Spring farmer’s markets are so full of green, I sometimes have trouble finding specific inspiration amidst the leaves. The warmer days have me anxiously awaiting the arrival of summer’s bright fruits and I find myself forgetting to be patient and appreciate the green months. Though I emphasize the importance of a variety of colors in each meal, sometimes we can be content with a few shades of green. Not that we’re lacking in nutrition here, these greens are planted during the cold winter months and take full advantage of the nutrients found in well-rested soil. Here are some of my favorites:
Celery: Though mostly known as a low-calorie food, celery’s nutritional value shouldn’t be ignored. Celery is a high fiber food with antioxidants that specifically support the digestive tract. Choose bright green celery with tightly packed stalks that are crisp and snap easily. Store in the refrigerator and use within 4-5 days.
Cherries: Like many brightly-colored foods, cherries are considered a “superfood” because of their high antioxidant content. Cherries are one of the few foods that contain melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate heart rhythms and the body’s sleep cycle. Look for cherries that are firm with a deep, rich color and bright green stem. Store them in the fridge to keep them fresh.
Chives: Chives are the sweet, fresh top greens of lily family vegetables. They’re often confused with green onions and scallions and are one-quarter of the classic French fines herbes quartet which also includes chervil, parsley and tarragon. High in fiber, vitamin A and folate, add chives to your salad dressings, eggs, sauces, muffins and biscuits.
Fava Beans: These protein-rich beans are delicious, but take a bit of work before you can enjoy them. Fava beans have outer shells that are about 8-9 inches long. You’ll have to shell the beans as well as steam them to remove the spongy outer layer to get to the edible, nutty bean. Enjoy them in soups, stews, casseroles, dips, and salads!
Goat Cheese: Though goat cheese is available year-round, goats give birth in the spring so milk, and thus fresh goat cheese, becomes available starting in April. Other aged varieties are available during the rest of the year. A good source of calcium and tryptophan, goat’s milk products are the most common dairy consumed in many parts of the world. Fresh, unaged goat cheese is generally sold in logs or rounds and has a soft, creamy, spreadable texture. Aged cheeses have either a crust or an edible ash and have a fluffy middle and gooey exterior.
Nettles: Nettles are a unique spring treat that have been used to make tea in many traditional cultures to support the GI tract and strengthen the immune system. Nettles can sting, so be sure to wear gloves when handling them and place them directly in a pot to boil with water. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes. When finished, you can strain the tea to drink and serve the boiled nettles with a pat of butter!
Peas: Nothing says spring to me more than those big, firm, spring peas that you can only find at the farmer’s market. Far from the frozen peas your mom used to make you eat, these peas can be an elegant and nutrient-rich addition to your spring table. Look for pea pods that are firm, velvety and smooth. The peas inside should be large and fill the space within the pod. If you don’t eat them right away, quickly store them in the refrigerator to slow the conversion of their sugar content into starch.
Watercress: You may only know watercress as a garnish at fancy restaurants, but I’d like to make a case for a more prominent place on your plate. High in lutein and iodine, watercress has been used to support eye and thyroid health. Its bitter, peppery flavor provides the perfect balance to sweet fruits like grapes and pineapple and can be used in everything from salads to soups to scrambles!