The beauty of living in a global marketplace is the fact that we can walk into nearly any grocery store and buy whatever fruit or vegetable we want, regardless of time of year. Looking for zucchini in April? Growers in Mexico are happy to stock our shelves. Missing those juicy Honey Crisp apples picked from eastern Washington trees last fall? New Zealand imports will fill the void.
The problem with this anytime, anywhere produce is that it’s spent a long time getting from there to here. When it finally arrives in stores, the produce isn’t the freshest, and the thought of all the greenhouse gasses emitted during its transport is enough to make any environmentally conscious cook lose their appetite.
While Pacific Northwest farms’ summer bounty is still months away, spring’s slightly longer days and somewhat warmer temperatures mean store shelves and farmer’s market crates will soon be overflowing with produce grown right here at home. In fact, early spring produce is starting to show up already, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Matt Steinman, farmer and owner of Foothills Farm in Sedro-Wooley, says it’s only a matter of weeks before he’ll be pulling radishes and turnips from his farm’s greenhouse and selling them at farmers’ markets in Seattle’s Ballard and Wallingford neighborhoods, as well as at markets in Bellevue and Bellingham. Not far behind will be spring greens, such as mustard greens, baby bok choy, spinach, and the cool temperature-loving tatsoi – a green that may be unfamiliar to many Northwesterners.
Tatsoi is a broad-leafed green vegetable that’s sometimes called “spinach mustard.” It has a somewhat creamy texture and, like spinach, has a short shelf life once picked, so best to consume it within a day or two.
“A lot of customers buy it for braising, but realize it’s also great in a salad,” says Steinman.
If kale and chard have been your go-to greens all winter, maybe it’s time tatsoi took over as a side dish for awhile. This simple braised tatsoi recipe relies on just vegetable stock, garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper to highlight the leafy green’s distinct flavor.
The carrot takes center stage by early May, says Steinman. If you’ve written off this ubiquitous vegetable in the past, it’s time to give it another try. Like much of the produce we’ve become accustomed to finding on our grocer’s shelves year ‘round, carrots often don’t get the attention they deserve. Dress up a bunch of sweet roasted carrots with this delicious dill-pesto drizzle and you’ll have likely found your new favorite vegetable.
Perhaps the most anticipated vegetable on our region’s spring dinner plate is asparagus. Most local asparagus is grown in the Columbia Basin, Yakima Valley and the Walla Walla area, but it doesn’t take long for it to make its way to Seattle-area markets come springtime. And while I could link to a couple amazing roasted asparagus recipes here, you’d be best served visiting Los Hernández Tamales (restaurants in Union Gap and the Yakima Valley) for their James Beard Foundation award-winning Asparagus with Pepper Jack Cheese Tamales.
The tamales have a loyal following, with many west-siders marking the tamales’ debut with a road trip to stock up. This year, Los Hernández expects their famous asparagus tamales to hit the menu in late April. They’re selling for $2.39 each this year.
Tatsoi image by GomezDavid