Spring Vegetable Recipes and Tips

Fresh seasonal veggies are one more reason to celebrate spring.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Each year when spring just seems to pop up out of nowhere, I'm reminded of the power that the weather and our surroundings have on a person's outlook. Seeing the hills blanketed with lush, green grass and the trees in bloom, walking outside without a jacket for the first time in months, feeling the sun shine on your face -- well, it just makes a person feel happier and healthier. And, as if spring weather weren't thrilling enough, the produce department begins to display a bounty of luscious spring vegetables.

The "same old, same old" veggies that saw us through winter are ready to be retired from the dinner table. I start looking forward to serving artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, sweet corn, fresh spinach, crisp green beans, and Swiss chard.

Here's how to buy those spring veggies, store them, and cook them, along with three new spring vegetable recipes to try.

Asparagus

Each cup of fresh asparagus gives you 3 grams of fiber and a cornucopia of antioxidants, such as vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, and folate. And you get all this for only 27 calories.

  • To buy: Look for odorless stalks with dry, tight tips. Avoid stalks that are limp or discolored.
  • To store: Wrap ends of stalks with a wet paper towel and place in plastic bag. Refrigerate up to four days.
  • To cook: Asparagus is best when it is isn't overcooked and still maintains a bright green color and just-tender texture. You can cook it by stir-frying, steaming, or microwaving until just tender (about 5 minutes but my favorite way to cook asparagus is on the grill or in the broiler. Just lightly brush with olive oil before throwing them on the grill or in the oven. It takes 6-8 minutes under the broiler.

Artichokes

An artichoke makes you work for its 10 grams of fiber and 63 calories! You pull, dip, and scrape each leaf on a cooked artichoke. Then, with your top teeth, you scrape the flesh from the leaf. It takes about 10 minutes to properly eat an artichoke (I actually timed myself). Each medium globe artichoke also gives you 9 milligrams of vitamin C and 107 micrograms of folate.

  • To buy: Look for plump artichokes that feel heavy for their size with tightly closed leaves. If possible, pull back one of the outer leaves to check that the insides don't have black spots.
  • To store: Refrigerate artichokes, unwashed, in a plastic produce bag for up to a week. Keep dry to prevent mold.
  • To cook: Wash in cold water and cut off stem at base. If desired, you can trim off the thorns by cutting 1/2 inch off the tip of each outer leaf. Artichoke are commonly boiled until tender, but also can be cut in half lengthwise and cooked fairly quickly with some water (1/8 cup per choke) in the microwave.

Broccoli

If you don't like broccoli, chances are you've had it overcooked in the past. When broccoli is overcooked, its bright green color turns to dingy dark green and its flavor can go from pleasantly subtle to stinky-strong. If you're willing to give broccoli another try, try it raw in salad or as an appetizer with a light dip; lightly cooked in a stir fry; or steamed. It's worth the trouble because broccoli is what I would call a super-vegetable. One cup of fresh florets provides 2 grams of fiber, 2,130 international units (IU) of vitamin A, 66 milligrams of vitamin C, and 50 micrograms of folate, all for 20 measly calories.

  • To buy: Look for odorless heads with tight, bluish-green florets. If the floret part is yellow, it's been there too long.
  • To store: Broccoli will keep well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days.
  • To cook: Cook just until tender by stir-frying, steaming, or in the microwave. Watch the cooking time carefully to avoid overcooking.

Green Beans

Green beans are a popular side dish and a welcome addition to salads. Each cup of cooked snap green beans contributes 4 grams of fiber, 100 milligrams of plant omega-3s, 875 IU of vitamin A (some of which is from beta carotene), 41 micrograms of folate, and 55 milligrams of calcium. You'll get all of those nutritional benefits for only 44 calories.

  • To buy: Look for fresh, well-colored beans. If they're limp and don't snap, put them back.
  • To store: Keep green beans in a plastic bag in the refrigerator; try to use within a week.
  • To cook: Snap off ends by hand or trim off with a paring knife. Green beans can be cooked whole or cut into 2-inch diagonal slices. Cook until tender-crisp in the microwave, stir-fry in a nonstick pan with a small amount of oil; or blanch (plunge into boiling water briefly until just tender, then rinse in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process).