In Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, he explains that you can often follow the ripening of a certain vegetable northward, thus eating the exact same thing, in season, for weeks. It’s nice to know this, as I can look southward in anticipation for what will be coming next month. I can also consult a harvest calendar for my zone, and get a head start on recipe planning. Some seasonal eating guides are available at Sustainable Table, but for most, you will need to type “harvest calendar” and your state name into a good search engine.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this my first year of eating local. Thanks to the grocery store experience, I had become very much out of touch with what was in season when. Each week’s CSA bag and trip to the farmers market brought a surprise, and then I had to scramble to figure out how to fix the bounty while it was still at its best.
Early spring crops must be frost-tolerant and hearty to withstand the cooler temperatures. The vegetables that get planted earliest include cole crops like broccoli and kale, lettuces and greens, carrots, turnips, beets and onions also go in the ground in the first month of spring. Asparagus, which is a perennial, has to be planted three years before it can be harvested. (seasonal guide and recipes after the jump).
From there, the quickest to the table are those with the shortest growing seasons. For early spring, your table will most likely include lettuces, greens like bok choy and mustard greens. Radishes and green onions will also be the first to appear. More greens like chard follow, and the first of the slower-growing cole crops, kale. If you are lucky, you will also be able to find asparagus throughout April and early May, but asparagus harvest ends quickly with warmer weather. There is nothing quite like asparagus fresh-picked. Sweet and tender, you can easily eat it raw.
This recipe highlights the best of all these flavors in one easy dish. If it is too early for kale, just use more of the other greens available at that time.
Honey-Lemon Spring Vegetable Saute
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs olive oil
zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 tsp. Red pepper flakes
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste (couple grinds)
3 small heads bok choy, sliced (about 2-1/2 cups)
1 small bunch kale chopped (about 1 cup packed)
1 small bunch chard, chopped tough stems removed (about 1 cup packed)
2 large green onions, sliced thinly (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup asparagus tips
Steam the asparagus tips in a steamer for 7 minutes. Heat oil in large dutch oven. Saute garlic and sliced green onions until just golden. Add honey, zest, juice, salt and pepper flakes. Stir. Add the chard, kale, and bok choy. Toss to heat through, just until it starts to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Add the asparagus tips, still hot, and toss with the greens to mix. Serve immediately. It’s still good the next day, but it’s really good with all that texture. Much better than a mushy pile of greens.
Recipe ©Beth Bader, The Expatriate’s Kitchen