Spring at the Farmers' Market

Source: Sharilyn Hovind

Farmers’ markets are now offering a tempting variety of produce, making spring the perfect time of year to start enjoying the fresh taste of local-grown foods. Be sure to look for the word “organic” when browsing your market’s stalls – produce that is just-picked (rather than sitting for days in a truck), non-GMO and free of pesticides is by far the healthiest and most flavorful.

An easy and delicious way to get the widest array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in your diet is to “eat the rainbow.” This means consuming fruits and vegetables in varied colors, every day. Envision a dinner with a fairly monochromatic palette: fried white fish, french fries, iceberg lettuce and tomato, vanilla ice cream. Now imagine a colorful one: baked salmon with fennel and lemon, asparagus, mushroom–red pepper risotto, blood orange sorbet. Not only does the second meal provide many more nutrients, it’s bursting with flavor as well.

When shopping at the farmers’ market, let color inspire you – fill your basket with vibrantly hued produce for a visual and nutritious feast. Some popular spring choices:

Strawberries: Optimally ripe and sweet, market strawberries win out over their store counterparts every time. It’s important to buy organic, to avoid the fumigant methyl bromide used in conventional growing. Look for firm red berries without soft spots or white shoulders. Eat within a day or two (store at room temperature, discarding any bruised berries; do not rinse until ready to use). Strawberries are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and ellagic acid (a cancer-inhibiting phytonutrient).

Blueberries: Typically available in late spring through midsummer, these berries are favorites for desserts and breakfast dishes. Choose plump, firm berries; dusty white skin is a good sign. Sort through to remove any bruised or mildewed berries, then lay on a paper towel. Can be stored in a covered container, refrigerated, for up to five days, depending on ripeness. Eat as soon as possible for best flavor, rinsing first. Blueberries are a wonderful source of vitamin C and other antioxidants.

Peas: Usually a spring and early summer offering, market peas are sweet and tender. When selecting English peas, find small, plump, somewhat velvety pods. Snow peas and sugar peas (or snap peas), which are eaten whole, should be bright green and unblemished. Sugar peas should snap crisply in half. Refrigerate unwashed peas in a perforated plastic bag for two to three days; because their sugars turn to starch, it’s best to eat them shortly after purchase. To prepare snow peas, remove the stem. Sugar peas will need both the stem and any side string removed. To shuck English peas, open them by pulling off the stem and string, then push the peas out with your thumb. Peas provide vitamin C, vitamin A and folate.

Apricots: Find plump, well-colored specimens that are just soft to the touch and give off a slight apricot scent. Store in a single layer in a cool spot for up to five days (avoid refrigerating them, as this will detract from their delicate flavor). Tree-ripened apricots do not need to be peeled. Try them eaten out of hand, sliced over breakfast cereals, or baked in a cobbler. Apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A and fiber.

Leeks: This time of year, look for small, pale green spring leeks. They are more tender than the larger leeks, and their flavor is not as intense. In soups and other dishes, leeks are a delicious alternative to onions and green onions, and are easier to digest as well. For a side dish, poach or steam leeks, then dress with a vinaigrette. Or parboil for a few minutes, then grill and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. To store, place in a damp towel in a plastic bag and keep in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to five days. When ready to use, trim off the roots and dark green ends, split lengthwise, and rinse. Leeks provide vitamin C and potassium.

Carrots: Although you can find carrots year-round, the ones you’ll see now may be younger, fresher and sweeter than those you’ve been eating over the winter. You may also be able to find different varieties, in unusual colors and shapes. Buy firm, medium-sized carrots with or without the leafy green tops. To store, twist the greens off and place carrots in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator, away from apples and pears (which can turn carrots bitter). Carrots are delicious raw or cooked until crisp-tender (which makes their nutrients more readily available). Beta-carotene, which gives carrots their distinctive color, provides vitamin A, and carrots are also a good source of fiber.

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