10 essential spring vegetables to add to your menu
Spring marks the start of new life and a burst of freshness. As spring’s bounty starts to make its way out of the soil, it has us looking forward to lighter meals and an abundance of fresh produce. Here are 10 spring vegetables you must get onto your plate this season.
There isn’t much better in the world of produce than new-season spring asparagus. It’s bright, crisp and tender. The season is relatively short, though, so start looking for it early. Look for asparagus with vibrant colour and tight florets that don’t look seedy.
Try to resist using a knife to cut the woody ends off, hold it in both hands and bend it towards the base — it will snap where it needs to. Don’t throw those ends away; store them in the freezer to add to homemade stock. Slice asparagus on an angle and add them raw to salads or blanch them for 1-2 minutes. As soon as they turn bright green, they’re ready. Asparagus loves garlic and butter, too, sauté them and season generously with pepper and salt.
Early-spring beans are a taste and texture sensation. Your beans must be fresh, though — the older they are, the stringier they become. And don’t discard the little ones — smaller beans tend to be sweeter.
Keep it simple when you cook beans, toss them in some olive oil, add some garlic and sauté them for a few minutes. Then pull them out of the pan while they’re still crisp and have some bite. They’re also great in salads and you don’t even need to cook them; slice them on an angle so you can see the inside and throw them in raw.
Beans love feta and goat’s cheese, too, sauté the beans and crumble the cheese over the top with lots of cracked pepper.
Raw, boiled, blanched, steamed or roasted — beetroot is an extremely versatile vegetable! Leaves and all! Add the small baby leaves to salads and use the bigger leaves blitzed up in dips. They are fantastic died out in the oven for garnishes. They go crispy and have great colour. Grate beetroot when adding it to salad and slice it evenly for your next homemade burger. And, remember, beetroot is the element that gives a good old red-velvet cake its colour.
Broccoli’s tree-like beauty may be a common vegie in most homes, but have you tried cooking with its stem? Shave away the outside with a peeler, chop it and the next time you make a mash, throw it in with boiling potatoes. Just remember the stem will always take longer to cook than the florets.
Broccoli or broccolini are also delicious additions to a classic cauliflower and cheese bake, sautéed with a bit of garlic and tamari or cooked hot and fast in a stir-fry with ginger and hoisin.
The flesh of a butternut pumpkin tends to be firmer and more fibrous than other pumpkins. It’s fantastic cooked on the BBQ. Slice it in half and scoop out the fibres and seeds, cook it for eight minutes in the microwave, steamer or oven, brush it with garlic-infused olive oil and put it on a BBQ with a medium flame. Once it’s a little charred, it’s done.
I love roasting it with cumin or coriander, and it’s delicious steamed or boiled with potatoes and carrots for a rustic mash.
Yes, ginger is technically a vegetable because it is the root of the ginger plant. While new-season ginger is readily available in early winter, it has a much milder flavour than ginger harvested in September–October. The skin is thin and delicate and it has a sweet, enticing scent.
Spring ginger is beautiful cut into matchsticks and added to a broth-style soup with Asian leafy greens. I always add ginger to my chicken-bone broth in the last couple of hours of cooking to add fragrance and freshness. It’s excellent steeped in boiling water for tea and then left to cool for fragrant water later in the day. Combine it with lemon zest, garlic and olive oil for an easy but tasty chicken marinade with ginger’s best friend, chilli. Of course, it’s also found in many stir-fries, soups and marinades.
Spring leeks are a little thinner, more tender and sweeter than their thicker or late-season brothers. Peel a layer off a young leek, give it a good clean to remove the grit inside (it’s worth the effort!), drizzle over olive oil, salt and pepper and grill them on a hot BBQ. That kiss of fire is a beautiful thing! A cast-iron grill pan works a treat, too.
Leeks are delicious gently sautéed in olive oil and butter with a clove or two of garlic. Slice them through the length so it absorbs the buttery flavours. If you want to up the ante, place them on an oven tray, sprinkle over fresh thyme, grate over a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, melt under a grill then garnish with good-quality breadcrumbs and more thyme.
Snow peas in spring are an absolute delight. They are crisp and their green colour is vibrant and enticing. Try snipping the top of the pea with your paring knife and pulling out the thin membrane.
Peas complement any style of curry sauce, stir-fry, risotto or salad. Leave them raw for salads and slice them on a long angle. The little peas peek out from the inside and they look just as good as they taste. They are wonderful as a simple side to steak. Fry them in olive oil in a hot pan, season with salt and pepper and garnish with pea shoots. It’s fresh and tasty.
People generally love radicchio or hate it. Its bitterness is often an acquired taste. You can eat it raw, roast it, grill it or fry it. Try adding a small amount to your next salad if you are not a huge fan of it. It’s an excellent way to acquire a taste for it.
Brush it with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, pop it on a hot grill pan or BBQ and drizzle over some red-wine vinegar or balsamic glaze. A good fig reduction or pomegranate glaze adds a little sweetness; drizzle it over after the radicchio is cooked. If you prefer a little zing with your radicchio, spritz over some lemon juice.
The delicate flowers of zucchini are a delight to eat. You do have to be gentle with them, but it’s worth it effort. They have a pretty short season and start relatively late in spring. Stuff them with a mix of soft cheese and lots of fresh herbs, twist the top of the flower gently and dust them with flour. Shallow fry them in hot olive oil.