This month, a sure sign that spring is here will appear at road side stands and farmers’ markets. Asparagus, radishes and some leafy greens are early vegetable crops in Western New York and are here and ready to be savored.
When you buy asparagus, look for tips that are compact and stems that are uniform in color down the length of the stems. Look at the cut ends for signs of drying and avoid withered stems. A stem starts out as thin or thick as soon as it begins to grow and stem thickness is not a sign of tenderness. Tenderness depends on the maturity and freshness of the stem. Store asparagus by trimming the stems and placing them in glass with about two inches of water. Cover the glass with a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
A half-cup serving of cooked asparagus has 20 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and is a good source of vitamins A and C as well as folic acid and potassium. You can eat asparagus raw or boil, steam, bake, roast or grill asparagus. Before cooking, wash asparagus well as it is grown in sandy soil and you want to make sure no sand is left on the spears. Snap off the tough ends at their natural breaking point. Cook asparagus briefly no matter what cooking method you use. You want asparagus to still have a “bite” when it’s cooked and to be bright green. Cooked asparagus pairs well with fresh lemon juice, tarragon, thyme, chives or garlic.
Radishes are easily grown from seed which is directly sown in the soil four to six weeks before the last frost date. There are lots of different varieties available in addition to the classic red radish many people grew up eating. Radishes can be sliced raw and eaten in salads, on sandwiches, with butter and salt, added to pasta or other grain salad, added to coleslaw or served with your favorite dip. Try roasting radishes in the oven or using them to make refrigerator pickles. One cup of sliced radishes has only 19 calories, 2 grams of fiber and is a good source of vitamin C.
Spinach and beet greens are some early greens you might find this month. Both are relatively hardy and can withstand the very cool or nearly freezing weather during April and actually love cool temperatures. Both spinach and beets are easily grown from seed directly sown in soil. Fresh greens are delicious, healthy and so versatile! Use them raw in salads, on sandwiches, sautéed with olive oil, garlic and other herbs or spices you love, stirred into scrambled eggs, added to soups, finely chopped and added to rice as a side dish or layered in lasagna. One cup of raw spinach or beet greens has less than 10 calories, is a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin A.
Jen Reardon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who leads the Western Region EFNEP program for Cornell Cooperative Extension and owns Nutrition By Design.