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When the Weather's Cool, These Spring Vegetables Are at Their Best

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18 Spring Vegetables That Are Best Right NowBHOFACK2 - Getty Images

Sure, summer has its berries and all those tomatoes, and fall is known for a literal cornucopia of produce, but forgive us for thinking that spring is the actual best season for fresh vegetables.

Maybe it's just because, after a long winter, the profusion of crunchy, sweet, snappy spring vegetables always feel like such a breath of fresh air. Salads are light and fun to eat again. Spring dinners don't feel like they're weighing you down. And cooking with produce starts to feel fun again!

Below, find our roundup of favorite spring vegetables. These are the garden greens and farmers' market hauls that are available in most of the country sometime between March and May, plus some ideas on how to grow your own or prepare them.

Radishes

When fresh radishes are coming out of the ground, it's a sure sign of spring! The green tops are edible, and make a fine, spicy/peppery addition to salads anywhere you'd use arugula. (They don't keep well, so use them right away.)

Though radishes come in lots of colors and shapes, from watermelon to purple, the most common are the little round red guys. Some are mild and sweet, others can make your eyes water. For a simple dish, we love to tame them with just butter, salt, and crackers. But it can be even more fun to dress them up and roast them for a side dish.

Try a recipe: Pork Chops with Roasted Maple-Bacon Radishes

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Carrots

These bright, flavorful root veggies are a quintessential spring treat! And though you can get 'em year round, they're especially flavorful fresh out of the garden.

The edible tops make a great substitute for parsley, especially in a chimichurri sauce or gremolata.

The carrots themselves are great in all kinds of things, of course: raw with dip, or as a base (along with onions and celery) in a variety of soups. They're excellent sliced up in salads, and they're great simply roasted. Then, of course, there's cake...

Grow your own carrots at home with our guide.

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Broccoli

Do your kids call them "little trees" as mine do, and stand them up on their plates to make a forest? Broccoli is one of those veggies that looks fun as well as being tasty.

This staple green side veggie is so readily available that you might not even have stopped to think about when it's in season. Along with cabbages and kale (other greens in the "brassica" family) this hardy veg is best when the weather is cool. And early spring is one of the best times to get very fresh, very flavorful broccoli.

Slice it thick and sear it like a steak for a surprisingly tasty dish. Or put it in a stir fry. Or just steam it and dress it lightly with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice!

Here's our guide to growing your own fresh broccoli.

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Asparagus

It's a sure sign that spring's arrived when stalks of asparagus start appearing. This perennial favorite has a short season, and you can practically mark when in spring it is, by what's available: the thinner, more tender stalks appear earlier in spring, while the thicker, more sturdy stalks come later.

To take the most advantage of the flavor we love to simply roast the asparagus and serve it as a side. But there are many things you can do with it, from fresh soup to pizza, quiche, and more.

Find our favorite asparagus recipes all right here.

bunch of green asparagus on wood
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Artichokes

If your main experience with artichokes is the jar of marinated hearts, mostly used as an ingredient in dip, then it's time to get your hands on some fresh ones.

Artichokes are in season twice, in the spring and then again in the fall. They're the flower bud of the cardoon plant, a type of giant thistle.

To eat one is an event all by itself. You steam them and then peel off the tough outer layer of the leaves. The edible bottom portion of each leaf can be dipped into a sauce (aioli, melted butter, or mayo are typical) and then scraped off. The rest of the leaf is then discarded.

The leaves get more and more tender the closer you get to the heart. Right at the center, there's an inedible section of very fine leaves that look like hairs—this is called the "choke." It's cut or scraped off, and then the tender and very sweet heart is there, which is also delicious!

Try our recipe for Steamed Artichokes with Smoked Paprika Aioli.

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Kale

Kale was super trendy about ten years ago, and honestly, I'm a little relieved that it's over.

Now that it's not in the spotlight, you can actually enjoy this sturdy green without feeling like you're hopping on a bandwagon. Because it's related to other brassica plants (cabbage, broccoli), it's best during cold seasons such as early spring and late fall. It'll even overwinter well in some places, and pop up fresh and green in your garden!

We love to eat it sautéed, stewed like collard greens, or even baked. But it's delicious in salads, too—the trick is to massage the leaves, roughly, with oil (and clean hands). This breaks them down just a bit and makes them much easier to eat.

Find our favorite Kale recipes here.

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Rhubarb

This bright, tart, tinged-red stalk grows best in colder climates (and in fact can get taller than a person in Alaska!) The leaves, curiously, are not edible. But the stalks are mouth-puckeringly tart. That's why we tend to cook them with lots of sugar and mix them with berries. They're great poached over yogurt or baked in a custard pie.

More great ways to cook with rhubarb.

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Scallions / Spring Onions

Green onions. Spring onions. Scallions.

These all tend to be differing names for the same plant at different stages. If scallions are the youngest and tenderest, spring onions, which typically are more bulbous at the bottom, are closer to their full-onion shape. (Closer to the fall, when they develop their papery outer layer, they become regular ol' onions.)

The springtime varieties have a lot going for them. While they don't store nearly as well, they're sweeter and milder, much less likely to make you cry when cutting them. You can even eat them raw! We love spring onions simply roasted, but they also make a pretty addition to a sheet pan quiche.

Get the recipe for Sheet-Pan Quiche with Scallions.

fresh spring onions on rustic wooden board with knife and scissors
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Lettuce

If you've done any gardening at all, you've likely grown lettuce. There are dozens upon dozens of varieties—far more than the three or four you'll find at the supermarket—with a range of colors, sizes and flavors. (We're particularly smitten with these.) And you know the plants produce the best leaves in the spring, from just after the last freeze until it's too hot, and they all start to struggle until the fall again.

