Written by Diann Leo-Omine & Lisa Lin, Photos by Lisa Lin. This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated to include produce-picking tips and more photos.
In Sacramento, early spring is marked by 70-degree temps and the beginning of t-shirt weather, easily peaking to about 90 degrees in late April. Spring here gives way to summer at the blink of an eye. Talk about a short season! Luckily, regardless of how hot it gets, the local produce proves that it’s still April.
Do you need me to tell you why you should eat creamy and sweet avocados? Let me count the ways. Avocados are packed with vitamins K, E, D, and A. On top of that, avocados also boast good-for-the-heart monounsaturated fats. Aside from topping toast and smashing into guacamole, there’s plenty of creative ways to get your daily dose of avocado.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE AVOCADOS
Choose avocados that are heavy and without any hollow spots. Keep your avocados at room temperature. To speed up the ripening process, place in a paper bag until the skin just starts to yield. They ripen before you know it, so check every day! If you’re not ready to use the ripened avocado just yet, you can pop them in the refrigerator. They can last up to 5 to 7 days, especially if you put them in the refrigerator before they’re fully ripe.
RECIPES USING AVOCADOS
- Veggie-Packed Avocado Green Smoothie
- Kimchi and Avocado Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Avocado & Green Curry Noodle Salad (my recipe published on Food52)
- Creamy Avocado Pesto Pasta with Crispy Kale (from The First Mess)
Nutrition for value, nothing beats beets. Bad food puns aside, it’s no surprise why earthy yet sweet beets are touted as a superfood. They’re chock full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Beets are also a natural source of nitrates.
Don’t forget about the leafy green tops, either–they’re loaded with B vitamins. Sauté the greens and their stems like you would with rainbow chard. You can even blend them into a smoothie–see below for a smoothie recipe that puts those beet greens to work!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE BEETS
Choose beets that are heavy for their size and unblemished, preferably with taproot intact. Keep beets loose in a plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. The beets should stay fresh for up to a month.
If you happen to find the beets with their greens, trim the stems about two inches from the top of the beet. Keep the greens and stems in a bag in the refrigerator crisper, and use within a week.
RECIPES USING BEETS
- Red Zinger Beet Smoothie
- A Vibrant Beet Caviar (101 Cookbooks)
- Beet Lemonade Recipe (from Healing Tomato)
- Roasted Beets with Balsamic Glaze Recipe (from Simply Recipes)
English peas, also known as shelling peas and garden peas, are the same peas you likely have stored in your freezer right now. If they’re the same, why are fresh peas worth the effort of shelling? Fresh peas have more flavor! The sweet taste of these springtime treats are incomparable to any frozen or canned pea.
Peas from earlier in the season are sweeter than those picked later, as they become more mealy and starchy the longer they sit on the vine. That said, the earlier season peas are fantastic raw, while the later season peas are better cooked.
Unlike snow peas or sugar snap peas, the pods of English peas are fibrous and very tough when cooked. That’s why I typically compost the pods after I extract the seeds.
Some of you may have noticed at farmers markets, some farmers grow out sugar snaps until the peas inside grow to be the same size as mature English peas. Although the two types of peas look similar, only English peas will taste sweet; the peas inside the pods of sugar snaps taste quite bland.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ENGLISH PEAS
Pick English pea pods that are unblemished, firm, and with seeds. If you can’t cook them right away, keep the pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. For longer storage, I shell the peas and store them in a vacuum sealed bag in the freezer so that they don’t develop freezer burn.
RECIPES USING ENGLISH PEAS
- Pea and Mint Soup (Vegan)
- Burmese Fried Rice with Shallots, Turmeric, and Peas
- Instant Pot Sticky Rice
- Crushed Peas with Smoky Sesame Dressing (from Smitten Kitchen)
Green garlic is essentially garlic that hasn’t fully matured. This allium resembles a cross between a leek and a green onion, with straight, flat green stalks and a wide base. If the plant is more mature, the base will be more bulbous because the head of garlic is taking shape at the bottom.
Green garlic tastes much more mild compared to conventional garlic. You can slice green garlic thinly (green leaves and stem) and use in salads or stir fries. If the stalk of green garlic has a fully formed bulbous base, you can extract the individual cloves of garlic from the bulb and use them like you would conventional garlic. Note that because of their milder flavor, you may need to use more cloves of garlic in a recipe.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE GREEN GARLIC
Choose green garlic bunches with sturdy, bright green stalks. Store green garlic in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.
RECIPES USING GREEN GARLIC
- Sauté sliced green garlic slightly and use them in my scallion pancakes recipe!
- Bear’s Garlic Pesto (from David Lebovitz)
- Spring Garlic Fried Eggs (from The Crepes of Wrath)
- Barley Salad With Green Garlic and Snap Peas (from Kitchn)
Have you passed up kohlrabi at your local farmer’s market just because the extraterrestrial-like stalks look intimidating? Fear not! This bulbous, cruciferous veggie is related to cabbage and tastes like – surprise – cabbage and broccoli. Kohlrabi is rich with vitamin C.
