It’s spring: time to give winter staples the boot and dedicate dinnertime to those tender young things now appearing at greenmarkets and farm stands. You want to know when new vegetables will come into season, and the best ways to use them, and we’ve got you covered. We look forward to these spring vegetables (and herbs, and fruits) every year, for the new start they represent and for the fact that they’re all so vibrant and delicious. If you’re getting impatient for their arrival, we feel you, but tide yourself over with the promise that these are all on their way, and may even now be showing up.
Spring Produce Season Cheat Sheet
Below, an A-Z of our favorite spring vegetables and when they usually appear (and exit, after all too brief a stay)—of course, it all depends on where you are, what the weather’s doing in any given year, and so on, but in general, these periods are when each ingredient is at its peak.
- Artichokes (Oct. – May; best between Mar. – May)
- Asparagus (Feb. – Jun.; best in April – May)
- Baby Carrots (May)
- Chives (May – Jun.)
- Fava Beans (Mar. – May)
- Fiddlehead Ferns (April – May)
- Green Garlic (Feb. – Jun.)
- Kohlrabi (Feb. – Apr.)
- Morel Mushrooms (Mar. – Jun.)
- New Potatoes (Apr. – Jul.)
- Nettles (Jan. – Jul.)
- Pea Sprouts or Pea Shoots (Mar. – May)
- Peas (Apr. – May)
- Radishes (Feb. – May)
- Ramps (Apr. – Jun.)
- Rhubarb (Apr. – Jun.)
- Snow Peas (Apr. – Jun.)
- Strawberries (Apr. – Jun.)
- Tarragon (Apr. – Aug.)
- White Asparagus (Apr. – Jun.)
Spring Produce Guide
Get more in-depth info on each precious bit of produce you’ll see this season, including ideas on how best to use them while you can.
These edible thistles contain an acid called cynarin that makes everything taste sweet after eating them. They are admittedly time-consuming to prepare, but lovers of artichokes (like Catherine de Medici, for one) know it’s worth it. See our Basic Steamed Artichoke recipe and pair the tender leaves with a classic aioli or any other dipping sauce you fancy.
You are probably well aware by now that “asparagus pee” is a thing, but did you know China is the world’s top asparagus producer, or that it takes three years to grow from a seed? While it’s common practice to snap off the woody ends, you can usually simply use a veggie peeler to shave off the tougher layer on the bottom. Tender spring asparagus is delicious raw in a salad, simply roasted, or starring in various other preparations, like our Asparagus Frittata recipe.
These small, tender artichokes grow lower down on the stalk than their more mature brethren. They just need to be trimmed a bit, and can be eaten raw if sliced very thinly, or halved or kept whole and then cooked. So if you find preparing full-size artichokes a pain, keep your eyes peeled for these little guys. And try them in our Braised Baby Artichokes recipe, roast them for a nuttier flavor, or fry them for a crisp snack.
The first carrots were cultivated in Afghanistan, and were more purplish-red than orange. You can find them in various colors from pale yellow to dark purple at farmers’ markets and some grocery stores these days, with the darker colors being sweeter. But true baby carrots are not the same thing as those orange nubs you buy in bags; those are just whittled-down chunks of larger carrots with clever marketing behind them. Look for intact baby carrots in spring, and braise, steam, or roast them whole for a lovely presentation. If you scrub them well, there’s no need to peel off the skin.
One of the first herbs to emerge from the ground, chives are not the same as scallions or green onions, though they are a member of the allium family and have that characteristic pungent smell and taste. They’re more delicate and sweet than raw onions or garlic, though, and are great snipped into salads and sprinkled on top of all sorts of things, from pasta and soup to risotto, quiches, tarts, and roasted veggies. Blend them into chive butter, biscuit dough, and salad dressing too. Basically, use them everywhere. You can (and should!) also eat their flowers. Chives freeze and rot easily, so store them in the warmest part of the refrigerator.
Favas were the only bean known to Europe until the discovery of the New World. They are a truly spectacular treat, but like the artichoke, they’re high-maintenance. You have to split open their pods, of course, and then pinch each individual bean out of its skin as well. But the reward is tender, bright green, sweet, spring-flavored bliss. If you have really small favas—like, pea-sized—then you can get away with leaving them in the skin. Or try this trick from The New York Times: roast larger favas and then eat them like edamame, popping them from their skins as you snack. Otherwise, we like them in warm salads like this one with chanterelles and poached eggs, or a version with green beans and radicchio, or in a Fava Bean Puree.
The unfurled fronds of young ferns are a popular ingredient in Indonesian cooking, but they’ve also become a hot ticket on artisanal American menus. You can prepare them in many ways, but you should always clean them well (those curls hold on to dirt, bugs, and potentially dangerous bacteria), and boil or steam them until tender, after which you can saute them if you like. This Gulai Pakis recipe puts them in a rich coconut milk sauce with fragrant spices like ginger, lemongrass, and turmeric.
Green garlic is pulled from the ground before the actual garlic bulb forms and looks similar to scallions, but tastes like a much milder version of a garlic clove. Try it in our Green Garlic Aioli recipe or our Angel Hair Pasta with Green Garlic Cream recipe—or make it into pesto, or chop it up to mix into salads for a bit of bite.
The German-derived name of this homely vegetable translates as “cabbage turnip” and it’s a delicious flavor hybrid of broccoli, celery, and potato—which helps explain why it’s so good in our Mock Potato Salad recipe, not to mention roasted or made into a mash. You can eat it raw, too, in slaws or salads, especially when you get your hands on the small, tender specimens that turn up in spring.
