I love the Spring! Down here in the south the weather is warm but not too warm, people start heading outdoors again, the coats come off, the shades go on, and everything is so wonderfully green! My favorite part of spring, apart from not having to wear two layers when I go for a run, is definitely the produce! From asparagus and bok choy to radishes and strawberries, spring is a time for food; GLORIOUS food!
One of my foodie friends said something last week that totally describes my outlook on food and cooking. We were discussing the inherent conflict between enjoying delicious things and healthy eating;
“What’s an epicurean adventurer to do? Food is an endless culinary odyssey!”
Her words cracked me up, but I heard where she was coming from. It’s fun to cook and eat and share, but it seems that the foods we get excited about aren’t always the best for us. What’s more, there is a stigma that “healthy” foods will leave us unsatisfied. With all the food shaming, deprivation diets, and misinformation peddled around the interwebs, I’m not surprised this is the case. I mean I love kale, like really L-O-V-E the stuff, BUT if you told me that I had to eat it every day for lunch and dinner, I’d grow tired of it…quickly!
If variety is the spice of life, why is there such a great divide between food that taste good and food that is good for us? Should we feel bad for wanting to create recipes that nourish our hearts and minds as well as our bellies? Can delicious things really be healthy too?
Why, yes indeed! Healthy eating behavior should not be synonymous with deprivation. In fact, thoughtful choices can enlighten and expand the most discriminating palates. It’s a three part process: choosing foods that will taste their very best, investigating why we crave certain flavors and textures, and developing recipes that emulate those things. This will keep you satisfied without the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out.
I believe seasonal produce is the holy grail, if you will. Everyone can recall a time they encountered a piece of produce that was not in season; likely overpriced and under-ripe, it left your taste buds feeling a little sad. On the other hand, we can all remember a time when a simple strawberry or blueberry was the most delicious one we’ve ever tasted! Why? Probably because it came from a local farm, was harvested at the peak of freshness, and handled very minimally before reaching our plate. It basically boils down to two things; without farms there would be no food, and the closer the farm, the better the food.
ENTER: Trendy hipster locavore and her soapbox
Buying local seasonal fruits and veggies sets off a chain of positive reactions that benefits the individual and the community at large. At this moment (here in North Carolina at least) foods like leeks, new potatoes, and scallions are in abundance! You can find these on the grocery store shelves or at the farmer’s market at rock bottom prices. They are grown and harvested closer to you, the customer, so the supply chain is much shorter. Foods can be picked a little later, won’t require preservatives or chemicals to withstand long transit times, and will last longer on your counter top or in your crisper saving you even more money! Let’s not forget the yum factor.
The positive outcomes don’t end there; relying on your neighborhood farmer supports your community by invigorating the local economy, sustainable practices, and even job creation. We aren’t just talking fruits and veggies either. Local farms can provide a variety of meats, eggs, dairy products, grains and breads. Here in Raleigh, at the NC State Farmer’s Market we have our very own “Goat Cheese Lady” and let me tell you, it’s a beautiful thing!
Take advantage of the goodness that is right in your own backyard, or your neighbors yard, or maybe the farmers market. Here are some ideas to embrace the Spring harvest and tackle cravings.
Sweet/Sour – Strawberry Salsa
- 1-2 cups of strawberries
- 1-2 lemons or limes
- mint leaves
Method – Dice strawberries and place into a small mixing bowl, add the juice of lemon/lime plus zest, add freshly chopped mint, and refrigerate until serving. This recipe comes together in just minutes and is quite versatile. Try as a topping for yogurt or blended into a smoothie. Place in ice cube trays and freeze to add a sweet surprise to your iced tea. Feeling adventurous? Swap the mint for cilantro and add some red onion and jalapeno for a delicious topping for grilled chicken or fish.
Salty/Creamy- Fancy Roasted Veggies with Herbed Greek Yogurt
- 1 lb new potatoes
- 2 large carrots
- 2 leeks
- 1 c greek yogurt
- fresh herbs
- olive oil
Method – scrub potatoes, cut into quarters, place on a baking sheet. Peel and slice carrots and place on baking sheet with potatoes. Just use the white and light green parts of the leek for this recipe. Inset a strainer within a large mixing bowl and add leeks. Thoroughly rinse, making sure to leave behind all sediment. (I like to swish the leeks around in the water with my hands and then lift the colander out-that usually does the trick) Pat dry and place on baking sheet with the potatoes and carrots. Toss everything with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes; tossing halfway through to brown evenly. Meanwhile combine your fresh herbs with the greek yogurt.This is where it gets fun-let’s say you want a french take, add some tarragon or thyme. Feeling more Italian? Add fresh basil and parsely. Maybe you’re in a Mediterranean mood? Go with mint. If you have some lemon juice handy you can add it to amp up the flavor even more. To serve, simply top a scoop of roasted veggies with a dollop of the herbed yogurt. Try combining the leftovers of each for a picnic ready potato salad with an extra punch of protein!
Crunchy/Cool-A Pretty Crunchy Salad
- 1 large bulb fennel
- 1 bunch red radishes
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- olive oil
Method-Remove fennel stalks and fronds from the bulb. You can store for a future application if you like. Slice radishes and fennel bulb thinly (you can use a mandolin, if you have one.) Place slices in an ice bath for 10-20 minutes. While the veggies are taking a dip, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Drain the veggies, pat dry, and toss with the lemon dressing. Voila! A colorful crisp and refreshing dish you can eat by itself or use to enhance other recipes. Add a scoop atop a bed of spinach or mix with some leftover quinoa. The vinegar and lemon in the dressing will pickle the vegetables and help keep them crisp. The flavor will intensify as the dish sits in the fridge, so this is a great make-ahead recipe.
Enjoy sharing these recipes with your family and friends. Bon Apetit!