Written by Diann Leo-Omine & Lisa Lin, photos by Lisa Lin
The arrival of spring means the arrival of products that you only find at this time of year. Think of it as the season of limited edition veggies. There’s nothing quite like fresh artichokes, asparagus and green onions that may only be available for a few weeks. Citrus fruits, especially the gorgeous pink Cara Cara orange, are still growing strongly. “What grows together, goes together” is a common saying, and for me that applies especially to spring products!
Braised, roasted or grilled, artichokes offer an assertive taste. The vegetable is found almost exclusively in the state of California, where much of it is grown in the Mediterranean climate of Castroville (near Monterey). There’s even a fair in honor of the vegetable! For an easy way to enjoy artichokes, you can steam them and dip them in a sauce like Simply Recipes suggests—why not try my peanut sauce?
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE ARTICHOKES
Choose artichokes that are heavy to the touch and have relatively compact bracts (the outer thorny leaves). If you gently press on the bracts, you will hear a slight squeak. That is normal! Store artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
RECIPES WITH ARTICHOKES
Spicy arugula has gained prominence over the years, and with good reason. More than just a humble green salad, the bitterness of arugula is tamed by heavy and tart ingredients. Don’t be afraid to mix it into pesto or mix it with hot, cheesy pasta.
Since arugula can be sandy, make sure to rinse it several times with water and then spin dry. Arugula must be completely dry, especially when eaten raw, otherwise the leaves will simply stick to the water.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE ROCKET
Choose arugula that is crisp and green. Skip sheets that show signs of yellowing or are soggy. Store arugula in the refrigerator for up to a few days.
RECIPES WITH RUCKULA
Roasted with chili or wrapped in coppa, there’s absolutely no wrong way to enjoy asparagus. In its springtime bloom, nutty, sweet asparagus pairs well with spices and, in its simplest form, can be simply tossed with olive oil, lemon zest, and salt.
Now the important question is, snap or cut the ends? You can do whatever is more convenient for you – snagging can be more fun, but I’ve found that snipping off the ends results in less waste of flawless asparagus.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE ASPARAGUS
Choose asparagus with crisp-looking stems and firm, compact tips. Skip bouquets that look limp. Store asparagus in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
RECIPES WITH ASPARAGUS
Give broccoli a try! Perhaps you are traumatized by the childhood memory of being forced to eat your broccoli before dessert. As with so many vegetables in the cabbage family, the key to tender broccoli is not to overcook it. When done right, its delicate mild flavor suits all flavor profiles. Broccoli is an excellent candidate for frying (which makes it taste even nuttier) or frying.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE BROCCOLI
Choose broccoli that is deep green, with firm stems and relatively dense florets. Store broccoli in the refrigerator for up to a week.
RECIPES WITH BROCCOLI
CARA CARA ORANGES
Cara-cara oranges get their salmon pink color from lycopene, the same naturally occurring pigment that gives tomatoes their blush. Early in the season, Cara Cara oranges can be rather tart. By March, cara cara oranges should be on the sweet side and taste similar to navel oranges. Use cara cara orange juice wherever you want to show color. Think of drinks, citrus curd and salads.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE CARA CARA ORANGES
Choose cara cara oranges that are heavy for their size. Skip any with soggy spots. Store cara cara oranges at room temperature for a week or more, making sure there is plenty of air circulation around the oranges. I usually put them on a large plate or in a large fruit bowl.
RECIPES WITH CARA CARA ORANGES
Carrots add textural contrast and natural sweetness. Extremely versatile, earthy carrots can be pickled, mixed into hummus and served raw on a pasture platter. You can even put carrots in dumplings. I dare you to think of a dish that carrot wouldn’t fit in! Flavored like parsley, the leafy green tips are truly a zero-waste vegetable and can be mixed into pesto.
By the way, the bundled organic carrots from Riverdog Farm are awesome. They are cute, especially the orange carrots. Whenever I serve Riverdog Farm carrots to my family and friends, they all tell me how pleasantly surprised they are at the carrots’ robust flavor. You can usually find Riverdog Farm at farmers markets in the Bay Area and Sacramento.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE CARROTS
Choose crunchy carrots with smooth skin and no blemishes. Store carrots in the refrigerator for up to several weeks. If you find carrots with tops attached, separate the greens from the root and use within a few days.
RECIPES WITH CARROTS
With its intoxicating aroma, oregano is classified in the mint family. The type of oregano known as Greek oregano is the one we see most often on the spice aisle at the grocery store. (This might be confusing, but this variety is also known as wild marjoram.) Oregano is a complement to tomato-based dishes, so next time add some fresh oregano to your spaghetti sauce at the end of cooking.
How do you know how much fresh herbs to use when a recipe calls for dried herbs? If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (like many of my oregano recipes do), try 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE OREGANO
Choose oregano with rich green leaves. Store oregano in a plastic bag, wrapped in a damp paper towel, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
RECIPES WITH OREGANO
Spring onions are onions that are harvested before they are fully ripe and sold with the greens intact. In terms of spiciness, scallions are stronger than scallions/spring onions, but milder than traditional “dry” onions. Note that the terms scallion and scallion/scallion are often used interchangeably in the UK and Canada, but the scallions sold here are actually their own variety.
Can spring onions be substituted for spring onions? It depends what you do! Keep in mind that both the green and bulbous parts of scallions tend to be hotter, so you may prefer to use them in cooked applications.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE SPRING ONIONS
Choose bunches of spring onions with crisp green tips and relatively smooth bulbs. Store spring onions in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a couple of weeks.
RECIPES WITH SPRING ONIONS
Tarragon is generally used in moderation and goes well with egg and fish dishes.
Tarragon looks practically the same, and there are two types of tarragon: Russian and French. Try rubbing the leaves gently. Russian tarragon smells slightly grassy, while French tarragon is known for its distinct aniseed smell.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE TARRGON?
Choose tarragon with rich green leaves. Skip grapes showing signs of discoloration. Store tarragon in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a few days. You can also try storing tarragon in a glass of water like flowers, but I haven’t tried that.