Along with the beautiful weather of spring, comes fresh seasonal produce. So, there you are, checking out your local farmer’s market and ready to buy some healthy ingredients. But as you wander down the aisles, how do you know what to look for? Here are some quick tips on how to select the best spring produce.
The leaves should be tightly packed and the stem should be plump-looking and firm to touch; avoid any with shriveled-looking leaves. Size selection depends on how you plan to use them – Large artichokes are best for stuffing, medium size are good for salads, and smaller ones work well for pickling or frying.
Look for leaves that are uniformly, dark green and avoid anything yellow, brown-spotted, wilting, or excessively moist-looking. More mature and usually larger arugula tends to be spicier than younger, smaller leaves, as is the wild variety.
When shopping for asparagus, look for compact spears (or heads) and firm, unwrinkled stalks. Thicker asparagus can often be bitter and fibrous. Avoid wrinkled or limp stalks, which means that the asparagus is not fresh from harvest.
Choose beets that are firm, smooth, and blemish-free. Try buying beets with the leaves still attached, as the greens are tasty when sautéed or added to salads. Bonus – they’re a good indicator of how long the beets may have been in stored. Look for bright green, perky leaves with no browning or wilting.
Look for bok choy stalks that are pure white, firm and “not rusty looking”, as well as leaves that are dark green and are not wilted. Avoid dull, drooping leaves, yellow stems, or brown spots.
When buying fresh fava beans, choose bright green pods that are free of yellow patches. Select beans with a smooth surface when buying them already shelled. Large beans tend to be starchy and firm, while smaller ones are a bit more tender and sweeter.
HERBS – i.e. Cilantro, Mint, and Chives
Leaves should be bright and uniformly colored, with crisp and firm stems. Select herbs with a fresh, vibrant fragrance, and avoid anything that seems overly moist or smells musty.
Avoid salad greens that have leaves that are wilted, slimy or have brown-edges. Choose lettuces that smell fresh, have vivid colors and firm, glossy leaves.
When shopping for morels (a wild mushroom found in early spring) look for fresh, plump mushrooms with cut ends that aren’t too dried out. Avoid bruised or softening morels, since they tend to rot quickly. Morels are not to be eaten raw or consumed in large quantities because they contain a mildly toxic substance, which is destroyed in cooking. It is possible for some people to have an allergic reaction to morels.
Pea pods should snap and peas should be bright green with a crisp feel. Pea shoots are available for a short window in early spring, so grab them when you see them.
They can be found in a myriad of colors and sizes, with a flavor that ranges from mild and sweet when harvested in cooler months with more rain to intensely pepper in the drier, warmer months. Look for firm radishes (squeezing to check the centers), bright green tops and brightly colored roots that are free from cracks and nicks.
Choose bright green ramps (wild leeks) with intact root and avoid wilted greens or wet, slimy roots. Pickle and/or incorporate into butters, pestos, or vinaigrettes to help enjoy their short seasonal harvest longer.
Rhubarb has an intense flavor that works well in pies, compotes, sauces and syrups. The stalks should be a flat, firm and vibrant pink or light green (deep red stalks tend to be sweeter than paler ones). Ones that have been pulled, rather than cut, will last longer and can be recognized by their uneven, jagged edge.
Look for bright green tops and firm white bases. Avoid wet, wilted, or slimy scallions.
Choose spinach with crisp, dark green, smooth, and glossy leaves. When shopping for pre-packaged spinach, examine the bag to make sure that there is no wilting, crushed or soggy leaves.
These, along with all of the other wonderful, spring produce available, can help make your meals healthy and delicious. For some preparation ideas, check out eatingwell.com/spring, cookinglight.com/best-spring-recipes and foodnetwork.com/spring-produce.
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