Spring is the time a number of healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables are available – foods that can help boost your energy and benefit your health. Here’s five top super foods that are at their best in Spring, and how to make the most of them.
A Role Call of Super Foods
Limes are an important ingredient in Mexican, Indian, Latin American and South-East Asian cookery. Three main types are available: Tahitian, which is the largest, with the most acidic flavour; Mexican, slightly smaller, aromatic, and with a bright green skin, and Key lime, which have a paler skin, a high juice content and a strong flavour.
Limes deliver a lot of dietary fibre and Vitamin C. Lime is useful for skin, digestion, and are beneficial for easing constipation and reducing fevers.
Limes are good for women’s health. These citrus gems contain calcium and folate, two nutrients that are important for post-menopausal women. One fresh lime contains 22 milligrams of calcium and over five micrograms of folate.
Lime peels can help combat aging skin. The peels of citrus fruits contain an inhibitor of melanin production. With age and UV ray exposure, melanin, which gives skin its pigment, can build up and deposit itself as spots on your skin. Treating skin to a mask with bits of lime peel in it could reduce this hyperpigmentation.
Shopping for limes
Look for unblemished, firm limes that feel heavy for their size as they will be the juiciest. If you intend to use the zest, buy them unwaxed – shops should state this clearly. If you can’t find unwaxed limes, scrub the limes thoroughly before zesting.
To extract the maximum amount of lime juice, make sure they are at room temperature, and firmly roll them back and forth under your palm a couple of times to help break down some of the flesh’s fibres. Alternatively, microwave limes for around 30 seconds, depending on their size. Warming them up also helps them give up more juice.
You can store limes in a perforated bag in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or in a fruit bowl for around a week. Once cut, wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge for up to four days.
You can use limes to make Key lime pie; salsas and curries, and marinades for raw fish. If you fancy a tipple, add a wedge to a classic gin and tonic, or use to make cocktails such as margaritas, or mojitos.
Once available in Britain for just a brief period during the summer, strawberries are now a year-round fruit, thanks to imports from warmer climates. However, the varieties grown for export tend to be chosen for their ability to withstand transportation, rather than for their texture or flavour, which often results in a less tender berry with an unremarkable taste.
To enjoy strawberries at their best it’s worth holding out for the British season, which starts in May. If you want to eat them super-ripe, pick-your-own is best. Strawberries are also easy to grow in the garden or in a pot on a sunny windowsill – just remember to protect them from birds when the fruits appear.
Strawberries contain minerals, vitamin C. One serving of strawberries contains 51.5 mg of vitamin C- about half of your daily requirement, and also are one of the most highly antioxidant fruits. You can use strawberries for anti-aging, and they can help to whiten and polish your teeth and keep it off, thanks to the malic acid they contain.
Shopping for strawberries
Look for plump, shiny, tender berries, with a good, bright colour and a sweet aroma, preferably with their leafy green calyx and stalk still attached. Avoid mushy or mouldy berries.
If you’re buying a punnet, check that the underside isn’t stained – that means the lower level of berries has been crushed. Large strawberries tend to have a higher water content so are less flavourful – opt for small to medium-sized ones.
Strawberries become mushy quite quickly on contact with water, so wash briefly, remove the stalk, then keep whole, half or quarter, as required.
Arrange strawberries on a layer of kitchen paper on a plate, so they don’t crush each other, and store in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge an hour before eating, so that they’re room temperature. Never wash before refrigerating them, as they’ll go soggy. Eat within a couple of days of buying or picking.
Eat raw with cream or ice cream or sprinkled with a little balsamic vinegar. You can add them to fruit salads, use to make jam and tarts, or top puddings.
Like garlic and onion, leeks are a member of the allium family, but have their own distinct flavour. They are quite harsh when raw – only young leeks are eaten this way – but, when cooked, very delicate, like a mild onion but with a hint of sweetness. Two thirds of their length is white and firm, and this is the part that is mainly eaten. The rest of the third is made up of the leaves, most of which is discarded.
Leeks contain high potassium, vitamin C and also it is one of the best vegetable to get an adequate amount of folate. Leeks can help minimise risk of coronary heart disease.
Shopping for leeks
Look for leeks with a firm, unblemished white lower part, and leaves that are bright green, with a crisp texture. Smaller leeks tend to be sweeter and more tender.
Thorough washing is important for leeks, as soil is often trapped between the many layers of leaves. First, trim off the base, and cut away the uppermost part of the leaves. If it’s tough, remove the outer layer or while. Then, if you want to keep the leek whole, use a knife to make a slit from the top to the point where the green meets the white, cutting through the centre. Rinse well under running water, pulling back the layers so that any dirt at the base is removed. Alternatively, slice the leeks, then put in a colander and wash well under running water.
