After months of existing on a diet of winter vegetables, spring is on the horizon, bringing with it a new crop of nutritious vegetables. With the onset of spring, comes rising temperatures, longer days, April showers and the promise of new blooms and new crops including an abundance of leafier, greener and infinitely more exciting vegetables that make perfect additions to every meal.
Asparagus is a short season here in the UK (although available from other countries year-round), and is one of the healthiest vegetables out there. Not only is it rich in protein and low in calories but it contains high levels of dietary fibre and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Quick and easy to cook by steaming, grilling or frying, it can be ready in a matter of minutes and makes for a tasty and healthy addition to a meal.
Artichokes are a delicious and versatile spring vegetable and can be can be fried, boiled, baked and even stuffed! Not only this but artichokes, like asparagus, are a fine source of dietary fibre, have almost no fat content and contain many essential minerals and nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, calcium, folic acid and vitamins A and C. Artichokes promote liver health, help reduce the risk and symptoms of a range of digestive problems, and even lower cholesterol.
Along with other members of the cabbage family, watercress is a spring vegetable bursting with essential nutrients and minerals such as vitamins A, B6, C, E and K as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and the potent flavonoid, quercetin, which serves as a natural anti-inflammatory. Watercress can be added to sandwiches and salads so it is an easy addition to your diet.
Eating more spinach can give you a number of health advantages and for this reason, it has become one of the most famous vegetables. Containing high levels of vitamins C and K, folic acid, magnesium and iron, spinach is a nutrient-rich vegetable. It is also a good source of vitamin B6 and flavonoids which have been proven to lower the risk of cancer. Many people find spinach leaves bitter, but the availability of young spinach leaves, which are much milder (and more versatile), means it now appeals to a much wider audience. Spinach also aids in the prevention of cataracts and heart disease and has zero fat content and almost no carbohydrates, and, given that it can be steamed, boiled or washed and eaten raw in salads, it is an excellent choice of vegetable for promoting weight loss and maintaining a healthy diet.
Radishes and their green tops are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium and folic acid. By simply finely slicing and adding radishes to your salads, you can enjoy the health benefits that this little vegetable affords such as increased blood and kidney health, lowering your risk of cancer, improving digestion and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant advantages each radish holds.
Onions may not be the most obvious of healthy spring vegetables but they certainly are worth a closer look. Onion varieties such as spring onions (scallions) are available in abundance at this time of year and can be used in salads, soups stir-fries and a number of other dishes. Low in calories and high in potassium, phosphorus and calcium, onions are a natural diuretic and help to treat asthma as well as lower cholesterol.
The more greens you eat, the better, and the darker the better, too. While iceberg lettuce is great for crunch, make sure to add dark green salad greens, such as spinach and romaine. You'll get more B vitamins that way, and more flavour.
Once you have the greens, choose some vegetables: fresh peas, perhaps, also in also in season soon, with a basil pesto salad dressing are a great choice for spring. Or try a garden medley, with fresh radishes, celery, carrots and anything else that you have on hand. You'll end up with a colourful, flavourful salad that offers a wide variety of nutrients.
Try making your own salad dressing or vinaigrette. If you do this, you can control the amount of fat and salt you're getting. The basic ratio of oil to vinegar is three to one. However, you can add less oil to make it low fat, and substitute different varieties of vinegar for a different flavour. Add salt and pepper, (and perhaps a little mustard), along with a few of your favourite herbs and you're done. Consider adding a little sugar to cut the acidity - many ready-made salad dressings actually contain quite a bit of sugar.
To take your salad to another level, consider adding a lean source of protein. You'll get a filling, but light meal that won't leave you feeling over-stuffed. Try asparagus with salmon over fresh spinach salad for a classic combination. Grilled chicken over a Caesar salad is also popular. Or try beef over a warm salad of greens and sauteed red peppers and mushrooms. Or add hard-cooked eggs to a garden salad for a filling chef's salad.
Finally, use garnishes for a final burst of flavour or crunch. Croutons, nuts or seeds can be matched to any flavour base. Try different quality cheeses to top off your salad too. You'll get the flavour you're looking for without an overdose of fat and salt.
Changing your cooking to match the seasons means you'll get fresh, nutrient-packed ingredients that are tasty and light. Having salad as a meal this spring will help you get a healthy start for the new season.