Eating and cooking in SPRING

Eating and cooking in Spring - Embers on the hearth

Flowers, cool breeze, butterflies, more flowers, and for the unlucky: seasonal allergies! Gone are the heavy stews that keep us warm through winter and fresh salads start to slowly creep in.

Even though the thought of Spring usually brings to mind fields of flowers and green shoots, the amount of fruit and vegetables available is not a lot. Flowers haven’t yet turned to fruit and most of those green shoots are not yet ready to be picked, but there are some interesting things around.

Spring clean your kitchen

It might sound a bit cliche, but this is a great time to clean up and tidy up your kitchen. Spring is a transitional season, and you can take advantage of that by helping your kitchen transition too.

And I’m not just talking about dusting and throwing away broken tupperware. Give yourself the challenge to use up all the odd ends you might have hidden in the pantry. I do this at the beginning of spring and autumn and it’s now become what my kids call magic food: making food with a few random ingredients and some magic.

If you’re lost for ideas, check my customisable groceries list to help you organise what you already have and see what you need to buy, and use these digital tools to help you find ideas. Just remember to go into this with an open mind! Sometimes the weirdest sounding combinations end up tasting the best!

Basic ingredients

If you haven’t yet, you should check my list of 10 basic ingredients to always have around. The great thing about it, is that it can be modified as the weather changes without breaking the bank or going to speciality stores.

On the original post I go through different options and give you some ideas for easy recipes. During spring, you may want to find some lighter and fresher varieties instead of using the heavier ones that thrive during winter. Flavoured oils, red and spring onions, and nut and seed butters are great for salads. Mix all three with some lemon juice or vinegar (or any acid) and you will get a fantastic creamy salad dressing in seconds.

And if you haven’t tried it yet, homemade yogurt is extremely easy to make and a great snack and breakfast for those warmer days (especially during late spring when berries and stone fruits come around). Or, maybe, you can try your hand at growing something. Spring onions are really easy to grow at home in small containers, and you don’t even need to plant them from seed. All you have to do is buy some and plant the root part.

Spring herbs and spices

If you need some help making those heavy winter root vegetables that are still lingering around feel lighter, you are in luck! Many herbs are in season throughout Spring.

If you’ve thought about starting your own garden, indoor or outdoors, now it’s a great time to do it. Herbs grow extremely fast and the most popular ones will grow easily during spring.

  • basil: great for sauces and salads, especially with Mediterranean flavours. And very good with sweet flavours (especially peaches, apricots, and strawberries).
  • chervil: common in French food, great for fish, poultry, and egg dishes.
  • chives: mild onion flavour, good with dairy, in salad, with fish, and poultry.
  • coriander: good raw or cooked, especially mixed with spicy flavours.
  • curry leaves: a strange flavour to describe if you haven’t had it, somewhat lemony, somewhat spicy, somewhat nutty. If you’re new to it, start with Indian and Indian-inspired recipes.
  • dill: very mild liquorice flavour, good with root vegetables, all meats and fish, in salads, with eggs, and dairy. New fennel shoots are a fantastic replacement.
  • oregano: best for sauces, soups, stews, pulses and grains.
  • mint: good for sweet and savoury cooking, as well as drinks.
  • parsley: a magic herb that works with everything as long as you keep it savoury. Add a little bit to use as a herb for a subtle flavour, or by the handful to use as a green in salads, soups, and stews.
  • rosemary: a good herb for cooked sweet and savoury dishes. Be careful with overcooking as it can get extremely bitter.
  • sage: best for meats and root vegetables, or dairy-based sauces.
  • sorrel: quite bitter, good raw in salads, or cooked with fish and eggs. A very easy herb to forage, and hard to find in stores.
  • tarragon: sweet earthy flavour with a hint of liquorice, that pairs well with fish, eggs, and most cooked seasonal vegetables.
  • thyme (from late Spring for better flavour): best for cooked dishes, especially meats and root vegetables.

When it comes to spices, you’ll want to make the most of those used in tropical and sub-tropical countries., especially as the weather gets warmer. If you’re still experiencing cooler weather, you can mix-and-match with winter herbs and spices (think Christmas flavours).

