In the spring there are so many different veg to choose from, including spring cabbage, broccoli, aubergines and globe artichokes. But it’s easy to get put off because you’re not sure how to
cook something, or because you have bad memories of soggy, overcooked veg. Here we give you the low-down on some of the special vegetables available at this time of year and the best ways to
Broccoli and cauliflower are delicious raw or lightly cooked, but overcooking can ruin them because it makes them bland and mushy.
It’s best to steam or boil broccoli and cauliflower until they’re just tender. These vegetables are also great baked in a sauce, like the famous cauliflower cheese.
And you can eat them raw with a dip or add them to salads and stir-fries. Broccoli and cauliflower are both sources of vitamin C.
Cabbage is king
Cabbage is another vegetable that suffers from being overcooked. That’s what gives it the smell and flavour that many people associate with old-fashioned school dinners. To avoid this, it’s
best to steam or boil cabbage quickly over a high heat.
Spring cabbage has a distinct ‘nutty’ flavour of its own and tastes great served plain or with a pinch of nutmeg. Or try frying it lightly, add herbs, onions, and maybe some bacon for flavour,
and then cover and cook slowly over a low heat. You can also add thinly sliced raw cabbage to salads.
Other varieties of cabbage include red cabbage, which is commonly used for pickling. But you can also eat it lightly boiled or raw in salads and it adds terrific colour to a meal. Chinese
cabbage is also called chinese leaves or pak choi. Its leaves are excellent in salads or in Chinese dishes.
Cabbage is generally a good source of vitamin C but, as with other vegetables, cooking reduces the vitamin C content, so that’s another reason to cook it lightly. If you boil it, it’s a good
idea to use the cooking water to make stock, soup or gravy, so you can save some of the vitamins that have come out of the cabbage.
Kale, also known as curly kale or collard, is related to the cabbage but has a much stronger flavour. It goes well with potatoes or in hot spicy curries.
Spinach is another springtime vegetable. Raw spinach is a source of beta-carotene and folate, but don’t expect Popeye’s instant biceps! As well as being nutritious, spinach is really versatile.
It tastes great raw in salads, or in hot dishes, such as omelettes and bakes. It goes especially well with cheese, like in spinach and feta parcels made from filo pastry, and spinach and
ricotta cannelloni. Spinach is also delicious in Indian dishes such as saag aloo (a spicy dish with spinach and potatoes).
If you’re boiling spinach, the best way is simply to wash it, shake off the excess water and place it in a pan with only the water that is clinging to it. Once it’s cooked you could add a
little pepper, nutmeg and maybe a knob of butter.
Wonderfully sweet peas, straight from the pod, can be eaten raw, steamed or boiled, or added to soups and salads. Try cooking peas in rapidly boiling water with a sprig of mint, or a small
piece of bacon or ham, to add extra flavour. They only need a few minutes.
A is for asparagus, artichoke and aubergine
Asparagus is another vegetable available in the spring. It’s delicious when cooked and served either on its own with a little lemon juice, or on toast. The problem with cooking asparagus is
that the stalks take longer than the tender tips. If you don’t have an asparagus kettle, then one way to cook them is to place the bundle upright, with the spears at the top, in a deep saucepan
of boiling water, then cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the spears are tender.
Globe artichokes are easy to cook and fun to eat. They can be boiled, baked, fried or stuffed, and served with various sauces. The most common way of cooking a globe artichoke is to remove the
stalk and any rough outer leaves and boil it vigorously for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a leaf comes away easily. You can add lemon juice or sprigs of thyme to the water for extra flavour. When
the artichoke is cooked, leave it to cool in the liquid, because this prevents discolouring.
Then you can enjoy eating it. Use your fingers to remove the leaves one at a time. Dip each leaf into a sauce or dressing, such as low-fat plain yogurt, garlic butter or vinaigrette. Draw the
thick end of the leaf through your teeth, eating the fleshy part only and discard the rest of the leaf.
You will eventually reach the bottom of the artichoke, which is the prized part of the plant, known as the heart. But before you reach it, you’ll find a hairy, prickly part of the vegetable
called the ‘choke’. This choke is inedible so just remove it and then you can tuck into the best bit.
Aubergine can be used in a variety of tasty recipes, such as the classic Greek dish moussaka. Or try brushing slices of aubergine with olive oil and then grilling them. These make a great
vegetarian starter, with some salad leaves and a tomato salsa. Or, to make stuffed aubergine, cut the aubergine in half lengthways and roast the halves in the oven for 30 minutes or until
tender. Then, carefully scoop out the flesh and mix it with spring onions, lemon juice, black pepper and a bit of olive oil. Put this mixture into the aubergine shells and return them to the
oven for a few minutes before serving.
People generally think of tomatoes as a vegetable, but in fact they’re a fruit. All types of tomato taste great raw on their own or in salads. Tomatoes are also delicious grilled and served on
toast, or stuffed with potato or rice salad. And of course you can use them for lots of different pasta sauces.
To skin tomatoes, put them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes and then you should be able to slip off the skins with a knife. Scoop the seeds out and chop up the tomato. Soften some
chopped onion in a little olive oil and then add the tomatoes, a few sliced olives, capers and some black pepper, and simmer for a while for a delicious pasta sauce.
Tomatoes are a source of vitamin C and they also contain a substance called lycopene, which is the pigment that makes tomatoes red. Research suggests that lycopene may help to protect against
British-grown rhubarb is also in season in the spring and makes delicious crumbles, pies and tarts. Try teaming rhubarb with apple, or bake apples on their own with sultanas and cinnamon.
Remember that we should all aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. There is more and more evidence that people who eat lots of fruit and veg are less likely to develop
coronary heart disease and some types of cancer. A portion is:
– three heaped tablespoons of veg
– one apple, orange or pear
– two plums or similar-sized fruit
– one heaped tablespoon of dried fruit
– a dessert bowl of salad
– a glass (150ml) of fruit juice (but juice can only count as one portion a day)
– The saying goes that variety is the spice of life, but it’s also the key to getting a range of nutrients. So try to eat as many different types of fruit and veg as you can!