Spring Vegetables

No matter where you live, it seems like this has been a hard winter. As better weather approaches, so does the choice of fresh produce. The spring/early summer offerings add wonderful options at “in season” prices. In this installment of the Wholefoods Diner, we serve up some personal favorites, including asparagus, globe artichokes, beets (admittedly Nikki’s choice), and a selection of leafy greens that grow best while the weather is still a bit cool.

Blackened Asparagus

These crispy asparagus spears have a subtle smokey taste and a hint of spiciness. If you like really hot food, use a potent chili powder or add a pinch of cayenne. And a note for whoever is on clean-up – let the blackened pan soak for a while and it will clean with ease.

1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 to 3 tablespoons water

Trim the ends from the asparagus. Break into 2-inch-long segments. You should have about 4 cups.

Combine the asparagus and soy sauce in a wok or large skillet. Cook over high heat, stirring continuously, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the asparagus are singed and the soy sauce evaporates. Add the garlic during the last minute or so.

Remove the pan from the heat. Immediately add the chili powder and water, 1 tablespoonful at a time, stirring to dissolve the blackened soy sauce in the pan. Do this carefully, as there will be some sputtering.

Yield: 4 servings

Variations: For Blackened Green Beans, trim the ends of one pound fresh green beans but leave whole. Follow the directions above. For Blackened Carrots, cut a pound of carrots into 2-inch-long matchsticks (about 3 cups) and follow the directions above. The same amount of broccoli stems, peeled and cut in 2-inch-long sticks, makes great Blackened Broccoli.

Spring Artichokes

If you need to hold the artichokes after cooking, cover the pot and let them sit off the heat until serving. Any leftovers can be chilled and sliced into salads.

4 medium-size artichokes with stems
½ cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 strips lemon peel
½ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, cut in thin crescents
6 cloves garlic, sliced

Prepare the artichokes by peeling the stems lightly, cutting off the top third of the bulb to remove the tips of the leaves, and removing any small tough leaves at the base. Cut in half lengthwise and use a grapefruit spoon or small paring knife to scrape away the small hairy leaves (or choke) attached to the heart.

Combine the water, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt in a broad pot that can hold the artichokes in a single layer. Dip the cut side of each artichoke in this lemon water, then turn cut side up and place the artichokes side by side in the pot.

Scatter the onion and garlic over the artichokes.

Bring the artichokes and liquid to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the artichokes are easily pierced with a fork. Check periodically during cooking to see that the water isn’t boiling too rapidly and evaporating.

Serve each person 2 warm halves topped with some of the onions, garlic and a little broth.

Yield: 4 servings

Spicy Italian Greens

This recipe is designed for the bitter greens listed below, but it can also be made using romaine lettuce combined with Italian flat leaf parsley. A dollop of YoChee on top of each serving provides a nice contrast. To turn this into a main dish, add 3 cups cooked chickpeas, white beans or lentils at the end and heat through. If desired, serve over small size pasta, such as bow ties, spirals, shells, or the like.

1½ pounds leafy greens (beet greens, broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, chicory, escarole, frisée, kale, or romaine mixed with ½ cup flat leaf Italian parsley)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons capers

Wash the greens well and chop coarsely. You should have about 12 cups.

Combine the greens with the remaining ingredients in a large heavy skillet or pot large enough to hold them. Cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, or until the greens wilt. Stir as needed for even cooking.

Cover and cook until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes depending on the greens.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Orange-Lemon Beets

In this unusual dish, sweet earthy beets are studded with tiny pieces of tart raw lemon. You’ll be amazed by the tenderness of the lemon peel. Since the peel is to be eaten, choose an organic lemon for this recipe.

1½ pounds red or golden beets
1/3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 small organic lemon

Scrub the beets, peel and cut into ½-inch-long matchsticks. To do this easily, begin by cutting into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Stack several slices and cut into 1/8-inch-wide strips. Cut strips across into ½-inch lengths. You should have about 4 cups.

Place the beets in a small pot with the orange juice and ginger. Cover and cook over moderate heat for about 15 minutes, until tender.

Cut the unpeeled lemon into very thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into small pieces. You should have about ½ cup.

When the beets are cooked, remove from the heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and while still hot, mix in the lemon pieces.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Variation: For Orange-Lemon Carrots, replace the beets with carrots.

Recipes from the Nikki & David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine, Eat Well the YoChee Way and The Healthiest Diet in the World. ©