April showers bring … May green!
Spring has come to the Adirondacks. The lakes are open. Loons, geese, ducks, robins, and songbirds have returned. The snow is gone, and the brown earth and dry winter grass is now a bright spring green. Trees are starting to leaf out.
Spring symbolizes new life. After a long, dark winter, the new green growth is like a ray of sunshine chasing away winter’s darkness. Longer days and warmer temperatures bring us new, fresh, delicious ingredients. An abundance of fresh eggs is another sign of the season. Chickens lay more eggs in spring; this is when, in nature, baby birds hatch.
We’ve planted spinach, arugula, lettuce and peas but they won’t be ready to harvest for a few weeks. The asparagus and rhubarb have not yet poked their stems through the damp soil. But daffodils are blooming their sunshine yellow. Bright green dandelion shoots are popping up everywhere. In the garden, we’ve dug up parsnips and sunchokes left to winter in the ground. Chives are abundant. Ramps are poking up in the woods. At home, we have planted some pea shoots under lights to add to our spring repertoire.
These early shoots and tender leaves satisfy our spring cravings for fresh greens and strong, bright flavors. Early spring greens contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals with very few calories. Chives provide vitamins A and C as well as potassium and calcium.
Often scorned as weeds, dandelions are actually a European plant brought here as a food crop by colonists from the Old World. In the American South, they’re still popular and can be found in produce sections of supermarkets. Those immigrants knew that these hardy greens are loaded with nutrients. Dandelions contain more calcium than milk, and provide more than ten times the vitamin A of lettuce (a one-cup serving contains more than the daily RDA). They’re high in vitamin C and contain vitamins B6, E, folate, thiamin, and riboflavin. They’re a good source of the minerals iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Like other greens, they’re high in fiber and low in calories — a mere 25 calories per cup.
Dandelion greens should be harvested now, while they’re still tender and before they bloom and become tough and bitter. Be sure to harvest only from areas that haven’t been sprayed with herbicide and aren’t close to traffic. The fresh, young greens are a great addition to salads. They’re also great stir-fried or in frittatas, omelets, quiche and other egg dishes. Later in the season, you can pick the flower buds and young blooms for fritters.
Bright green chives are a perennial herb that is growing lush green in our garden. The tender, tubular leaves are the mildest of alliums, which also include onions, leeks and garlic. As alliums, chives have antibacterial properties, help to reduce blood pressure, and help improve digestion. With almost no calories, they provide potassium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Their fresh green color adds visual appeal and a mild onion flavor to savory dishes. Sprinkle them on top of soups and salads. Add to butter to coat vegetables. They’re fabulous on potatoes.
Also known as wild garlic or wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are native to our region. They grow in rich, moist soil on wooded hillsides covered by hardwoods like oaks, elms, and beech. For the forager, they provide a fleeting spring delicacy, as the strong-scented leaves will die after the leaf canopy above them thickens to block out light. Use them in any recipe that calls for garlic or onions. The flavor is milder but lasts longer. They’re great in potatoes, pasta, or grain-based dishes. Be careful when harvesting – do not overharvest, and cut only the green leaves, leaving the bulbs in the soil. I generally don’t cut more than one leaf from each plant.
These first greens of spring are high in vitamin C and A, lutein, as well as many minerals (magnesium, calcium and selenium). They have diuretic, laxative and antiseptic properties, and contain the cholesterol-reducing compounds found in garlic and other alliums, as well as prostaglandin A1, a fatty acid known to be therapeutic in the treatment of hypertension. Native Americans were familiar with them and used ramps to treat coughs and colds. They made a poultice from the juice of the bulbs to alleviate the pain and itching of bee stings.
Bright, green and cheerful, light and crisp, sweet and refreshing, delicate pea shoots embody spring’s fresh flavor. Like other greens, pea shoots are a nutrient-dense food — packing a lot of nutrients with just 5 calories per cup, and no fat. They are rich in antioxidants like carotene that protect cells from damage and help prevent disease, and loaded with important vitamins: C, A, E, K, thiamine, folic acid, riboflavin, and B-6. Lignins, quercetin and caffeic acid are phytonutrients in pea plants that have beneficial health effects and may prevent certain cancers.
Chives, pea shoots, dandelions and ramps add bright green color and their variety of flavors to spring feasts!
Wild Greens Greek Salad
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 to 3 cups tender dandelion greens
Lettuce or mesclun mix, optional
1 cup pea shoots
1/2 cup minced chives
1/2 cup sliced sweet onion (about 1/4 of a large onion)
1 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Hard cook the egg. Place in cool water with 1 inch to cover; bring to a simmer; let sit in hot or simmering water for about 10 minutes; rinse under cool water and peel Set aside.
Crush garlic with salt. In large salad bowl, mix garlic paste with oil, lemon juice, and mustard; whisk with a fork. Wash greens; add. Peel and slice the onion into thin half-rings; chop the egg; add. Mix all to coat with dressing. Add olives and feta and mix again.
Serve with fresh crusty baguette. Serves 2 to 3.
Wild Greens Quiche
1 medium potato
2 Tablespoons cooking oil or butter or combination
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces Portobello mushrooms
1″ section turmeric root, minced (optional)
3 cups dandelion greens
1/2 cup ramp greens OR 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Coat bottom and sides of pie plate with 1 Tablespoon oil.
Peel or scrub thoroughly parsnip and potato. Shred potato and parsnip; mix; use to line pie plate.
Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees.
Add the other tablespoon oil to a large skillet. Peel and dice the onion; add; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook on low 5 minutes.
Clean and slice the mushrooms; mince turmeric, if using. Add to the skillet with the onion. Continue cooking about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Wash thoroughly and coarsely chop dandelion greens and ramps; add to skillet, along with any clinging water. Add 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Cook 5 minutes to wilt.
In large bowl, beat eggs with salt & pepper; beat in cottage cheese. Stir in contents of skillet. Transfer mixture to prepared pie plate. Sprinkle top with cheddar cheese.
Bake until set, 40 to 50 minutes.
Serves 3 to 4.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.