Spring is for renewal – even in the kitchen! The winter season is hanging on here and there, but the spring growing season will soon arrive with wild contributions of poke salat, dandelion greens, and lamb’s quarters.
Of course you’re not required to eat from your yard. Farmers markets, food co-ops and select grocery stores will fill vegetable bins with leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. Fresh vegetables deserve a fresh presentation now and then and spring feels like the proper time for renewed inventiveness in the kitchen.
When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to pick leaf lettuce from the garden my grandmother planted at our farm. It was so tender and flavorful, nothing like an iceberg lettuce wedge which I only really appreciate when drenched in bleu cheese dressing topped with bacon pieces. For years, it was the only lettuce I knew. (How lucky was I?)
The vegetables we grew were what we ate. My mom wasn’t going to drive into town to buy different vegetables from the store when we had perfectly good ones peeking through the dirt across the driveway. Of course, we didn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so necessity became the mother of invention. New combinations or cooking methods developed on the fly.
A few years ago when I first purchased a share in an organic farm, I noticed that a similar thing happened in my kitchen. Rather than plan meals and make a shopping list, I was suddenly planning dishes based on the surprise ingredients I received each Friday when I picked up my share from the farm. Not knowing in advance what I would get made the experience feel like a cooking adventure. It renewed my sense of creativity in the kitchen.
Now, when the weather warms, I can’t help but feel an excited anticipation for the arrival of fresh tender greens, small green onions, beets, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. I love the bright colors! I love the flavors! And I love having a chance to think of new combinations!
I was thinking about giving you some recipes next, but that might keep you from the fun of creating your own. I would never want to rob you of fun! Instead, here are the top 8 ingredients I like to have available to pair with fresh veggies:
While they’re great for soooo many things, it’s not always practical to keep an avocado in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many I’ve thrown away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the changing level of ripeness.
Now I keep Wholly Guacamole avocado minis on hand. I can use them in anything requiring mashed avocado without worrying whether they’ve gone bad.
The light creaminess of goat cheese won’t overpower even delicate garden flavors.
Keeping a few boiled eggs in the refrigerator comes in handy for salads and casseroles as well as pasta dishes.
Grated fresh ginger is delicious with beets or green beans and can give salad dressing a kick.
Any fresh herb could make this list on a given day, but today I like mint. Tomorrow, who knows, I may like cilantro.
Mirin or Rice Vinegar
Mirin is a rice wine with a light sweet flavor. Both mirin and rice vinegar add light acidity to a dish or dressing.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I buy hulled pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven with a little olive oil spray and salt. They bring a satisfying crunch and earthy flavor to salads. They’re great by the handful too.
I like the texture of quinoa. It works great as a base for a Buddha bowl or a salad and it has a higher protein-to-carb ratio than rice.
With these ingredients, or your own favorites, you’ll be well equipped for a variety of spring culinary creations. Inspiration for combinations can come from anywhere — accidentally tasting two things together on your plate, a dish you’re served in a restaurant, something you remember from childhood, a recipe you want to vary, a cooking show, a painting — literally anything!
This is the kind of post that makes my sister crazy! She would be much happier with an actual recipe. I want her to learn to play with flavors. Mostly, I want her to have the pleasure of discovering something new, delicious, and totally unexpected that she created. I want that experience for all of us! It feels so great on so many levels!
I feel so grateful that spring offers the bounty for such opportunities over and over and over again! It truly is a time of renewal.