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Spring Into Flavor: Salmon, Bok Choy, Beets & Fresh Herbs

Spring Into Flavor: Salmon, Bok Choy, Beets & Fresh Herbs

At long last, spring! While the growing season ramps up, feast on fresh salmon, bok choy, beets and herbs.

Salmon

We don’t often think of salmon as having a “season” since it’s available year-round, but wild Pacific salmon is a springtime and summer treat that you don’t want to miss. (Farm-raised Atlantic salmon is the variety that’s most often available year-round.) Characterized by its deep orange- to coral-colored flesh, wild varieties of salmon (Chinook, coho, sockeye) can usually be found at fish markets and grocery stores anytime between now and the end of summer.

When purchasing fresh salmon (either farm-raised or wild), look for fillets or steaks that are stored on a bed of crushed ice with a layer of plastic wrap between the ice and fish. Pay attention to the condition of the flesh—it should look bright and moist and have no signs of discoloration or dryness. If you can, give the fish a sniff; any “off” odors are an indication of age and should be avoided. When you get the salmon home, plan to eat it the same day you purchase it, and no more than a day after buying. Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator (usually the lower shelves toward the back) in a shallow baking dish filled with ice and covered with a piece of plastic wrap. Arrange the fillets or steaks on the plastic wrap, then cover with another sheet of plastic. Replace the ice if it melts before you cook the fish.

Salmon is delicious practically any way you prepare it. From baked to pan-seared to grilled, there’s no shortage of ways to take advantage of the season’s best salmon!

Bok Choy

Used extensively in Chinese and Korean cooking, bok choy is not only beautiful to behold but also extremely high in vitamins and minerals—much like its vegetable cousins broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Bok choy means “white vegetable” in Chinese, likely because of its thick white stems at the base of deep-colored green leaves. It is often the base of Korean cuisine’s famed kimchee (fermented cabbage), but makes a delicious addition to stir-fries, soups or can be simply steamed or sautéed and drizzled with a touch of sesame oil for an interesting side dish.

Look for bok choy with sturdy stems and vibrant green leaves. Warm temperatures cause the leaves to wilt quickly so avoid any that are droopy and lifeless, and be sure to store it in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible.

Beets

While beets may not be a favorite vegetable in your household, they’re beginning to emerge in markets and are worth trying again. Look for those with vibrant greens attached and cook them as you would spinach (the greens wilt rapidly and are often removed). The beets themselves should be firm with no signs of nicks or blemishes. Before storing, trim the greens to within an inch of the root (this helps prevent the beets from bleeding during cooking), and plan to cook the beets as soon as possible: the sugars convert to starch over time and lose flavor. The greens should be stored in a plastic bag for up to two days; don’t wash them until you’re ready to use.

Roasting beets concentrates their flavor and intensifies their sugars. To roast, place whole, unpeeled beets (look for ones similar in size so they cook at the same rate) on a large sheet of foil and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. Wrap the beets in the foil, place the packet in a baking dish and roast in a 425°F. oven until tender, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the beets. Unwrap the packet and let the beets cool until you can handle them then remove the skin with your fingers—it should come off easily (you may want to wear disposable gloves to keep your hands from turning pink!). Toss roasted beets in a salad (made with some of the beet greens!) with crumbled blue cheese and toasted walnuts, or make a delightfully vibrant soup.

Fresh Herbs

We love fresh herbs for the punch of flavor they give to dishes, and spring is a great time to experiment with using them. While fresh herbs are available year-round, this is the time of year when a sprinkling of chopped chives or tarragon can make it taste like warmer weather is just around the corner.

When using fresh herbs it’s a good idea to add them toward the end of cooking—they lose much of their flavor with prolonged cooking. Some herbs, like fresh basil, don’t like to be heated at all and will turn black—sprinkle it on pizza or pastas just before serving for both appearance and flavor.

Most fresh herbs are sold in small plastic “clamshell” packages, but a more cost effective (and propagating!) option might be to buy a small pot of the herb from the produce section of the grocery store or at a garden center and snip sprigs right from the plant. Kept in a sunny kitchen window (or potted and kept on your back deck), you’ll be able to reach for herbs any time you need them!

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