  • black pepper: it will give a kick to your food, while still keeping it light. Good for sweet and savoury cooking.
  • cardamom: sweet, earthy, and somewhat lemony and minty, fantastic for baking and with grains.
  • cinnamon: nice to still keep around for some extra warmth for the colder days and chilly evenings.
  • chilli: widely used in the cuisines of tropical countries, and it can also be added to sweet dishes (goes particularly well with chocolate).
  • fennel seeds: adds a fresh earthy flavour to sweet and savoury dishes, especially good with fish.
  • ginger: adds a fresh spiciness when used raw.
  • turmeric: great for dips, sauces, and salad dressings.

And don’t forget flowers! You may think you’ve never used them in your cooking, but if you’ve ever had anything with lavender, capers, or saffron you have indeed eaten flowers! Spring is a great time to get a bit experimental and try adding some flowery flavours to your cooking. If you can, grow these yourself as they are best when picked fresh.

  • basil flowers: similar flavour to basil leaves, but stronger.
  • chamomile: best known for its use in drinks and teas, but also very good for syrups, with root vegetables, fish and for sweet baking.
  • citrus blossoms: a mild sweet citrus flavour which works in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • cornflower: a subtle mix of sweet and spicy, great in salads.
  • courgette flowers: best cooked (a traditional way is to stuff them, batter them, and fry them).
  • dandelion: sweet, good raw or cooked, and it makes a fantastic subtle tea.
  • elderflower: great for drinks and syrups, and baking. Also good with fish.
  • hibiscus: great for drinks, sweet baking, and paired with fruits.
  • honeysuckle: a very delicate sweet flavour, good for syrups and drinks.
  • jasmine: good for drinks, syrups, and with fish.
  • lavender: great with stone fruits and berries, chocolate, in cold and hot drinks, and with fatty fish (salmon with lavender is a treat).
  • nasturtium: a bit peppery, reminiscent of watercress, best in salads and with fish. It can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers.
  • onion flowers: oniony flavour, but milder and sweeter.
  • rose: very flowery, ideal for sweet cooking. Best used with a light touch as it can get overwhelming very fast.
  • saffron: expensive, but you only need a very small amount. Great for sauces, grain-based dishes, and desserts.
  • viola: flavour similar to salad leaves.
  • wysteria: sweet and nutty, makes a delicious syrup and great in salads.

Spring fruits

Most fruit won’t be around (unless you get them from greenhouses or imported) until closer to summer, but when they do show up, you’ll be in for a treat.

  • apricots: available late Spring.
  • bilberries: summer fruit, that can start showing in late Spring with the right weather.
  • blueberries: available from mid-April to September.
  • bananas: available year-round
  • blackcurrants: early varieties available from very late Spring.
  • cherries: available May to August.
  • gooseberries: available May to August.
  • peaches: available May to September, but best during summer.
  • plums: available May to October.
  • raspberries: available from late Spring.
  • rhubarb: available April to September
  • strawberries: available from mid-April to October, but that includes several different varieties.

During the first weeks of Spring you’ll want to tide over with some of the last apples, citrus, and kiwis, as well as fruit blossoms and the year-round banana. If you canned any fruits during winter, this is the time to use them! And if you haven’t, you can always grab some from the supermarket shelves.

Spring vegetables

As with fruits, many vegetables become ready to harvest toward the end of the season. Luckily many of the vegetables associated with winter are still around with their late crops and can help the seasonal cook tide over until the new crops are mature.

  • artichokes: available from very, very late Spring
  • asparagus: available from May to June.
  • beet greens: available from early Spring.
  • broad beans: available from late Spring.
  • broccoli: some varieties are available till late March.
  • cabbage: available year round, but different varieties than those available in colder months.
  • carrots: if stored properly winter carrots will last until mid spring.
  • cauliflower: available until April.
  • celery root/celeriac: available until April.
  • chicory (all varieties, including radicchio, endive, and escarole): available year round but sweeter until March.
  • chillies: available May to October
  • courgette: available from late Spring, flowers available from mid Spring.
  • cucumber: available May to July.
  • garlic: available year round.
  • leeks: available until very early Spring only.
  • lettuce: Spring varieties available in May and June.
  • marrow: available from late Spring.
  • morel mushrooms: available March to May (though times may vary widely depending on area)
  • onions: available year-round
  • parsnips: available until March.
  • peas: available May to October
  • peppers: available May to September
  • potatoes: available year-round.
  • purple sprouting broccoli: available early Spring.
  • rocket: available April to October.
  • samphire: available May to September (an easy one to forage if you live in the right area).
  • spinach: available April and May.
  • spring greens: available January to october, but at their very best during Spring.
  • spring onions: available from March to June or July (depending on area).
  • sweet potato: available year round, but at their best in Autumn and Winter.
  • watercress: available March to December.
  • wild nettles: available March to April (the plant grows year-round, but early Spring is the time to forage the young leaves)

Several vegetables can start to be consumed in Spring before they are fully mature, and can be found under the names of ‘baby’ or ‘new’. Some easy to find ones include: baby courgette, baby beets, and new potatoes.