Crinkle-capped morel mushrooms emerge in spring for a brief period and are treated (appropriately) like treasure by serious mushroom hunters. If you’re not a seasoned forager and can’t find a professional to help guide you, stick to your farm stands and high-end supermarkets and you should get a crack at these nutty, meaty, beloved fungi at least once or twice during the season. You can add them to pizzas and pastas or simply saute them and enrich with a touch of cream (and Cognac…) and pile them on toast for a casual yet celebratory spring meal.
New potatoes are freshly dug potatoes that have not reached maturity and have never been kept in storage. Tender, creamy, and mildly earthy-sweet with the thinnest skins (don’t even consider trying to peel them), they’re great in all sorts of potato salads, or simply steamed or roasted with fresh herbs, butter, and salt and pepper.
Nettles are covered in tiny, hollow, needlelike hairs filled with a toxicant that irritates people’s skin—hence their full name, stinging nettles. Cooking, drying, or freezing nettles renders them totally safe to eat, but you have to wonder who first felt brave enough to figure that out. Try them simply sauteed as a green side, or (once cooked) pile them up on on ricotta toasts. They have a nutty, herbal flavor that’s great in soup or on pizza too. Swap them in anywhere you’d use cooked chard or spinach, in fact.
Pea shoots (or pea sprouts, or pea tendrils) are the tender first growth of the snow pea or English pea plant. They can be found year-round but become more prevalent at farmers’ markets in the spring. With a sweet, clean taste reminiscent of peas (shocking, right?), they’re great in salads or stir-fries.
Peas were originally very starchy; gardeners cultivated the sweet green garden pea during the Renaissance, and now they’re one of the most exalted spring treats around. Cook them gently, if at all. A couple of our favorite ways to use them are in our bright Green Pea Soup recipe (equally good warm or chilled), and our Pea Custard Salad, which is an elegant interpretation of spring on a plate.
Red radishes are another of those things you’ll see all year, and they’re actually consistently tasty, but spring is prime time for many varieties. Sliced raw for salads, radishes (any kind) lend a mildly spicy bite and fresh, tender crunch, but they’re great pickled for garnishes too—and you can even cook them, as in our Pan-Seared Radishes with Miso Butter recipe. If the greens look good, they’re also edible. Garden Betty has more great info on winter radishes vs spring radishes.
Ramps are a wild leek native to Appalachia. Like many other formerly under-the-radar ingredients (nationally speaking, at least), they’ve become an incredibly sought-after farmers’ market item and darling of chefs. To wit: try David Chang’s Pickled Ramps recipe. You can also braise them, grill them, or roast them. Read more about why people obsess over ramps if you’re not yet one of them.
This perennial vegetable of Asian descent has toxic leaves that shouldn’t be eaten. The edible stalk of the plant looks something like pink-to-ruby-hued celery and tastes extremely bitter and astringent when raw, which may explain why it so often turns up in sugary desserts that balance the rhubarb’s tart flavor. Technically, it’s a vegetable, but is usually treated like a fruit—baked into pies, crumbles, bars, and the like. But try it in our savory Rhubarb-Braised Chicken recipe too—and consider our Roasted Rhubarb Compote recipe and Rhubarb Syrup recipe while you’re at it.
The French name for snow peas is mange-tout, which translates as “eat it all”—quite true, since not a bit of them goes to waste; they’re tender enough to eat as-is, including the sweet pod (just pull off the stringy tips/ends first). These are available year-round but peak in the spring and fall. Toss them into salads, or stir-fry them. (Incidentally, sugar snap peas are a cross between snow peas and English peas, and can also be eaten raw.)
Wild strawberries were so plentiful in America that there was limited garden cultivation of the fruit until the late 18th century. Now, they’re gown on mega-farms all year round, but they’re only truly great in season, from mid-to-late spring through summer. Naturally, they shine in desserts from strawberry shortcake to pie, but work equally well raw in salads like our Shaved Fennel and Strawberry Salad. Try preserving them in homemade jam or jelly too—because you’ll want to hold on to that flavor as long as possible.
Tarragon was once thought to ward off serpents and dragons and to heal snakebites. We don’t know about that, but it is a fantastically fragrant and underappreciated herb from the sunflower family, with notes of sweet anise. It’s strong, but using it fresh gives you a little more margin for error; use it to infuse vinegar, or pair it with eggs (like our Deviled Eggs with Tarragon) or chicken (as in our classic Tarragon Chicken Salad recipe). It’s also good in mocktails (or cocktails) or made into a savory shallot-herb jam for grilled cheese sandwiches and roasted meats.
White asparagus is grown without exposure to sunlight, which would turn the stalks green—otherwise, it’s the exact same thing as the more common produce section staple. It does cost more due to the extra labor involved in growing it, and it does have a slightly different, more delicate flavor. Read more about white asparagus, and try showcasing it in our White Asparagus Soup recipe.
If you want to showcase a whole bunch of springtime bounty in a single meal, check out our Cooking with the First Signs of Spring menu.
Since it would be a shame to waste any of these lovely ingredients, see our guide on how to reduce food waste, and our tips on storing fresh fruit and vegetables so they last longer. And explore all the rest of the season’s best at our spring headquarters.
This post was originally published on April 23, 2007 and was updated with new images, links, and text on March 30, 2019.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.