Tender and Green: A Guide to Early-Spring Farmers Markets

Early spring is a lovely — but fickle — time of the year, when the winter thaw is finally underway and we’re reminded how nice it is to be outdoors. After months of hibernation vibes, we are beyond ready for some color and sunshine.

There is no place better to experience early spring than your local farmers market. During this time of renewal and growth, you’ll find growers’ tables piled high with the first tender produce of the season. Wandering from stall to stall is a great way to meet your neighbors (or maybe go on a low-key first date?), learn more about the crops grown in your region, and get inspired for ways to elevate your mealtimes in the coming week.

Pack up a few reusable tote bags, grab a thermos of iced coffee, and hit up your farmers market this weekend! Here’s what to look for while you’re there:

Garlic Scapes

These curly, green shoots grow out of the top of garlic bulbs and offer the most subtle, alluring garlic flavor you can imagine. They’re truly one of spring’s early treasures, and are only in season for a few weeks! Usually sold by the bunch, these alliums are so delicious added to kale pesto and other herb-y sauces, cooked into soups, or sliced very finely and used raw in salads.

Radishes

One of the first crops of spring, radishes bring color and peppery crunch to all sorts of dishes. The conventional radishes you usually see in the supermarket are the Cherry Belle variety, a crimson red, round radish with green tops. But, at the farmers market, you might come across more unique varieties, like:

  • French Breakfast Radishes: Long and cylindrical, with fuschia tops and white tips.
  • Watermelon Radishes: Dusty green on the outside and a brilliant, shocking pink on the inside. Absolutely gorgeous in salads or on top of avocado toast.
  • Easter Egg Radishes: Each bunch contains a sweet palette of pastel colors, including pink, purple, and white.

Try them thinly sliced in salads, or atop tacos and chili. Or make a classic French snack: Slather a piece of baguette with cultured butter and add a few slices of radish and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. You can also roast radishes (they are, after all, a root vegetable), which mellows their flavor and develops a soft, yielding texture.

Leafy Greens

Lettuces tend to grow well in cool, wet conditions, and spring is their time to shine. You can usually find romaine and spinach at the farmers market; their flavor will be so much fresher than the supermarket stuff. Make a crunchy Caesar salad with the lettuce, and a nutrient-packed pesto with the spinach!

There are other leafy greens to explore, as well:

  • Mizuna: Also called Japanese mustard greens, these peppery greens are native to East Asia but are grown all over the world. They are delicious raw or mixed into stir fries.
  • Watercress: Piquant and crunchy, watercress is versatile and delicious. Add it to simple salads, stir into soups, or even toss it in a smoothie for a dose of green!
  • Dandelion greens: This bitter green is more nutrient-dense than kale! Try them sauteed with garlic, baked into a frittata, or wilted alongside a grilled steak or roasted salmon.

Peas

Spring peas are the youngest, sweetest peas you’ll ever have. If you find some at the market, do not pass them up! There are three types of peas you’re likely to encounter:

  • Snow peas: amazing in stir fries and salads, as they can be eaten cooked or raw.
  • Sweet peas AKA English peas: These are your classic “two peas in a pod” kind of pea. They must be shelled before cooking!
  • Snap peas: A cross between snow peas and sweet peas. These can be eaten whole.

Peas and pasta are BFFs; try your fresh market peas in a Penne Primavera with artichokes and pine nuts; toss with ZENB rotini, shrimp and mint; or with feta and pesto.

Asparagus

The young shoots of asparagus are a prized sign of spring. Look for small, tight stalks for the most mellow grassy flavor, and don’t forget to snap off the woody bottoms before cooking (but save those woody bottoms to use in soup or freeze for later)! In some markets, you might come across purple or white asparagus, which are similar in flavor to classic green asparagus, but bring major color drama to the plate.

There are so many ways to enjoy this elegant veg: grilled and tossed with spicy harissa as a side dish; tossed with shrimp in a zesty lemon-garlic pasta dish; roasted and topped with shaved Parmesan and lemon … we could go on and on.


To keep the plant-powered meal planning going, check out ZENB’s catalog of over 150 recipes, where you can find plenty of ways to cook up your farmers market haul. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for even more fresh-picked ideas and inspiration!


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