Artwork by Patricia Robinson
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Citrus shines as winter wanes. Especially vibrant are the blood oranges, with their beautiful dark-red flesh and telltale splotches of red on the skin. Moro and Tarocco varieties are most common in our area and deliver a slight berry-like flavor. Chop them for salads or salsas, squeeze to add color to other juices, mix a few tablespoons into your favorite vinaigrette, or make a marvelous red marmalade!
For a citrus-like flavor in stews, stocks, and herbal teas, try lemongrass, one of approximately 60 herbaceous plants that impart a lemon-like taste and aroma to dishes. The lower four to six inches of this tufted grass, including its small cream-colored bulbous base, is the least fibrous and mildest tasting part.
It’s radish time! The red, round Cherry Belles are the most common of the brief spring-season varieties, but the white-tipped French Breakfast radishes are also very popular. Also look for the spicy Easter Egg hybrid, which is always bunched to show off its array of red, pink, violet, and white skins. The watermelon radish, with its unpretentious creamy white skin, sports a stunning and sturdy pink and magenta colored interior.
It’s also time to celebrate the cabbages. Grown year round, their sweetness peaks in the cooler months, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day stews. Green, red, and Savoy head cabbages are most common, but Asian cabbages like bok choy and nappa have definitely earned their place on the produce stands. (In Japanese, nappa means “leaf.”) The elongated, pale green leaves of nappa cabbage are mellow tasting, tender, and feature a slightly sweet, peppery undertone. The pink, purple, or white hearts of salad savoy or ornamental kale make colorful, impressive garnishes, but are just as versatile in salads.
Most members of the diverse onion family are harvested in spring, including ramps. This delicacy, also known as wild leek, looks like a small scallion with one or two flat leaves. You’re sure to pay premium price if you’re lucky enough to find them at market, so use whole, whether sautéing, grilling, or making a pesto (blanch the leaves first).