me there’s any comparison at all.
Third, variety. When you purchase in-season produce, you’ll probably learn to buy things you’ve never tried before. The variety of greens available, for instance, is a surprise to many people. Dinosaur kale, anyone? Rainbow chard?
The environmental considerations must be taken into account, as well. According to Gaiam Life, “transporting produce sometimes requires irradiation (zapping the produce with a burst of radiation to kill germs) and preservatives (such as wax) to protect the produce which is subsequently refrigerated during the trip. While no definitive study quantifies the impact of these treatments, there is good reason to believe that eating local is really the safer option.”
Best Ways To Get Your Produce
Community Supported Agriculture: Far and away my favorite way to get produce is the CSA. Visit Localharvest.org to find a CSA that’s close to you.
The nearest one to me is about 55 miles, but they deliver to a farmer’s market about six miles from my house. We just stop by on Saturday mornings and pick up our box.
CSA has introduced me to so many varieties of produce that I’d never tried. Ramps, for example. They’re wild leeks, and taste amazing in just about everything.
In the same vein, we often visit U-pick farms in the summer. Each has a different way of doing things, but we end up picking blueberries and figs each year, and sometimes muscadine grapes.
In Ohio (where I’m from) you can pick strawberries fresh and warm from the fields. I picked blackberries as a child in our backyard, and there’s nothing better than eating something you harvested yourself.
Farmer’s markets: Hands down the best way to spend a Saturday morning is at our local farmer’s market. There are quite a few around us, but one that we visit most frequently. I buy loads of greens, tomatoes, peaches, and peppers there.
I’m also completely taken with the raw goat’s milk cheeses, local honey, and handmade soaps. The kids love the cupcakes (no surprise there), and I’ve been known to indulge in some local lemonade!
Small local grocers: While not quite as green as CSA and farmer’s markets, independent grocers are still a great choice. They’re not in huge supply in the Atlanta area, so I sometimes resort to larger chain stores. One of those is Whole Foods. They’re committed to local produce where possible, and I appreciate that.
Backyard garden: Never underestimate the value of growing your own food. There’s no cheaper, fresher, more educational way to eat! Now, some people don’t have the sun, the space, or the time for large-scale gardening, and I understand this.
However, it takes literally seconds to water a pot of herbs you bought at the garden store. Imagine how wonderful it is to grab a handful of chives, basil, or rosemary to add to your dinner. It’s a beautiful thing!
Depending on your part of the country, these foods are ready now or will be in the next four weeks or so. I’ve picked out some of my favorites which correspond to some wonderful recipes. I can’t wait to start cooking!
Why eat it? Asparagus is delicious and easy to prepare. It’s high in folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin A. My favorite preparation is roasting.
Snap off the ends (they’ll naturally break a couple of inches from the bottom), toss in a bit of olive oil and salt. I like to squeeze half a lemon over 1 lb, then roast at 425 for 12-15 minutes.
I serve this with quinoa with pine nuts. If I’m feeling really hungry, I also like some summer squash sauteed in olive oil with onions and garlic on the side.
Quinoa Pilaf with Pine Nuts
from FoodNetwork.com, serves 6 as a side dish
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, chopped (I prefer Vidalia)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Salt and pepper
Put the broth and quinoa in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and grain is tender.
Meanwhile, toast the nuts in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove nuts from pan and set aside.
Heat the oil in the same skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and begin to brown, about 6 minutes.
When the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a large serving bowl. Stir in the pine nuts, onions, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Spinach and Strawberries
Two of my favorite foods on the planet are spinach and strawberries. You likely already know how I feel about greens.
Spinach in particular has more beta carotene than any produce except for carrots and parsley. It contains vitamins B1-B6, folate, as well as vitamins C, E, and K.
Strawberries are my favorite food of childhood. We had a patch in our side yard, and I was charged with picking the ripe ones. It was just as well, I ate almost all of them myself, anyhow.
While they weren’t the genetically modified monsters you see now, they were firm and delicious and perfect for eating out of hand.
Because of my belief that raw food is generally more nutritious than its cooked counterpart, I love spinach strawberry salad to combine these two ingredients.
Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Modified from AllRecipes.com
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or more if you like a lot of vinegar)
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce for vegans)
- 1 tablespoon minced onion, preferably red
- 10 ounces fresh spinach – rinsed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 quart strawberries – cleaned, hulled and sliced
- 1/4 cup almonds, blanched and slivered
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and onion. Or, you may also toss this in the blender for fast and easy prep. Cover, and chill for one hour.
- In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries and almonds. Pour dressing over salad, and toss. Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Have you ever eaten rhubarb? Let me rephrase, have you ever eaten rhubarb apart from a strawberry-rhubarb pie? Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, which looks like red celery.
The leaves are poisonous, so DO NOT EAT THEM. However, the stalks are totally edible. You’d generally only see them in dessert applications, and perhaps the occasional chutney.
I got a wonderful tip from HealthCastle.com, which was to blanch the rhubarb and use it in salsa. What a great way to add nutrition to your salsa recipes!
Rhubarb is high in vitamin K, calcium, fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and potassium. Why wouldn’t you eat it? If it’s the sour flavor you’re intimidated by, have I got a recipe for you. It’s not your typical strawberry-rhubarb jam or muffin, it’s actually a savory application. Wonder of wonders!
I got this recipe from the New York Times dining section (highly suggested for any foodie).
Lentil and Rhubarb Stew With Indian Spices
- 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, strings removed, chopped
- 1 cup orange lentils, well washed
- 2rn tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 2 cloves
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 dried ancho or other mild chili, optional
- Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
Combine all ingredients except salt and cilantro in a saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Cook at a steady simmer until lentils and rhubarb are quite soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cloves and, if you like, cardamom pods. Add salt, then taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
One of my very favorite foods, pineapple is a dream come true. It’s got amazing levels of vitamin C, and loads of fiber plus calcium, potassium, and manganese.
The other thing that’s so amazing about pineapple is the bromelain. It’s an enzyme that helps with digestion and can help loosen mucus.
I take pineapple enzymes (or papaya enzymes) when I’m eating a meal that’s mostly cooked food.
A friend of mine suffers from lupus and was on a $150 per month prescription for heartburn. I suggested the Trader Joe’s brand of enzymes, and even I was shocked at what happened. Two weeks later she called me and said she was totally off the prescription and hadn’t felt so good since her diagnosis.
As for me, I tend to add pineapple to stir-fry and eat it in rings, but I’ve got a great dessert to share with you. Grilled pineapple, yum delicious!
Grilled Pineapple Slices
Modified slightly from AllRecipes.com
- 1 fresh pineapple – peeled, cored and cut into rings
- 1/4 cup canned coconut milk
- 1/3 cup cinnamon sugar
- Preheat a grill for medium heat. When the grill is hot, lightly oil the grate.
- Place the coconut milk and cinnamon sugar into separate dishes. Dip slices of pineapple into coconut milk, then coat in cinnamon sugar.
- Grill slices for 6 minutes on each side. Remove to plates, and serve.
I like to put a little toasted coconut on top. This is more than sweet enough for me, but some people like to put a little vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet on top. Whatever works for you!
Be sure to check back next week, I’ll have some great healthy Easter recipes for you!