Leeks can be stored in the fridge, for up to a week. As their strong aroma can taint other foods, make sure they are well wrapped.
Steam for up to 8 minutes for sliced and up to 16 minutes for whole. Pan fry for up to 8 minutes, sliced. Leeks are a great ingredient to use in casseroles, tarts, pies and soups. Two of the world’s most famous soups, Scotland’s cock-a-leekie and France’s crème vichyssoise, are based around them.
This flavourful vegetable is labour-intensive to grow. Asparagus are the young shoots of a cultivated lily plant. They’re considered to be one of the delicacies of the vegetable world, and have a distinct, intense savoury flavour. Sprue is the term for young, slender asparagus.
Asparagus is low calorie, and a good source of fibre, vitamins (A, C, E), potassium, folate, iron, and is full of antioxidants. Asparagus can also help serve as a diuretic.
Shopping for asparagus
The tips should be tightly furled and perky, rather than limp, and the shoots should be straight and firm.
Sprue needs no preparation other than a wash. For larger asparagus – which will also have more flavour – bend the spear until it snaps and throw the woody end away. If the ends still feel tough, you can pare away the exterior to reveal the more tender flesh beneath.
Wrap in damp kitchen paper, put in a perforated paper or plastic bag and keep in the salad drawer of the fridge. You can also store it in a glass or jug of cold water in the fridge.
Boil for 3-5 minutes or steam for 4-5 minutes, depending on size. Serve with Hollandaise sauce or hot melted butter, or chop and bake in a quiche. You can also combine with peas, podded broad beans, young spinach leaves and basil for pasta primavera.
Sprinkle with sea salt, brushed with oil and roasted for 15 minutes or grill for 5 minutes, then serve with Parmesan shavings and a spritz of lemon juice, or wrap round with prosciutto. Shaved asparagus works well in salads, and roasted asparagus makes a great springtime side dish.
Native to Asia, these underground bulbs add depth and flavour to savoury dishes. Dry onions are fully matured, with juicy flesh and dry, papery skin and have a pungent flavour that becomes sweet with lengthy cooking.
Varieties of onion differ in size, strength and colour. The yellow onion is the most commonly known variety – it has pale golden skin, greenish-white flesh and a strong taste. Red onions are a milder alternative to the yellow onion with their shiny purple skin and red-tinged flesh. Shallots are a sub-species of onion – they are small and boast a delicate flavour. Spring onions are immature onions pulled before the bulb is fully formed, and can be recognised by their long green leaves. Like red onions, they are fairly mild and often used raw in salads.
Onions are a good medicine for your body, and can help to prevent breathing problems thanks to their amount of quercetin. They are also said to help reduce risk of heart disease and cancers because they are full of bioflavonoids.
More than just a culinary plant, onions contain natural sugar, vitamins A, B6, C and E, and minerals such as sodium, potassium, iron, and fibre. Onions are also a source of folic acid.
Shopping for onions
Look for firm onions, with no soft spots, damp or mouldy patches. Choose from the following, according to your recipe.
White onion: medium to large in shape, with a white papery skin and evenly white flesh. They have a strong flavour and are good for stuffing or baking; only use raw in salads if you want an assertive onion flavour.
Yellow/brown onion: a good all-purpose onion, with a light golden skin and yellow flesh.
Spanish onion: has a similarly coloured skin to a yellow/brown onion, but is usually bigger, as well as sweeter and milder – good for omelettes, salsas and stir-fries.
Red onion: varies in size, but has a distinctive red/purple skin, and the edge of each of its white rings is tinged with red. The flavour is mild and quite sweet. Good for salads, marinades, salsas and roasts.
All onions are best prepared just before you use them. To slice, trim the root off, and then cut in slices moving from the root end towards the top. Leave as slices or separate each one out into rings.
Depending on their condition when purchased, dry onions will keep for several months. Store them in a cool, dry place – not the fridge as they will go soft. Once cut, wrap them up in the fridge and use within two or three days. Spring onions can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Onions are versatile and an essential ingredient in countless recipes.
Gently fry chopped or sliced onion – 7-10 minutes – then use as the base for pasta sauces, soups and stews. Cut into wedges and roast for 40-50 minutes. Cut into rings, batter and deep fry for 3 minutes, or bake for 20-30 minutes.
Super foods are available and easy to find if you know what you;’re looking for , so be sure to do your research and don’t settle for second best. Be sure that when you find a good green grocer to continue to support them regularly.