This is the time of year when people can’t wait to shed their heavy winter coats and head outside to look for the many signs of spring.
What we want to see is green. After so many months of cold and dreary weather, green grass and blossoming trees are proof positive that the tide is turning and that our yards and gardens are (finally) coming back to life.
Spring also brightens up menus with tender, seasonal veggies and fresh flavors. Sure, nothing beats a big, warming bowl of stew when it’s cold outside. It’s just that after eating those comforting (and filling) dishes for so long, we can’t help but applaud the arrival of delicate, aromatic herbs such as dill, parsley, chives and cilantro, or the crunch of a spicy radish — among the earliest spring harvests for most gardeners.
There’s also the joy of finding bundles of pencil-thin asparagus, spring onions and bunches of fresh, leafy greens like arugula, spinach and baby lettuce at local markets.
Early community-supported agriculture baskets are also a friend to spring kitchens with offerings such as garlic scapes, sweet baby carrots and snap and snow peas.
Until then, you can easily find everything you need to make dishes that burst with spring’s colors and fleeting flavors at your local grocery store. And we’re not just talking about the expected green salad, though a tender spring mix dressed in a vinaigrette with a sprinkle of cheese and a handful of nuts is certainly hard to beat.
A quick and simple salad of chopped, raw radishes tossed with fresh parsley and lemon is a snappy way to start a meal. There’s also something incredibly satisfying about crunching your way through a crisp cucumber sandwich.
If Asian street food is more your style, how about folding chopped green onion into a flat disk of hot water dough, rolling it up like a burrito, flattening it and frying it into an extra-flaky, crispy pancake?
Or maybe you’re thinking brunch. In that case, a savory, custardy quiche studded with asparagus spears and lemon is your friend. It can be made ahead of time and served either warm or at room temperature and makes great leftovers.
Hungry for something a little heartier? Baby spinach is a great stand-in for basil in pesto sauce for pasta. Tossed with short and twisty fusilli, farfalle or tortellini, it makes a great addition to your spring table.
Makes 1 sandwich. Adapted from eatingwell.com
Cucumber sandwiches are often served without crusts as a light and fresh finger food at teas and bridal and baby showers. These are a little heartier, crafted on Mediterra’s Mt. Anthos fire bread.
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sliced fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 slices hearty wheat bread, such as Mediterra’s Mt. Anthos fire bread
1/3 cup thinly sliced English cucumber
Stir cream cheese, yogurt, chives, dill and pepper together in a small bowl until well blended.
Spread the mixture evenly on one side of each bread slice. Top 1 slice with cucumber slices, then top with the other bread slice, cream cheese-side down. If you like, cut off crusts before cutting the sandwich in half diagonally, or leave intact for more heft.
Spring Onion Pancakes
Makes 7 pancakes. From “Dumpling Daughter Heirloom Recipes” by Nadia Liu Spellman and Sally Ling (Dumpling Daughter Inc., $35)
These crispy Chinese pancakes are one of my kids’ favorite finger foods. I love them, too, because all you need is some basic pantry ingredients and a bunch or two of green onions. The dough is quite easy to work with after resting, and the pancakes only take a few minutes to fry.
To make dumpling sauce, whisk together 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely minced, with ½ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup black vinegar, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 finely minced scallion and 4 stems finely chopped cilantro.
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 1/3 cups warm water
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more for cooking
2 bunches scallions, trimmed and chopped
In medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Drizzle in half of the water, mixing with chopsticks to combine. The dough will be flaky before it comes together — be patient. Slowly add the rest of the water and continue mixing with your hands. If dough is sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. The dough should be moist but not stick to your hands,
Add 1 tablespoon oil and mix. Cover bowl with a damp paper towel and let rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.
After resting, knead dough on a floured surface for about 1 minute. It should be smooth and spring back when poked. Return dough to bowl, cover with damp paper towel, and let rest again for 1 hour.
Place chopped scallions in a bowl, add ½ teaspoon salt and toss to combine.
On a floured surface, roll and stretch dough into a large rectangle that measures about 21 by 18 inches and ¼-inch thick. Continue to sprinkle with flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to the surface.
Evenly sprinkle 1 ½ teaspoons salt over the entire surface of dough. Pour 3 tablespoons oil in center, then spread over the entire surface.
Lightly sprinkle 1 teaspoon flour over dough to absorb any oil. Sprinkle scallions evenly over the entire surface.
Working from longest side of the rectangle, roll the dough away from you as you would a cinnamon bun to create a tight rope, then cut 3-inch lengths to portion out 7 rolls.
Tuck scallions into dough by pushing into the center, then crimp the outer layer of the coil together so they’re enclosed. Do this on both sides of the dough rolls, then bring the crimped ends together and pinch, creating a ball with a knot at the top. Place on floured surface with the knot down. Continue with remaining dough.
Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Using a rolling pin, roll out pancake until they’re about 8 inches round and ¼ -inch thick. Always start in the center and roll toward edges to maintain even thickness. As you’re rolling, flip pancake and lightly dust with flour as needed to prevent sticking and to keep scallions inside.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons oil. When it shimmers, place a pancake in the pan. Let it cook until the surface is golden, about 3 minutes, then slip with a spatula. Be careful of spattering oil! It is a good idea to peek under the pancake often.
