Now’s the time for spring veggies

If you’ve been meaning to clean up your diet, there is no time better than right now to get started. Farm-fresh spring vegetables are hitting the Lowcountry, S.C., and you’d be very smart — health wise — to buy them.

Most plentiful at the moment are nutrient-loaded greens — turnips, kales, lettuces, chards and collards. Asparagus, peas and Spring onions are ready as well. Here’s a quick rundown on some of my favorites:

— Turnip Greens: The green, leafy tops of the turnip plant are among the most nutritious veggies in the world. Turnip greens are excellent sources of essential vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that can offer protection from vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia.

Most folks say turnip greens are fall and winter crops. But the ones you find for sale right now are superb. Try the small Japanese variety called Hakurei, or Tokyo, turnips. The greens are extremely tasty, and the peppery roots — no larger that a golf ball in size — are excellent cooked, or sliced and eaten raw. Simply wash them and serve as you would water chestnuts. No need to peel the skins.

Turnip roots should be stored unwashed in a sealed plastic bag in the hydrator drawer of your refrigerator. Store greens separately wrapped in damp towel or in a plastic bag, but use them as soon as possible.

— Asparagus: Asparagus is freshest and tastiest in spring. One stalk contains only four calories and delivers healthy doses of foliate, potassium and fiber. Buy the fat ones whose buds have yet to spread. They will keep for a couple of days if you stand the spears upright in a glass of water. Eat them raw or sautéed in vegetable or regular olive oil.

— Peas: Take advantage of tasty peas now because 95 percent grown nationally are either frozen or canned. Choose sugar snaps if you’re looking for tasty edible pods to throw in a salad or to simply sauté. Choose shelled varieties if fresh and simply shell them yourself. Peas are a good source of vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C, iron, fiber, vitamin B1 and foliate.

Select peas that are bright in coloring without brown, bruised or withering ends. Peas hold up well in plastic bags. Try to squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing them. They’ll stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to four days.

— Salad Greens: Seasonal salad greens including lettuces, spinach, kale, watercress and arugula are peaking here now. But no need in wasting time and money on iceberg lettuce, which has little or no health value other than water.

Salad greens are almost calorie free, but provide lots of foliate, vitamin C, fiber, potassium and carotene, which help neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.

Buy triple-washed greens singularly or mixed in bags and plastic tubs. Or get them fresh, and clean them yourself. Avoid greens that are brown, yellow, wilted, blemished, bruised or slimy. A good place to check is the stems. If they’re whole and firm, they’re probably fresh. Be sure each leaf is dry before storing in the plastic bags in your refrigerator crisper. You should get up to five days of freshness that way.

— Spring Onions: Also known as scallions, spring onions are in fact very young onions, harvested before the bulb has had a chance to swell. Both the long, slender green tops and the small white bulb are edible, either raw or cooked. They have a similar flavor to onions, but milder.

Look for firm bulbs and bright green, perky leaves. Avoid those that are slimy or wilting. The skin covering a spring onion bulb can be either white or deep red fading to white at the roots. The bulb can be quite pronounced or more like a leek in shape, with no noticeable swelling.

Store spring onions in a perforated bag in the fridge. They do not last as long as onions, about five days at the most.

So do yourself and your family a healthy favor. Stop by your favorite grocery store and roadside stand, and load up on all sorts of spring vegetables. They are currently available almost everywhere, and soon there will be lots of fresh, local tomatoes too. Find out more benefits of tomatoes here.

Lisa Burbage

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