Seasonal Eats Offer Beneficial Treats
As restaurant trends go, "local and sustainable" has been on everyone's minds and lips for a number of years now. And with good reason. We all know the importance of cooking and eating in-season produce. Come spring, gorgeous produce like asparagus, peas, fava beans and rhubarb hit the markets and start popping up in new dishes on menus around the country. This doesn't mean you need to completely overhaul your entire menu to account for these seasonal ingredients, but adding a few signature items, or nightly specials, can help showcase these exciting ingredients. Not only will it help keep things fresh for your customers but seasonal fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs also offer diners numerous health benefits.
"When you're eating what's most fresh and in season, you're getting the most nutrients in their best state," said Registered Dietitian Holley Grainger, a nationally recognized nutrition and lifestyle expert and the former food and nutrition editor of CookingLight.com. She says it's important to provide a range of produce encompassing a variety of colors. Why? "Not only are you dazzling the eyes, you are providing a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber," she added. Different fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals." So what do you need to look for? We break it down for you.
Cooking with green, white or purple asparagus adds more than color and flavor to a dish. Asparagus contains fiber, folic acid and potassium as well as vitamins A, B6, C, E and K. It also contains glutathione, which acts as a detoxifier to attack carcinogens in the body, and the amino acid asparagine, which helps increase urine production to remove unwanted toxins from the body.
SUGGESTED USES: Add to breakfast in omelets or frittatas; add to risotto; pan sauté cut-up asparagus and chicken breast to set atop penne pasta; throw it on the grill next to a filet or New York strip.
For as small as they are, fava beans are quite the little powerhouse. The beans, also known as broad beans (mostly across the pond in the U.K.), are a good source of fiber and folate. Even more, favas are a good source of lean protein, have no cholesterol and contain vitamin B6, vitamin K, thiamin, potassium, zinc, iron, magnesium and manganese.
SUGGESTED USES: Make spaghetti with favas, peas and Parmesan cheese; salad with favas, corn, red onion, feta cheese and vinaigrette; fava soup; seared scallops with fava bean puree.
In theory you can get strawberries all year, but using them when they're fresh is truly the best. Gorgeous strawberries look and taste great in a dish, but they also have an incredible amount of nutrients. Strawberries contain anthocyanins [source: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030314p20.shtml], naturally occurring compounds that help give the fruit its vibrant red color and can also help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. Strawberries are anti-inflammatory [source: http://nutrition.about.com/od/What-Are-Healthy-Foods/ss/17-Anti-Inflammatory-Foods_13.htm#step-heading] and, due to high amounts of vitamin C, are an antioxidant, too.
SUGGESTED USES: Add to a breakfast smoothie; fresh spring fruit salad; balsamic strawberries atop vanilla bean ice cream; strawberry shortcake
What pastry chef doesn't love making fresh rhubarb pie? The tartness inside a rustic crust signals the height of spring and summer is around the corner. It's more than delicious. Rhubarb, however you make it, offers calcium, vitamin K, lutein (great for skin and eye health), antioxidants, called stilbenes, and a naphthalene glucoside, which can help fight cancer-causing free radicals [source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11197344]. Just be sure to remove the leaves before cooking; they can be poisonous.
SUGGESTED USES: Strawberry-rhubarb pie; rhubarb-cranberry tart with a crumbly crust; grilled pork chop topped with rhubarb compote.
Who knew that knobby little root could offer such goodness? Spicy ginger has many benefits: It has been shown to curb nausea and motion sickness, acts as an anti-inflammatory (especially in relation to osteoarthritis) and studies have shown it may aid in lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots to treat heart disease. With all these benefits, you wonder why you're not cooking with it all the time! [source: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger]
SUGGESTED USES: Stir-fry vegetables with ginger soy sesame sauce; carrot ginger soup; ginger cookies; housemade ginger ale.
Adding mint to a stew or a cocktail truly enhances the flavor profile, but it also helps curb nausea, especially in pregnant women [source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23396673]. The antioxidant rosmarinic acid offers anti-inflammatory properties [source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630183] that help reduce seasonal allergies, which is great for spring!
SUGGESTED USES: Grilled lamb chops with mint yogurt; watermelon-cucumber-tomato salad with fresh mint and feta cheese; mint chocolate chip ice cream; grilled asparagus topped with fresh mint and lemon.