If pancake becomes dry and starts to burn, add a little more oil, ½ teaspoon at a time and/or reduce heat. Continue cooking until both sides are golden and crispy.
Turn pancakes onto cutting board, dab with paper towels to remove excess oil and slice into wedges. Serve with dumpling sauce.
Lemon And Asparagus Quiche
Makes 1 quiche. Adapted from Doriegreenspan.com
Served with a tossed salad, a custard-filled quiche is just as good for dinner as it is for brunch or breakfast. In this spring version, the pastry crust is loaded with tender stalks of asparagus and fresh herbs, with lemon zest adding fresh citrus notes.
A tart pan is ideal but if you are without, no worries: I made mine in a springform pan and it turned out fine. Because the filling is wet, it’s important to blind bake the crust so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom.
- For crust
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons ice water
- For filling
½ pound asparagus, trimmed
1 ½ teaspoons unsalted butter
2 small shallots, finely minced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest from 1 lemon, preferably organic
2 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sour cream
¼ cup minced mixed fresh herbs
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, optional
Olive oil, for brushing
Prepare crust: In bowl of food processor, pulse flour and salt until combined, then add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. In separate bowl, whisk together egg and yolk with ice water. Add to flour mixture and pulse until moist crumbs start to form (no longer). Form dough into a disk (or 2 disks if making 2 quiches in pie plates), cover in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
After resting, let dough sit at room temperature until pliable, then roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 14-inch round. Fit into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, folding and pressing sides to an even thickness. (Or roll out 2 disks to 11-inch rounds and fit into 8- or 9-inch pie plates.)
Trim edge of dough flush with top of tart pan. (If using pie plates, fold edges of dough under and crimp as desired.) Wrap in plastic; freeze at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line crust with parchment, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 20 minutes with a baking sheet on rack below; remove paper and beans. Let cool.
Reduce oven to 375 degrees.
Bring large skillet of salted water to a boil. Drop in asparagus and blanch for 3 minutes — or 90 seconds if you’ve got pencil asparagus (it shouldn’t be completely cooked). Drain in a colander, run under cold water and pat dry.
Cut off asparagus tips to make them about 3 inches long. If your asparagus is thick, slice lengthwise in half. Cut remaining stalks on the bias into slices about ¼ to ½ inch wide. Wipe out the skillet.
Put skillet over medium heat and add butter. When it’s melted, toss in shallots and cook, stirring, just until softened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and scrape into the crust, spreading them evenly. Add lemon zest and sliced asparagus stalks.
Whisk eggs, cream, sour cream and herbs together in a bowl just until blended. Season with salt (about ¼ teaspoon) and pepper, then pour into prepared crust. Arrange asparagus tips (cut side down if you’ve halved them) in any way you like on top of the filling.
Bake quiche for 25-30 minutes, sprinkling on Parmesan cheese, if using, after quiche has been in the oven for 20 minutes. The quiche is done when the custard is set — a tester will come out clean — and puffed. Transfer to a rack and, if you like, brush olive oil over the top, using only enough to give it a gloss.
Serve quiche when it’s just warm or has come to room temperature.
Serves 4. From pbs.org/food
This crunchy, refreshing Tunisian-inspired salad is super easy to prepare and will add a pop of color to any table. Generally served in small portions, it makes a lovely accompaniment to a spring meal and can also be used to dress up sandwiches.
1 bunch of red radishes, about 1 ½ cups finely chopped (choose a variety)
½ bunch of parsley, about ½ cup finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pinch of pepper
2 pinches of salt
Wash radishes and remove the stems and any long roots. Finely cube into small or even tiny pieces.
Wash parsley and gently shake it or pat dry. Finely mince.
Place cubed radishes and minced parsley in a small salad bowl.
Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss gently. Add olive oil and toss again.
Taste the salad and add lemon juice and salt to your liking.
Serves 4. From “RecipeTin Eats Dinner: 150 Recipes for Fast Everyday Meals” by Nagi Maehashi (Countryman Press, March 2023, $35)
Tired of red sauce? Go green — and up your veggie intake — with this eye-catching bowl of spinach-pesto spaghetti. It couldn’t be easier to make; all you need is a food processor. For a different take, swap the spinach for kale, Swiss chard or ramps, if you can find them. You also can trade walnuts or almonds for the pine nuts.
Here, pesto is used to dress pasta but you also can spoon it onto pizza, tuck it into sandwiches, serve it as a dip or use it as a topping for fish or chicken.
- For pasta
1 pound spaghetti, or other pasta of choice
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Extra Parmesan, shaved or shredded, to serve
Baby spinach, to serve
Toasted pine nuts, to serve
- For pesto
4 tightly packed cups baby spinach leaves
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ tightly packed cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Make pesto: Place all ingredients except oil into a food processor. Jam that spinach in, there’s a LOT of it! Blitz until spinach is chopped into pesto-sized bits. Scrape the sides down as needed. With the motor running on low, pour oil in a thin stream. Set aside while you prepare pasta.
Cook spaghetti in boiling water with salt per the package directions. Just before draining, scoop out 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain spaghetti, then return to the empty pot.
Add a couple generous scoops of pesto to the pot with ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss well, using the extra water as needed to loosen. Add more pesto, if desired. Serve immediately while hot, or let it cool and serve at room temperature like you would a pasta salad. Either way, garnish with Parmesan, baby spinach, and pine nuts.