I have always loved Michigan, but each spring I remember exactly why that is.
From splashing in puddles on the sidewalk as a child to watching my college campus come back to life (just like that scene at the end of The Sleeping Beauty), the spring thaw brings with it a special kind of magic. Michigan is one of the most prosperous Midwestern states when it comes to fresh produce, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choices cropping up around you. Sure, cherries, peaches, and berries are great reasons to keep dreaming about that Michigan summer we all know is right around the corner, but what about the new colors and textures that come with April and May?
Before we get into sunglasses and beach weather, allow me to take a page out of Food Network chef Alton Brown’s cookbook and highlight some of the season’s under-appreciated farmers’ market ‘good eats’.
Stay with me here- I’m not talking about the processed, pickled kind you find in a can at the grocery store. Low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, this root vegetable is an often forgotten color in the Michigan spring spectrum. Look for beets which are bright in color, uniform in size, and are firm to the touch (if your store or farmers’ market sells beets with greens intact, make sure to trim them as soon as you get them home… The greens will quickly steal nutrients from the roots). To prepare your beets, use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer, cube or slice, and boil, bake, or steam as you would any other root vegetable. Beets are delicious marinated in balsamic vinegar, added to salad, or even as an all-natural sweetener in baked goods like this recipe for Chocolate Beet Cake – the beets add moisture, a natural sweetness, and the cocoa’s flavor is strong enough to mask any earthy taste.
If leafy greens aren’t currently a part of your diet, now is the season to give the green goodness a test drive. Hearty plants like kale, spinach, arugula, and sorrel thrive this time of year; all four are rich in vitamins B, C, E and K, as well as assorted minerals and micronutrients (for optimal benefits, variety is key- try a new type of green each time you visit the farmers’ market).
Stuck in the salad rut? Greens are nutritional powerhouses destined for greatness beyond being smothered in fat free ranch. Spin up kale and/or spinach in your juicer with apples, pears, the juice and zest of one lemon, and a tablespoon of grated ginger, and drink in the morning to regulate your body’s acid and alkaline levels (no juicer? A blender will work- just be sure to add some water and strain the pulp with an ultra-fine mesh strainer or a one-gallon paint straining bag from the hardware store). Try lemony sorrel leaves in place of basil for a new take on pesto, or play up some of my newest spring addiction- spicy, peppery arugula – with salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and avocado for a new take on toast.
High in both C and K vitamins, rhubarb is a healthy grocery store oddity that many only see paired with strawberries in summertime pies. Take advantage of rhubarb while you see it this spring by adding the juice to iced tea, lemonade, or mixed drinks (rhubarb mojitos and margaritas by the lake, anyone?), or let the sweet tangy-ness add a spring vibe to muffins, oatmeal, and baked crumbles. Pick rhubarb stalks which are crisp and have an even color (no splotchy spots) and trim both ends before cooking, similar to celery. Cut the stalks into quarter-inch pieces, cover with water, add about a cup of sugar per pound of rhubarb, and simmer for ten minutes or until the rhubarb softens.
Asparagus is one of my favorite spring treats, not only for its awesomely nutty flavor, but also because it is rich in fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K, and packed with free radical-fighting antioxidants (a major benefit in slowing aging and fighting diseases like cancer). Asparagus comes in several varieties and sizes, but I personally prefer the skinniest, greenest spears I can find. Try waterless cooking methods like roasting, grilling, or sautéing to retain the most nutrition. Asparagus is great by itself (or with a little olive oil and garlic), but you can also let it shine in your spring entrees by adding it to risotto, quiche, or soup.
-Allison Ziraldo, Health & Wellness Columnist