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Pick Green

Spring greens compete for poll position on your plate

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Pick Green

Spring greens provide a plethora of nutritional and flavourful benefits.

Dark green veggies provide a plethora of benefits, both nutritional and flavourful. But which ones to choose? With so many fresh green faces popping up in spring, all vying for our attention, it is easy to become overwhelmed and reach for old familiar ingredients. Instead, give a few unique spring greens your vote of confidence.

Refresh your palate

Many of these vitamin-packed, cancer-fighting greens are available for much of the year—but spring will see the best flavour, and locally harvested offerings appear in health food stores and at farmers’ markets.

These eager-to-please greens all have a unique taste and are low in calories to boot. Our tips on how to best choose, store, and cook them will help you make the most of their flavour and nutritional benefits.

Asparagus

Asparagus already holds a certain amount of gravitas on a menu; the cachet of being an alleged aphrodisiac has served its reputation well. But these sexy spears can offer you so much more than libido.

Select it:

Asparagus has a short harvesting season, spanning the months of May and June. Buying at this time will ensure freshness, flavour, and longevity. When selecting asparagus, you should look for slender, smooth, green or purple spears with tightly closed tips. This will ensure even cooking and avoid toughness at the base of the stem.

Prepare it:

Any hard or tough sections at the base should be removed by chopping or snapping the stem at its natural point before cooking. Asparagus is best consumed as soon as possible after harvesting to prevent it from developing a woody texture. Purchasing from farmers’ or local markets will help to ensure the shortest field-to-table timeframe.

Enjoy it:

This heart-healthy vegetable can be enjoyed raw, served with a dip such as hummus or tzatziki. It can also be steamed, briefly boiled, or grilled.

Try it:

Lightly grilled, topped with a soft poached egg, a drizzle of lemon juice, and black pepper.

Fiddleheads

These beautiful spring offerings come from the early shoots of the ostrich fern. Look for them emerging on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks in late April, May, and early June.

Fiddleheads are very popular in New Brunswick, where they are considered a delicacy. Their delicate, grassy flavour is reminiscent of asparagus and green beans, with a hint of sweetness.

Select them:

Although all ferns do tend to look alike, not all ferns are edible; in fact, bracken ferns are carcinogenic and should not be consumed. For this reason, it is best to buy pre-harvested fiddleheads to ensure your own safety.

Prepare them:

Their most notable trait upon purchase is the brown, papery covering over the face of the coil. This should be removed completely, and the fiddleheads should be thoroughly washed in cold water before use. Once prepared, they can be refrigerated and stored for up to two weeks.

Enjoy them:

Fiddleheads should not be consumed raw, but rather steamed for 10 to 12 minutes or boiled for 15 minutes. They can then either be sautéed or cooled to use in salads.

Try them:

Sautéed until golden with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, served as a side dish to salmon or chicken.

Dandelion greens

Poor dandelion has a bad reputation among gardeners. “Don’t call me a weed!” it protests. The vast majority of us can’t yank it out of our yards fast enough, yet the humble dandelion is one of the few plants that can be used almost in its entirety, for either culinary or curative uses.

Select them:

Although it is tempting to gather dandelion from the wild, it is better to use dandelion from a known source or grower, as this way you are assured of getting the best of the plant. When choosing dandelion greens, you should look for young, tender leaves, which are superior in flavour and have the greatest nutritional value. Dandelion is rich in many vital vitamins and antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin C, and folate, and the fresh, young leaves will glean the highest benefit.

Enjoy them:

Dandelion greens have a mild, slightly bitter flavour and are very low in calories. They work well raw in salads, where they provide good balance for sweeter flavours such as dried fruit. Dandelion greens can be used blanched or braised to reduce bitterness, and also stand up very well in soups and stews.

Try them:

Blanched in boiling water for one to two minutes, then quickly braised with minced garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and dried chili flakes for a nutrient-packed side dish.

Arugula

Arugula hails originally from the Mediterranean. Often called rocket, its unique spicy and peppery flavours make it a favourite accompaniment in Italian cuisine. It is available year-round, but spring brings the locally grown offerings from North America.

The young, tender leaves have a sweeter, nuttier taste, whereas the older leaves are the strongest and most peppery. Arugula leaves are a wonderful substitute for spinach for those looking to include more iron in their diet. It can be prepared in almost any way, though it is most popularly eaten raw.

Grow it:

This resilient spring green would be a good starter plant if you would like to begin sowing and harvesting your own vegetables. It is hardy and grows well in cool weather, though it does require a sunny location. The leafy plants will grow to be around 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) high and will produce creamy white, edible flowers toward the end of the harvesting season.

Arugula is also a good choice for the impatient gardener, as it delivers quick results. It is ready to harvest around 40 days after sowing from seed. When harvesting, pick the outer leaves frequently to encourage regrowth throughout the season.

Try it:

Blitzed into a zingy pesto or used as a base for a feature salad. Try fresh figs, goat cheese, and walnuts with a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar.

Why should you go green?

Our top picks for spring green vegetables pack a nutritional punch. They are chock full of brain-boosting, metabolizing, heart-helping, immune-aiding vitamins and minerals—with a healthy dose of fibre and anti-inflammatory qualities thrown in for good measure. Check out the chart below for our guide to what you’re eating, and why you’re eating it.

Nutrient What does it do? What’s it in?
calciumsupports maintenance of strong bones and teetharugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
copperpromotes production of red blood cellsasparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
fibrereduces constipation, decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and regulates blood sugar levelsasparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
folate (folic acid)good for expectant mothers, helps prevent neural tube defects in newbornsarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
ironpromotes cellular respiration and forming of red blood cellsarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
magnesiumregulates muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressurearugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
potassiumhelps reduce blood pressure and heart rate by countering sodium effectsarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
seleniumsupports reproductive health and function of the thyroid gland; helps protect against infection and damage from free radicalsasparagus
vitamin Asupports vision, the immune system, and reproduction; promotes heart health and kidney functionarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
B vitaminsmaintain the body’s metabolism and optimum function of enzymes on a cellular levelarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
vitamin Cpromotes a healthy immune system and collagen productionarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
vitamin Eworks as an antioxidant and protects cell wallsasparagus
dandelion greens
vitamin Khelps limit neuron damage in the brain and promotes bone formationarugula
asparagus
dandelion greens
zinchelps the immune system fight viruses and bacteria and aids in the healing of skin woundsarugula asparagus
dandelion greens
fiddleheads
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