It may seem that spring is just starting, but soon all of the delicious fruits and vegetables that come along with the season will be on display at the farmers’ market. These delectable fruits and vegetables only come in season once a year, so make sure not to pass them up. Read on for some ideas on how to jump into spring and take advantage of the fresh flavors offered during this time.

1. Turn your smoothie green

Dark leafy greens, like spinach, are abundant this time of year. These leaves are packed with minerals like iron, folate, zinc and also vitamin A and C. Not a fan of Popeye’s favorite food? Try blending these nutrient-rich leaves into your favorite fruit smoothie. The leaves will give the smoothie a beautiful, bright green color, but the sweetness of the fruit will mask the taste of the greens; you get all the nutrition without the taste. 

2. Have your soup cold

As the weather gets warmer, a unique way to cool down is to enjoy a chilled soup. Chilled soups offer minimal cooking and require no reheating, making them an incredibly easy lunch or dinner option. Popular cold soups include gazpacho (see this week’s recipe), cold pea soup or even cold fruit soups. Throw the ingredients in a blender, refrigerate for a few hours and you’ve got a unique and sophisticating dinner waiting for you later that night!

3. Throw your dessert on the grill

Hotter seasons also mean grills heating up. A great way to put a new spin on grilling is to try grilled fruit. Stone fruits, such as peaches and apricots, hold up very well on a grilling surface and take on an interesting sweet and smoky flavor. Apricots also2 happen to go into season in the spring. Try slicing up some fresh ones and drizzling them with honey for your next after dinner sweet.

4. Add a fresh herb

Herbs are an easy way to change the flavor profile of any dish. Basil, mint, parsley and cilantro all go into season in the spring and offer a diverse variety of tastes to indulge in. A bunch of fresh herbs costs less than $2 at the grocery store and can be used in any type of dish: salads, cooked meats and fish, seafood, soups, dips and even smoothies all take on a new dimension with the addition of fresh herbs. Try tacking a whiff of each type of herb the next time you’re in the supermarket. Pick a favorite to buy and then do an Internet search to find the perfect recipe.

5. Cook a new vegetable

Spring time has tons of vegetables to offer that may not be part of the normal college student fare. However, many of them are much easier to cook than you might think. Beets, artichokes, leeks and radishes are just some spring vegetables that many Wisconsin residents are familiar with but do not buy often, even though they are relatively easy to prepare. Feeling adventurous? Pick a recipe and take one of these delicious and nutritious vegetables home to make an amazing and wholesome meal.

6. Get earthy

Spring means rain, which means…mushrooms, which come in almost too many varieties to count! I encourage you to try each and every kind of these earthy delights (but be sure not to eat any you randomly come across outdoors). Mushrooms are an excellent source of niacin and dietary fiber. Venture outside your comfort zone and take a stroll on Capitol Square at the farmers’ market. You may find your new favorite variety at the very peak of its freshness and also contribute to the local food movement!

7. Go tropical

Although they hail from far away regions, mangoes are also in season and are regularly available at many grocery stores in the Madison area. Not sure how to prepare this tropical fruit? Simply biting into a mango will give you a floral taste of the skin and get stringy pieces of fruit stuck between your teeth. Instead, try this: Mangoes have an oblong pit in the center, and the goal is to slice around it. Hold the mango vertically on a cutting board and slice downward to create pieces as big as you can, cutting as close to the pit as possible. Once you have large chunks, take a piece in your hand skin-side down. Next, carve a checkered pattern into the fruit surface without cutting through the skin. Start by carefully cutting several vertical lines, and then cutting several lines perpendicularly. Next, push the skin of the mango inside out, so the squares of mango protrude outward. Now you can simply use your fingers to push the mango squares off the skin. You will have perfectly diced fruit to toss into yogurt, a smoothie, fresh salsa or to enjoy plain!

Spring may have arrived late this year, but that’s all the more reason to take it in stride and capitalize on all the new springtime flavors the season has to offer!

This recipe of the week is one of my favorites for spring time. It is a recipe for gazpacho, a typical cold tomato soup from Spain that I fell in love with when I was studying abroad. It’s easy to make in a fruit processor or blender and stores for up to one week in the fridge.

Easy Gazpacho 

Servings: 6

1 cucumber, halved and seeds scooped out (but not peeled)

2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped

4 plum tomatoes

1 red onion, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

23 ounces (3 cups) low-sodium tomato juice

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable – separately – into a food processor or blender fitted with a steel blade. Pulse each vegetable one by one until coarsely chopped, then transfer to a large bowl. Try not to over-process-this dish is best when the vegetables are still chunky and have a little crunch.

After all vegetables are in the large bowl, add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and chill for at least two hours before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more its flavors develop. I recommend making it the night before.

Serve with a small dollop of light sour cream or Greek yogurt and piece of crusty bread and you’re set for a Spanish-style meal!

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