Make spring veggies in fresh ways | VailDaily.com

Make spring veggies in fresh ways

Rosanna Turner
Daily Correspondent

EAGLE COUNTY — Living in the mountains means we have to wait a little bit later for spring, if it comes at all. However, the kitchen is one place we can still get a taste for the season, even if the shrubs and plants in our backyards haven't yet begun to bud. You may already be incorporating common veggies like asparagus and snow peas into your spring cuisine, but some local chefs are finding more creative ways to use what's in season now.

Peak season for pickling

Shelby Lewis is a private chef in Vail who runs the blog EatDank Food.com, which is all about creating the richest dishes with the freshest ingredients.

Lewis said her approach to cooking starts with buying her produce "locally and in season before I go to the grocery store, that's my last stop."

Lewis' advice for using spring vegetables is a bit surprising: Pickle them. We tend to think of this as a fall activity, but Lewis said this is the time to bust out the jars and get picklin'. Many vegetables have a fresher taste in the spring, so it's better to pickle now than hold off until late summer, she said. Also, pickling is a way to save certain spring veggies that are only in season for a short time, like fiddlehead ferns and ramps (also known as wild leeks), and use their one-of-a-kind taste for later. In addition to the vinegar, water, salt and sugar, Lewis said for a basic pickle liquid she always uses mustard seed, coriander and black pepper for spices, but you could also add things like crushed red pepper, dill and onion. After boiling the pickle liquid and spices together, make sure it cools down completely before you add your vegetables. When pickling vegetables, just like the jokes your elderly aunt makes at family reunions, the saltier the better.

"You don't want it to be kind of salty," Lewis said. "You want it be really salty. You kind of want to go a little bit overboard. You're going for a lot of acidity and a lot of salt."

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This time of year, Lewis likes to pickle asparagus, spring onions and radishes, which she suggests pickling with fish sauce.

"They're both super stinky things so when you put them together they (complement each other) really well," Lewis said.

Mountain-grown mushrooms

Another unusual food-related activity Lewis looks forward to every spring is foraging for her own mushrooms. Morel mushrooms grow plentifully across our mountain land and start popping up somewhat early.

"When the flowers start to bloom on the trees, that's the telltale sign," Lewis said. "Once the aspens and everything else starts to bloom, it will be go time."

Searching for mushrooms sounds like fun, but Lewis warns against foraging by yourself. A better way is to buy them fresh from a local farmers market. Because morels are so rich and flavorful on their own, a little oil or butter is all you really need before they're ready to eat. Lewis said one of her favorite spring pleasures is making an omelet every morning with fresh morels, a treat she calls "luxurious."

Asparagus with a twist

In the spring, asparagus is king, peaking earlier than other vegetables and reminding us how much we like food that's green and crunchy.

Rob Lewis, chef de cuisine at Terra Bistro at the Vail Mountain Lodge, said when preparing asparagus, remember that you want to "enjoy the sweet and acrid flavor that it has."

If you want your asparagus fresh but not raw, then Lewis said the best method is to first poach them in water for 60 seconds. Then put the asparagus in an ice bath, shocking it so it will turn bright green. This will also make it crunchy on the outside but cooked on the inside. Then simply saute it with a little butter or oil or toss on the grill, being careful not to burn it.

If you like your asparagus crispy, at Terra Bistro right now Lewis said he makes a fried version where they dip them in buttermilk, then dip in an egg bath, then roll in toasted sesame seeds, Panko crumbs and toasted onion and finally fry them like we do with most foods here in America.

Taking a bite out of tradition

Rob Lewis said maintaining the freshness of spring vegetables is normally the way to go, but this doesn't mean you can't also break from tradition from time to time.

"I believe in keeping things as inherently close to the way it was made is the best approach, but that doesn't always complement what you're going for on the plate," Rob Lewis said.

For years cooking trends have been focused on making food fresh, seasonal, simple and easy. Shelby Lewis only agrees with three of those.

"I mean don't get me wrong, throwing some asparagus on the grill is a wonderful thing," she said. "But I never really play it simple. That's just not my style of cooking. I definitely don't mask flavors, but (I also don't like to) rest on my laurels."

From these chefs' point of view, why make a plain salad when you can add some pickled fiddleheads, or why not try frying your asparagus instead of always eating it fresh? Spring is the season for embracing the new, which can also apply to the kitchen, too.

Fava Bean Mousse

Private chef Shelby Lewis of Vail runs the blog http://www.EatDankFood.com. Lewis said in the spring one of her favorite vegetables to use are fava beans, which she describes as tasting like a “nutty asparagus”. Lewis came up with this fava bean mouse, which she said goes great with hushpuppies:

Fava Bean Mouse

Ingredients:

2 cups fava beans

2 cups heavy cream

1 tbsp butter

1 gelatin strip

A touch of mint and onion

Salt, pepper and 1 tbsp lemon juice to taste

Directions:

First, boil fava beans in the shell before pulling them out, then blanche and shock them in ice to keep their bright green color. Heat beans, heavy cream, butter, mint and onion together, simmering until it becomes thick yet creamy. Puree with gelatin strip. Lewis suggests storing in a cool ISI or whip cream container.

An even easier way to use fava beans is in hummus. Simply swap out the traditional garbanzo beans with fava beans for a greener, nuttier version of this classic spread.

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