When it comes to greens, their flavours will be milder at the beginning of the season, and as summer approaches the leaves will get tougher and the flavours stronger.

Sprouts and microgreens

I’m not one to support eating fads or fancy superfoods. However, sprouts and microgreens is one trend I can get behind.

For one, they have been around for ages and used as a way to get some greens during times of starch-heavy produce. And they are also right in season during Spring and incredibly easy to DIY.

Sprouting involves allowing seeds to start developing in a moist environment, without soil. There are several ways to do this, the simplest and cheapest is on a wet kitchen towel, but those who enjoy sprouted foods should probably invest in a sprouting jar or germinator.

If allowed to grow until they develop their first leaves, sprouts become microgreens. Microgreens can also be grown on soil, and it’s better to do it indoors rather than outdoors.

I am far from an expert when it comes to sprouting, so I’d rather direct you to those who know what they are doing:

  • how to sprout beans, grains and seeds, by Zero-waste chef: fantastic step-by-step photos and some health warnings to keep in mind.
  • seed sprouts for eating, by Harvest to Table: detailed step-by-step and handy list of seeds that can be sprouted.
  • sprouting basics, by Sproutpeople: detailed instructions, with care of tools (post by sellers of sprouting seeds)
  • sprouting seeds at home, by Big flavours from a tiny kitchen: incredibly detailed article, with step-by-step process and pros and cons for 3 different methods (sponsored post, but very good information)

Keep cooking times shorter and use the slow cooker

Most winter produce needs long cooking times, but as the fresher and lighter spring foods come around remember to limit cooking times.

A lot of the new vegetables can be eaten raw or after only a few minutes of steaming or grilling. Over-cooking them will only make them mushy and their still-delicate flavour will be lost. Sandwiches, salads, and dips are good options for the warmer days that don’t take a long time to prepare.

During colder days, skip the oven and make use of your slow cooker or pressure cooker. They will help keep heat off the kitchen, and will be great for those root veggies that are still lingering around. Just remember to freshen them up with some raw ingredients and fresh herbs.

Dealing with allergies

The beginning of spring also means the beginning of allergies for many of us. Luckily, nature has us covered and natural reliefs come in season just as the symptoms start.

Of course, talk to your doctor before self-diagnosing and self-treating to make sure you won’t make yourself feel worse, as many of these can create allergic reactions of their own. And remember that medicines are not a bad thing! Many are based on plants. I usually use natural treatments when my symptoms are mild, and medicines when they get worse.

  • butterbur: studies have shown that it can be as effective as over-the-counter antihistamines. Butterbur works best as oil or pills, that can be bought over-the-counter.
  • honey: many people believe that eating local honey can help reduce symptoms of hayfever. But, there is no proof of this, and the pollen used by bees comes from flowers that don’t usually cause hay fever. However, honey can still be helpful as it contains a large amount of quercetin (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant pigment).
  • liquids: drinking more can help thin out the mucus produced by hay fever. Cold and hot drinks both help, as well as foods with a high water content.
  • omega 3 fatty acids: studies show that it may help with skin allergies.
  • quercetin-containing foods: apples, bell peppers, berries, broccoli, capers, cauliflower, cherries, citrus fruits, garlic, grapes, green and black tea, onions (especially red). It is also available as an over-the-counter supplement.
  • rosemary and thyme: the benefits are still being studied, but many patients report improved symptoms when consumed regularly or as a supplement.
  • stinging nettle: best consumed as a tincture. If you prefer to have it as tea, you will need to drink it strong and several times a day. It can also be cooked as a green. Always be careful when handling.
  • turmeric: as with rosemary and thyme, more studies are needed but what is out there does look promising.
  • vitamin C-containing foods: apples, bell peppers, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, chilli peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, leafy greens, rose hips, strawberries, tomatoes. Or vitamin C supplements.