Fresh Produce Creates Great Flavors
Salads are delicious all year round, but spring is when they really shine—the first veggies of the season are delicate, refreshing, and a welcome reminder that summer lies just ahead. Spend a little extra time at farmer’s markets and in produce stores to see what might inspire you and let your culinary creativity flow. Want to get really local? Go online and see if any agriculture schools or community centers in your area offer classes about how to forage in your backyard.
You can use these favorite springtime ingredients as the basis for your salads. Add a range of toppings to take them from being a light side dish to being a full-on meal. How about adding nuts, seeds, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, or cooked chopped bacon? DIY dressing is easy, too. Most people prefer a 2:1 ratio of oil to acid, but go ahead and tweak that to suit your taste buds. You can also include creamy and/or “flavor boost” ingredients.
Ingredient ideas for your salads
- Fresh podded legumes like green beans, yellow beans, wax beans, snap peas, and snow peas make crunchy, cheerful ingredients. You can cook them in stir-frys, of course, but they’re lovely served raw in salads, especially if you cut them on the diagonal to create interesting shapes.
- New potatoes and baby beets are among the first root vegetables of the season and steam in a matter of minutes, or try roasting them before adding them to your salads. In contrast, radishes make a sharp, peppery statement when you slice them thinly and serve them raw. If you’d prefer a more mellow flavor, you can simmer/roast your radishes.
- Wild garlics like scapes and ramps are only available for a few weeks during the spring, so grab them while you can! Ramps look somewhat like green onions with bok choy leaves attached, and scapes look like curlicued green onions. (Once scapes have straightened, they’re too fibrous to eat.)
- Fiddlehead ferns are another not-around-for-long delicacy. If they’re not in your backyard already, you might find these tender shoots at your farmer’s market.
- Lettuce of all types grows best in cooler weather, so you’ll find plenty of varieties in both spring and fall. Loose-leaf lettuces have the most nutrients (being more exposed to sun and insects means loose-leaf varieties have to have stronger immune systems), while closed-head lettuces are more crisp and bland. Many types fall in between the two and offer crunch but also more nutrition and flavor. (Think Romaine.)
- Herbs and edible flowers are just starting to flourish. (And chives are already going full-steam!) Chop a small handful of these and add them to your next salad, or use them whole as garnishes.
- Asparagus is at its peak during the spring months. It’s delicious steamed, but for a more pronounced flavor, toss asparagus with melted butter, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and roast the spears before adding them to your salads.
- Artichokes are edible thistles, and the hearts have a unique flavor with a pleasantly sweet aftertaste. They’re classically served with drawn butter, but you can steam and quarter fresh hearts for salads, too, or use frozen or brined hearts.
Ingredient ideas for your dressings
- Acidic ingredients: lemon juice, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar (or any citrus juice or vinegar)
- Unrefined, flavorful oils: olive, almond, avocado, hazelnut, walnut, sesame seed, pumpkinseed
- Creamy ingredients: yogurt, buttermilk, cream, cooked egg yolk, mashed avocados, nut butters, tahini
- Flavor-boost ingredients: mustard (Dijon and stone-ground work best), herbs, spices