The Seasonal Food Guide

   By Erin Coopey  Jun 11, 2009
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Summer might be right around the corner, but it’s prime time to take advantage of Spring’s ripest offerings.  There is a great emphasis on returning to seasonal eating these days. However, as you peruse the produce section of your local grocery store, it may be difficult to tell the difference between November and April. Tomatoes, oranges, peppers and cauliflower are available year-round so determining seasonality may be confusing.

Nature’s Bounty=High Flavor, Low Cost

Why concern yourself with seasonality when a world of food options is at your fingertips? Three reasons: taste, nutrition and cost. Sure you can get tomatoes in January. They might be anemic looking, tasteless, gas-ripened orbs running upwards of $4.99 or more a pound but you can get them. Let’s face it, what we are really craving is the sun-ripened tomatoes of our childhood. Plus, a sun-ripened tomato is higher in lycopene (an antioxidant associated with lower risk of prostate cancer and heart disease) than its gas-ripened counterpart. And the cost, well, if you are like me you are thinking twice about your monthly food budget these days; seasonal produce is typically less expensive than its off-season counterpart.

Spring’s Freshest Feast

I challenge you to plan a menu not by flipping through your cookbooks or your old reliable standards, but by seeking what is fresh and economical for inspiration. So, let’s explore seasonal eating in spring.

Spring is transitional, maybe more so than other seasons. We are coming off the hearty vegetables of winter and not quite experiencing the bounty of summer. If you are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market close by, choosing seasonal produce is much easier. If you shop at a big box grocery store, here are a few examples of spring fruits and vegetables to look for: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, berries, butter lettuce, cucumbers, mangoes, morel mushrooms, pea shoots, radishes, spinach, sugar snap peas and summer squashes (including pattypan, yellow crookneck and zucchini varieties).

Simply Delicious: Spring Meals

The beauty of seasonal eating is that you don’t have to over-do preparation. The food you choose is at its peak. Here are a few of my favorite simple spring dishes:

  • Steamed asparagus, tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper and topped with lightly scrambled eggs with fresh tarragon ? delicious for brunch or an appetizer.
  • Simple grilled steak on a bed of arugula with a wedge of lemon ? the peppery arugula is a delightful compliment to steak. 
  • Grilled artichokes with curry mayonnaise ? simply mix curry powder into mayonnaise to taste. 
  • Butter lettuce with baby beets and spring goat’s milk cheese ? a delicate vinaigrette is perfect with this salad.
 
Where can you find seasonal produce where you live?  What are some of your favorite springtime dishes?

 

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hypnicjerk by hypnicjerk | Seattle, WA
Oct 26, 2009

Thanks for the great tips! I think I'm going to be a regular at our local farmers' market!

Brenda121 by Brenda121 | VANCEBURG, KY
Oct 22, 2009

I love going to farmers markets.

ChefErin by ChefErin | SEATTLE, WA
Oct 20, 2009

Momagarry - Don't forget about all the wonderful fall fruit including apples, pears, cranberries, persimmons and pomegranates. Be sure to check out the Fall Seasonal Food Guide. It shoud be posted soon! - Erin

momagarry by momagarry | MILWAUKEE, WI
Oct 14, 2009

I already miss the fruit sales. Fruit is really high now that it is fall.

amymaow by amymaow | FULLERTON, CA
Sep 04, 2009

MMM I love artichokes. I never knew what season they were, good tip!

kqspeaks by kqspeaks | Katy, TX
Aug 28, 2009

I'm thinking of growing a small garden. I would love to see things grow.

Kimberlee81 by Kimberlee81 | Hayward, CA
Aug 20, 2009

I would love to have a garden but i dont have the area for that right now, so i visit the farmers market, its a good way to support your local farmers and get fresh produce for a great price. If you go in the afternoon they will give you better deals because they want to make that last sale.

Britnev by Britnev | Clearwater, FL
Jul 27, 2009

We visit our Saturday famers market weekly. The only chance to get fresh fruits and vegetables that are organic, in season and cheap. We also visit the local 'egg lady' who sells eggs straight from her own chickens. All are very cheap and we get what is in season. Many of the local farmers come when their produce is ready to sell. We never know who is going to be there and it is fun to plan meals around what we buy.

jsyang by jsyang | Cleveland, OH
Jul 23, 2009

I'm only in Louisville for this summer, but I went to a Farmer's Market one of the first weekends and became addicted to one stall's locally hand milled honey wheat bread. It was so heavy, which is important in my search for hearty bread!

ChefErin by ChefErin | SEATTLE, WA
Jul 08, 2009

crystalkitten - Asparagus ribbons sound delicious! I use my mandoline slicer to make carrot and zucchini "pasta" - long pasta-like slices of vegetables. A quick saute and you have colorful, healthy side dish! You could use your vegetable peeler to make carrot or summer squash ribbons (vegetable tagliatelle) to saute as well.

ChefErin by ChefErin | SEATTLE, WA
Jul 08, 2009

jlindseyc - Great suggestion! It is wonderful to hear about different opportunities and ways to support local, sustainable farming.

kg3forme by kg3forme | Wantagh, NY
Jul 06, 2009

I am growing a small garden however i wish there was a farmers market closer to my house.

jlindseyc by jlindseyc | LEXINGTON, KY
Jul 06, 2009

Try joining a local CSA (community supported agriculture). You become a financial shareholder in a local farm and in return receive a "share" of the weekly crop harvest all summer long. It's a wonderful way to try new things and support local farmers.

amandita by amandita | Nunnelly, TN
Jun 25, 2009

I love growing my own veggies, and watching them grow. I get excited when they are almost ripe and ready to eat. Also, I love visiting my local farmers market. Most of the time the prices are cheaper than the store and they are fresher. There is a more wider variety and also it helps support the local farmers.

crystalkitten by crystalkitten | Winona, MN
Jun 25, 2009

I Love this article! I am inspired to visit my local Farmer's Market more regularly. I truly want to cook in season dishes. I'm thinking of concentrating on more salads and I found this great asparagus ribbon recipe I want to try. I've never used a vegetable peeler on an asparagus before, I've only steamed them whole and served them up with a lemon dill sauce or just plain. We love Asparagus. I actually did not know they were in season. I can't wait to go to my Farmer's Market! In fact, I think they have Wedesday hours, I'll have to check and maybe go for lunch.