We surely don't need to tell you what to do with lettuce (though we've got plenty of salad ideas if you're looking). But if you're ready to dip a toe into gardening, the transparent variety of lettuces available make this a must-have plant for your plot.

11 Things Beginners Should Know Before Starting a Vegetable Garden.

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New Potatoes / Baby Potatoes

Big russets and Idaho bakers aren't going to be ready until later in the growing season, but tender, young, baby potatoes (also called new potatoes) are a spring specialty!

They won't keep as long, but they cook faster and, we think, taste better. It's definitely worth digging a few out, or grabbing 'em from the farmers' market when you see 'em!

An easy and fun way to prepare them is to bake them in salt, but we also love to make them boiled, smashed, and roasted. It takes a little time, but they get so crispy and yummy that it's hard to stop eating them!

Get the recipe for Smashed Potatoes.

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Leeks

Related to onions (see above) as well as garlic and shallots, leeks are a springtime veggie with a mild flavor, crunchy texture, and a long history in French and Mediterranean cuisines.

They're another cool-weather plant that tends to be best in spring and fall. While cleaning them can be a bit of a pain (the easiest thing is to split them down the middle lengthwise and then rinse all the grit out from the layers) they are quite delicious in soups and quiches, or roasted under a chicken. But we might like them best when they're baked into a galette.

Get the recipe for Buttered Leek Galette.

leek
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Garlic Scapes

Garlic is a curious crop! You typically plant it in the fall, as it needs the cold winter in the ground to start growing. Then you harvest it in the summer.

But in the spring, your fall plants will sprout garlic scapes. These are tall, green stalks with a mild garlic flavor that can be used much like green onions, leeks, or scallions—with the important distinction that they lend a garlicky, not oniony flavor to dishes.

It also makes a great pesto—here's an easy recipe.

Read more on growing garlic at home.

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Snow Peas

The (apocryphal?) story about snow peas is that they're some of the first things to ripen in the garden, because you can just take the seeds and sprinkle them on the snow.

They do sprout quickly, but not any quicker than other peas. Snow peas ripen fast, in particular because they're meant to be eaten while young and tender—you eat them pod and all. There's typically a tough, stringy portion along one side that is best removed before cooking. This makes them a little fussy to prepare, but the extra step is more than worth it when you have a fresh bunch on hand.

There're lovely when sauteed quickly in a little butter or oil, and then salted. But we also love them in a warming chicken soup.

Get the recipe for Ginger Chicken Ramen with Snow Peas.

snow peas on chopping board
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Snap Peas

Snap peas are the other pod-and-all edible pea that you're likely to be familiar with. And they come by their name pretty honestly: The pod is a little thicker, and much snappier than snow peas.

Frankly, I prefer them, because the pod is so crisp and flavorful. They can (and should!) be eaten raw, after washing and trimming off the stringy portion. They're great alongside carrots and whatnot as part of a veggie dip plate but one of my go-to ways to cook them is to singe them a blisteringly hot pan, then cover them in brown butter. Yum!

Get the recipe for Blistered Snap Peas with Brown Butter and Chives.

sugar snap peas at a farmer's market
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Spinach

Spinach used to have a bad rep. It didn't help that its biggest booster, a certain sailor, ate the canned stuff. Canned spinach is possibly the worst way to eat a vegetable, ever. (Now, frozen spinach is actually quite great, mind you.)

But fresh spinach is a whole other thing! It's available year-round in grocery stores, often in plastic clamshells. But don't overlook the big bunches of local-grown spinach that pop up in the spring. It's tasty enough that it's worth the effort that goes into washing and drying it.

You won't go wrong putting it in a salad of course, but our hands-down favorite thing to do is to make it creamed and eat it as a side to go with, well, practically anything.

colander of fresh spinach leaves on white cloth and wood
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Fennel

Though typically a fall crop, in some parts of the U.S. with milder winters, fennel is also a cool spring crop.

You may be more familiar with the licorice-flavored seeds, whole or powdered, which is used as a spice. But fennel bulb and fronds are also fully edible and are popping up at more and more markets.

Much milder in flavor, the bulbs can be sliced and used much like celery—eaten raw, or cooked. They have a slight, but not overpowering licorice flavor. The fronds are a little stronger, and can be used like a fresh herb, where you might use tarragon or fresh dill.

Try the root roasted under a pork loin, or chopped up into a slaw!

Get the recipe for Blackened Chicken with Fennel Slaw.

fresh organic fennel bulbs for culinary purposes on wooden backg
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Beets

Beets are another root veggie that overwinters well. So in the south, you can find yourself pulling them out of the ground as early as April, when they're smaller, sweeter, and more tender than they are in later months.

As with radishes, the tops are edible as well. They can (and should) be sautéed with garlic and oil, and served up like other dark greens.

The stain-your-hands dark red bulbs can be sliced thin and eaten raw, but they're tastiest when slowly roasted to release all the sugars.

15+ Smart Ways to Turn Fresh Beets Into a Meal

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Fiddleheads

These fickle, funny-shaped ferns can't be farmed—only foraged—so fans who don't want to tromp through the forest have to linger around the farmers' markets waiting for them to appear. If you see 'em, grab a bunch.

Because they're hard to get, we don't have a lot of recipes for 'em on our site. But you won't go wrong by sautéing them in butter and seasoning 'em with salt and pepper. Server as a side, the way you would green beans, or okra.

fiddlehead ferns in a pan
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