The procession begins: the delectable vegetables of spring! 

It’s official — it’s spring! Some of my favorite foods will be arriving in the markets soon. In fact, I just had my first asparagus!!! I’m SUCH an asparagus stalker (pun intended). Every late winter I’m in constant contact with a favorite farmer about the expected date of arrival of the elegant long ladies of spring, and I just can’t WAIT! I bring it home and roast it. It’s like candy for me! And yet it’s an unbeatable spring tonic for the liver and gallbladder. Talk about win/win.

“A” is for Asparagus and Artichoke, in my book

Asparagus. Anti-inflammatory. Antioxidant. Brain functioning. Digestive support. Glutathione is a superstar among antioxidants, and asparagus contains more glutathione than any other vegetable or fruit. In addition, it contains the soluble fiber inulin, which helps bacteria beneficial to digestion flourish in the lower intestine. Asparagus is also particularly rich in the B vitamin folate. High folate levels are thought to reduce blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cardiovascular disease and dementia. 

Artichokes. Antioxidant. Digestive support. Liver health. A study of artichoke extract found it contained tremendous amounts of antioxidants and potentially helps prevent damage to protect liver cells. Artichokes are also an excellent digestive aid, according to a 2011 article in the International Journal of Food Science Nutrition that analyzed the results of numerous clinical studies.

I’ll bet you didn’t know they had all that to give!

More stars of spring

Also about to walk onto the spring stage: leeks, green garlic, bitter greens (arugula, mustard greens, watercress), mache, onions, fennel and radishes. Most of these are readily available year round, and we might just take them for granted. But let’s not! 

Each of these plays a role in healthful spring eating: brightening the palette, cleansing the body — a bunch of vegetables with their dust mops and brooms, waking everything up!  All are high in fiber, excellent blood sugar regulators, and really wonderful for the gut, the liver and the cardiovascular system. 

Both artichokes and leeks are prebiotics, feeding your gut microbiome lots of goodies. Fennel contains quercetin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonol. Spring brings pollen allergies, and these spring vegetables are very conveniently here to help, as things begin flowering and blooming. Mustard greens and radishes, along with the cresses, arugula, and mache, are full of potassium, antioxidant and antiinflammatory — natural antihistamines. 

I’ve been obsessed with artichokes since I was 5 years old, when it seemed a huge adventure to get to the heart (though my older brother usually beat me). The warm melted butter for dipping was, of course, irresistibly divine! These days I’m especially fond of the small purple carciofi that appear in Italy in the spring, tender, baby artichokes. One need only cut off the tops, cut them in half, and saute them in olive oil and garlic. Admittedly, baby artichokes are easier to handle, and equally as delicious. But don’t be intimidated by the large globe artichokes! Here’s a brief article from Chowhound on prepping and steaming them. Think of it as an adventure! 

Let’s eat!

I didn’t think it was possible to love artichokes more than I already did until I lived in Italy. There they harvest artichokes in both spring and fall, and that abundance graces their cuisine. Artichokes also enhance their health, as they stimulate the gallbladder to produce bile, which escorts toxins out of the body and also helps break down fats in the diet. Here, artichoke hearts are combined with chicken, chickpeas, and olives to create a rich, nourishing stew seasoned with a potpourri of heady and healthful spices, including turmeric, cumin, coriander, and mint. #yum.

Gone are the days when asparagus was boiled until it resembled a gray Seattle drizzle. Here we roast asparagus until it becomes sweet and caramelized in a way that’s hard to believe until it’s tried. Asparagus is full of antioxidants that help in DNA synthesis and repair. In this soup, it’s paired with the nerve-protective benefits of pistachio as part of the minty, creamy topping. This is some serious yum in a bowl.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life; it will also keep you from falling into a food rut. People often tell me that they love salad but get bored with the same old version they always make. This disenchantment can lead folks away from the greens their bodies really need. If that sounds like you, let this salad serve as a springboard for endless seasonal variations! Eating with the seasons isn’t just a catchphrase. Each season brings new foods just hitting their peak; in this case, strawberries and arugula, some of the welcome early harbingers of the spring. In addition to having an incredibly sweet taste, strawberries have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, when combined with mint and a lemony balsamic vinaigrette, they make for a salad that positively pops with flavor!