With spring just around the corner, many vegetables are getting ready to make their big debut. Including seasonal vegetables in your home cooking can be a great, inexpensive way to include important nutrients while also supporting local food producers. Listed below are seven veggies that will be harvested in the New England region over the next few months, along with reminders for their safe consumption.
Sprouts are seeds that have germinated, but have not yet become fully grown plants. Although all seeds sprout, not all can be eaten raw. Common food sprouts include those from alfalfa, pea, or soybean plants. Sprouts can be added onto a sandwich for an extra crunch, or can be lightly dressed with a vinaigrette and eaten as a side salad. Sprouts are an excellent low calorie source of dietary fiber and protein. Take caution: Sprouts are difficult to clean and may contain harmful bacteria. They are not a safe choice for people with weakened immune systems.
Rhubarbs are best known for their beautiful red stalks and dark green leaves. Note that the dark green leaves should be avoided because they contain high amounts of a toxic compound called oxalic acid. Rhubarb stalks, however, are safe to eat, and are a great source of vitamin K, B vitamins, and fiber. The stalks are commonly used cooked in a variety of desserts, such as rhubarb crisp, muffins, or the classic strawberry rhubarb pie.
Harvested a bit later in the spring, asparagus is a versatile veggie that can be a great addition to a variety of dishes. Enjoy asparagus chopped raw as a salad topping, grilled with olive oil and herbs, cooked and added in stir fries or casseroles, or pickled for a later day. Asparagus is also a great source of several essential nutrients, including folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Make sure to wash asparagus thoroughly before use as dirt and bacteria may be trapped within its buds.
Green Garlic & Garlic Scapes
Green garlic is the younger form of white garlic bulbs, and garlic scapes are the flower stalks from the garlic plant. To use green garlic, trim the ends and any tough green leaves, then chop and use as you would green onions or garlic. Garlic scapes can be used similar to scallions or chives, but have a more robust flavor. Both garlic scapes and green garlic can be used in any dishes you would find garlic or onions, such as omelets, risottos, soups, hummus, etc. – the opportunities are endless! Garlic scapes are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber.
Fiddleheads are the young tender sprouts of the ostrich fern plant. Ostrich fern fiddleheads can be eaten raw in small amounts with salad, cooked and eaten in soups, or simply grilled with some olive oil or butter. However, ostrich fern fiddleheads can often be confused with fiddleheads from other ferns which may contain toxic compounds. For the safest option, cook all fiddleheads before eating as these toxic compounds are not heat stable. Fiddleheads are a great source of zinc, potassium, vitamin C, and protein.
Ramps are an early spring vegetable with a strong garlic-onion flavor, part of the leek family. Ramps can not only be used as you would onion or garlic (sautéed and added to many dishes) but also can star as a green vegetable. Try ramps roasted or grilled whole, or use them to make a pesto. Ramp season tends to be short-lived, so to preserve the flavor throughout the year, ramps can be pickled or made into a compound butter.
Peas, in all varieties, are a cool-season crop with a short growing season. Peas are best enjoyed when popped from the pod, and lightly boiled until tender. In early spring when the weather is still chilly, warm up with a bowl of split pea soup, or throw a handful of peas in your favorite stew. Peas are a great source of fiber, vitamin B1, folate, and phosphorus. When choosing fresh peas, look for pods that are firm, bright green, and plump, and peas should not rattle inside the pod.
So, at your next visit to the grocery store or farmer’s market, be sure to pick up some of these unique spring vegetables and embrace all of the delicious flavors this season has to offer!
Rutu Shah, MS, RD, CD is a per diem clinical dietitian at UVMMC. She also works at a long-term care facility in St Albans, VT.