27 April 2012

The bites of spring: Farmers market oddities

That feeling you get when you see the first spring-ripened strawberries back on the market after a long winter. Not those "filler" strawberries, those fibrous stand-ins for the real deal that languish plumply in supermarket crates for customers unwilling to wait -- those are a bit of an abomination. To me, the sight of the first true farmers' market strawberries is one of the main reasons to welcome spring. However, this year I'm willing to branch out a bit beyond the strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry trinity: I'm feeling feisty, adventurous, ready to explore!

Living a plant-based lifestyle is such a great opportunity to get acquainted with the whole spectrum of incredible fruits and vegetables the planet has on offer, especially those that are a bit less common on the American plate. However, there's so much of the unknown out there that it can be difficult to know what to try first. I've compiled a list of various fruits and veggies that are currently hitting farmers' market stands near you, and are worth a try for those willing step outside of the supermarket aisle.

Loquats: Originating from China but now grown in various regions across California, the loquat is a medley of flavors: citrus and peach with tropical undertones. They hit their prime starting in May and are perfect for jellies, compotes or even cobblers. For the truly ambitious, loquats can actually be fermented for a year to produce wine. Various loquat recipes can be found here.

Nopales (aka cactus pads): Nopales can be a highlight of Mexican-style dishes, whether they're filled with a simple spicy stuffing or incorporated into huevos rancheros. Eaten raw or cooked, their versatility and flavor should be enough incentive to quell any fears of their prickly surfaces (which should rightly be removed before eating). Keep an eye out for them starting in May. Check out recipes here.

Purslane: Not commonly heard of and widely considered to be an invasive weed, purslane gets a unfairly bad rep; especially considering its vitamin-and-omega 3-rich content. Petite and leafy, these veggies can be used as a crispy green in sandwiches or even pickled for use as a side dish. Hits markets in April and stays available throughout autumn and winter months. Some simple recipes here.

Fiddlehead ferns: A Google Images search is definitely warranted to check out pictures of this unique, furled plant. The name represents a specific stage during the growth cycle of a fern plant, during which the tip of the fern curls into a tight spiral with fuzzy brown scales. Sound a bit extraterrestrial-esque? Don't be scared; these springtime veggies can be easily incorporated into soups or salads and savored for their mineral-rich, woodsy taste. Find an abundance of recipes here.

There are hundreds of different varieties of produce yet to be explored just outside your supermarket parking lot. So check out some farmers' markets, and ask loads of questions to figure out what new food you'd like to try. There's no easier way to feel like a culinary trail-blazer!

Danielle Snow | Facebook | blog
Chicago, IL Danielle is an avid eater who, after switching to vegetarianism, discovered a renewed passion for food in all its fascinating varieties. Currently living and studying in Chicago, she hopes to devote her life to travel, learning, and having haphazard adventures that she can write about afterward.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/frankenstoen