Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.

By Barbara Kobsar | Illustrations by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge

 

By 7am on a typical Sunday at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market, Regina Gonzalez and the Garcia brothers, Julio and Adolfo, are unpacking, sorting, piling, and laying out their array of fresh organic vegetables and greens brought from the Ledesma Family Farm fields in Santa Cruz County. At this time of year, radishes and alliums are part of their beautiful spring display.

Ravishing Radishes

Easter Egg radishes sit in pretty bunches of pink, purple, white, and red. Mild in flavor, they’re a favorite for snacking or slicing into salads. Half scarlet and half white, the French Breakfast radishes are just as pretty but with a spicier bite. The creamy white watermelon radish has all its beauty on its crisp inside: Cut it open to find a stunning sunburst of neon pink.

Adolescent Alliums

If you’re a garlic farmer, part of your spring process is thinning your crop so the plants left in the ground can develop into large heads. Those thinnings—pulled either as leafy shoots or partly formed heads—have become a revered crop all of their own. Called green garlic or spring garlic, it’s milder than mature garlic, so anyone who’s shy of the powerful whiff can appreciate a flavor that can complement rather than overpower a dish. To prepare green garlic, trim off the root ends and all tough portions of the green leaves, then slice or chop the rest, and toss into a pan with a little olive oil to sauté with asparagus, fava beans, or spinach.
Another bunch of immature alliums you might find at the market right now are the spring onions. Mild and fresh in flavor, their long, sleek leaves and small white or purple bulbs are unparalleled on the grill or roasted whole. Not to be confused with scallions, spring onions are simply immature onions (of any variety) that are pulled from the ground at the beginning of bulb formation. Scallions, on the other hand, are the prized, immature shoots of a specific variety of white onion, which is always harvested before the bulb has formed. ♦

 

 

Farmers’ Market Spring Rolls

Strips of fresh market vegetables make these spring rolls delicious and gorgeous! Serve with a sweet chili sauce or the peanut sauce included here. —BK

Makes 12–15 rolls

  • 4 ounces rice noodles (optional)
  • 4 watermelon radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, cut into thin julienne strips
  • 12–15 snow peas (whole or sliced)
  • 1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
  • 4 spring onions trimmed to leave a few inches of greens, thinly sliced into 2-inch lengths
  • 1–2 green garlic bulbs with tender greens, trimmed and thinly sliced into 2-inch lengths
  • ¼ cup minced cilantro (or mint)
  • 12–15 spring roll rice papers
  • Peanut Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)If using rice noodles, cook according to package instructions.Prepare all the vegetables and set them out in a row.

Working one at a time, soak a sheet of rice paper in a shallow dish of warm water for 3 to 5 seconds to soften. Lay sheet on a cutting board and on the bottom third of the rice paper, artfully arrange some of each vegetable plus cilantro (or mint) and rice noodles, leaving about 1½ inches open on each side. Lift the rice paper from the edge at the bottom and cover the filling, fold the sides up over the vegetables, and roll it up! Practice makes perfect. Do not overfill or the paper will rip! Serve with Peanut Dipping Sauce or other sauces of choice.

Peanut Dipping Sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup creamy peanut butter, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon minced green garlic, and 2 tablespoons water.

 

Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.

Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.