An Easy Guide to Picking the Best Produce

While amazing, bright flavors (and colors) are an obvious reason to embrace the spring season, eating fresh spring produce is good for plenty more reasons. While almost all produce can be grownsomewhereyear-round, trucking produce across the country (or the world) can be pretty rough.According to the USDA, produce may andhelp local economies.Plus, it might even result in more nutritious produce. Here are some of the best picks for spring, how to use 'em, and what to look for when digging through the produce aisle.Spring ProduceIllustration by Christopher Hardgrove

Arugula may have a serious identity crisis — it goes by rocket, roquette, rugula, and rucola — but we still love its peppery flavor. in bunches or loose with attached roots and only stays fresh for a couple of days. It's ultra-low in calories and packs a healthy dose of vitamin K. It's best in the early spring, and while it's great as a salad green, don't shy away from in hot dishes, too.

WatercressAs its name suggests, this green crops up , but is actually not too different from arugula in flavor. It's one of a few veggies that in the north. Look for crisp, deep green and try it hot or cold. This bad boy will in the fridge.

Dandelion GreensThese are named after the "dent de lion" (that's lion's tooth, in French) they resemble. They have a bitter, tangy flavor and are good in salads or warm dishes. Plus, they're packed with vitamins A and K (per cup, more than 100 and 500 percent of the daily value, respectively). pop up during early spring and should be bright green and crisp. At home, chill them tightly wrapped in plastic for up to five days.

FennelIt's where , but trust us — the real deal is way better than everyone's least favorite Jelly Belly. Though technically available all winter, early spring is the perfect time to add fennel to a . A cup of it has a respectable 3 grams of fiber and 17 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. The entire plant is edible, from it's white bulb to bright-green feathery fronds. is similar to licorice, but sweeter and subtler, and cooking tones down that flavor even more.

RadishesThey may be available year-round, but these roots are at their . While they're popular in , try them hot in on those nights before spring really warms up. in B vitamins and potassium, but low in calories.

LeeksIt's a scallion! No, it's a palm frond! No, it's… a leek? These are a part of the onion family but have a similar but subtler, sweeter flavor. Cooked, soups, potatoes, rice, lemon, and seafood. Store them whole and well-sealed in a plastic bag, and by removing the tall stalks and bright-green fronds. Once sliced, be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. While these green beauties are available year-round, their flavor is best during the spring and fall.

RampsJust call these veggies "Leeks Gone Wild." OK, technically, "wild leeks," but same thing, right? They’re grown in the U.S. from March to June and may only be available at specialty produce markets. But believe us, . Roughly the size of scallions — but with leaves — can be eaten, and they're packed with garlicky flavor.

ArtichokeLook for these globes all spring — they're in season from March to May. porcupine-lookin' plant, clip off the sharp ends of any outer leaves, boil or steam, and peel the leaves off one by one. Drag the leaves through the teeth to pull off the yummy meat. After all the outer leaves are peeled and the center (that's the "" — don't eat it, you'll choke!) is removed easily with a spoon, what's left is the artichoke heart. Nutritonal bonus points: Artichokes are a great source of prebiotics, which feed probiotics, or good-for-you bacteria that help with digestion and protect the body from other bad bacteriaA double-blind, placeb0-controlled, cross-over study to establish the bifidogenic effect of a very-long-chain inulin extracted from globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) in healthy human subjects. Costabile, A., Kolida, S., Klinder, A., et al. Food Microbial Sciences, School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, UK. The British Journal of Nutrition, 2010 Oct; 104(7):1007-17..

AsparagusWhat's a spring produce list without asparagus? Bunches of these beauties are pretty much available (February to June), though hothouses make them accessible year-round. Try to buy asparagus just before using it, as . In a pinch, either wrap the ends in a wet paper towel and then seal up the bunch or stand the stalks up in about an inch of water and cover with plastic wrap or a plastic baggie. To prep, snap off the thicker, woody end of the asparagus (simply hold one end in each hand and bend — it'll naturally snap at the right spot). Fatter stalks can also be peeled toward the bottom to make the stem a more even thickness.

RhubarbPeanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, — this is a flavor combination that'll never get old. The best part? Baking rhubarb (pie, anyone?) is the best way to unleash its cancer-fighting chemicals. Though technically a vegetable, this can complement fruit in desserts all spring long. in cold climates and peaks from April to June, is best extremely fresh (think: 3 days old or younger), and should be stored tightly sealed in a plastic bag or wrap. Wash 'em and remove leaves just before using.

Fava BeansThese uncommon legumes resemble lima beans and have a . Remember: They must be before eating (unless they'reveryyoung), which can be a complicated process. First, remove the outer shell, which resembles a long, flat green bean. and remove the tough inner shell from each individual bean. But they're worth it — a cup of cooked beans has 9 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein! Find 'em at farmers markets and specialty stores from late March to early May — they're especially good in soups and stews.

Sugar Snap PeasThis hybrid veggie is a English peas and snow peas, and it's crispandsweet. Available during spring and fall, unlike favas, the whole bean is edible — pod and all. Even though they're low in calories, they're still a great source of vitamin C (more than 60 percent of the daily value in one cup). , but can be cooked, too. Look for plump, bright green pods.

Fiddlehead FernsThese veggies are to asparagus what diamonds are to cubic zirconia — rare andwaybetter looking. They only in the eastern half of North America from Canada to Virginia and peak for about two weeks sometime between April and July (depending on the region). These little gems are quite fashionable, too — they slightly resemble coiled asparagus in texture and flavor. They're best by a quick blanch and sauté. Pair them with morel mushrooms, often in season around the same time and a to their flavor.

Morel Mushrooms are basically truffles' more budget-friendly cousin. Though , they’re a great way to add that nutty mushroom flavor to any dish. They can be found in the U.S. from March to May, and some folks even (but let's leave that to the professionals, folks). Don't wash morels under running water, as they act like sponges and soak it all up! Instead, use a damp towel to wipe away dirt before storing them in a paper bag.

Vidalia OnionsJust like the Southern belles of its namesake — Vidalia, Georgia — are super-sweet. They're also large and juicy (but we're not talking about Georgians anymore...) and available from May to June only in the Southeast — though folks elsewhere may be able to get them shipped during those prime months. somewhere cool and well-ventilated.

Originally posted March 2012. Updated April 2013.

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