Peel the thick bitter skin away from the bulb, and you’ve got some delicious peppery crunch to your salads, stir fries, or a great candidate for roasting in the oven. Mama Lin loves to add diced kohlrabi to her dumpling filling for crunchy texture.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE KOHLRABI
Pick kohlrabi that still looks green (or purple) and is firm and unblemished. You can watch this video where Mama Lin shares her tips about how to pick kohlrabi. Wrap the kohlrabi in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to a week or two. If you find kohlrabi with its greens, cook the greens like you would kale or spinach.
RECIPES USING KOHLRABI
- Leek and Kohlrabi Fritters
- Kohlrabi Slaw (from A Couple Cooks)
- Kohlrabi Stir-fried with Garlic and Egg Recipe (Su Hao Xao Toi) (from Viet World Kitchen)
- Crispy Apple and Kohlrabi Salad Recipe (from Cookie and Kate)
Lettuce is a true welcome of spring, a break from the hardier and heartier greens like kale or cabbage. Ice green, grass green, sea green with speckles of violet, full-on burgundy–lettuce spans the spectrum of color and shape. The nutritional value of lettuce will differ by the variety, but generally contains vitamins C and A, folate, and potassium.
Head lettuce are types of lettuce with more tightly packed leaves and oftentimes have leaves that form a rosette pattern at the center. Examples of head lettuce are Romaine, iceberg or butter/butterhead lettuce. (Note: some people consider butterhead lettuce to be leaf lettuce as the outer leaves are looser.) In contrast, leaf lettuce are looser clusters of leaves. Examples of leaf lettuce include red leaf, green leaf, or oak leaf lettuce.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE LETTUCE
Choose lettuce with vibrant color and crisp texture. Avoid lettuce with large browning spots. A wilted, has-been head of lettuce will not improve itself, and may not even last the ride home! Head lettuce will last a week and then some in the fridge; leaf lettuce tends to have a shorter storage time and should be eaten within 5 days.
RECIPES USING LETTUCE
- Fresh Vegan Vegetable Spring Rolls
- Hot or Cold Creamy Lettuce Soup (from Serious Eats)
- Best Caesar Salad (from A Cozy Kitchen)
- Classic Salade Nicoise (from David Lebovitz)
White button, cremini, portobello, oyster, shiitake, enoki, and the list goes on. While the nutritional benefits vary based on the type, mushrooms generally pack more protein and B vitamins than most other types of produce.
This versatile fungus is well utilized in plant-based diets for its meaty taste. Mushrooms are, in fact, a natural source of monosodium glutamate (MSG). I often use dried shiitake mushrooms as a major umami booster in my vegan recipes, like for congee or savory tang yuan.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE MUSHROOMS
In general, choose mushrooms with firm stems and tightly closed caps. If you purchased mushrooms in a plastic clam shell, just leave them in the clamshell and refrigerate. Similarly, store shrink-wrapped packages of fresh mushrooms in their package, unopened. If you purchased mushrooms loosely, store them in a paper bag. Then, cover the paper bag with a cloth or mesh bag so that they don’t dry out easily. Eat the mushrooms within a week.
RECIPES USING MUSHROOMS
- Mixed Mushroom Cheung Fun (雜菌腸粉)
- Vegan Mapo Tofu
- Gobi Mushroom Matar Pulao (from Playful Cooking)
- Vegetarian Mushroom Tom Yum Soup (from Hot Thai Kitchen)
The appearance of rhubarb at the farmer’s market is the surest sign that spring is here. Resembling a reddish-green celery stalk, rhubarb is officially classified as a fruit by the USDA, though its stalks and leaves botanically make it a vegetable. How confusing! In any case, rhubarb supplies a good source of fiber and vitamin K1.
Rhubarb is so commonly baked with strawberries, it’s considered a “pie plant.” However, rhubarb’s sour tartness is also a great match with proteins like chicken or pork.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE RHUBARB
Choose rhubarb stalks that are firm and unblemished. Keep rhubarb in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper for up to a week. Cook’s Illustrated recommends wrapping rhubarb in foil to keep it fresh, but I personally haven’t tried this. IMPORTANT: Trim off any leaves that you might find on the stalks! The leaves are toxic if consumed in large quantities.
RECIPES USING RHUBARB
- Strawberry and Rhubarb Chia Seed Jam
- Rhubarb Orange Olive Oil Cake (from Sally Vargas)
- Best Rhubarb Cordial Recipe (from Food 52)
- Rhubarb Chutney (from The Bojon Gourmet)
Swiss chard is a relative to the beet and nutritionally similar to spinach, with high levels of vitamins C, K, and A. With stems of many colors, you might have seen the silver (white stalks), ruby (red stalks), and rainbow (red, yellow, green stalks) varieties. Like the beet, the leafy top and crunchy stalk are both edible.
The raw leaves are a bit more bitter than spinach but have a wide surface area perfect for wraps. For the rainbow variety in particular, the stems are packed with antioxidants! Note that the stems take a little longer to soften compared to the leaves.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE SWISS CHARD
Choose swiss chard with crisp, bright green leaves and firm stalks. Wrap a damp paper towel around the swiss chard and keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. The chard should last for a few days and up to a week this way.