A major new study shows eating up to ten servings of fruit and vegetables each day (that’s 800 grams, or about 28 ounces) can significantly increase the chances of longevity. This doubles the previously recommended five-a-day rule. In this series, we offer suggestions for upping your fruit and veggie intake every season of the year.
Early spring salad ingredients grown in Green Valley, Nevada
If eating ten whole servings of fruits and vegetables every day seems daunting, you can start by mixing smaller portions into one big salad. This approach may be helpful for gardeners who are growing a little bit of everything.
It’s helpful to have a few things ready before mixing your salad. Salad dressing, for one. This will help marry the flavors found in an early spring garden. A simple lemon vinaigrette will combine well with vegetables and fruit harvested in late March through April. This type of dressing is very easy to make– just combine vinegar, olive oil, and grated lemon rind to your taste. Red pepper flakes, olives, and a little bit of honey will also serve you well now.
On a side note, did you know these starter ingredients can all be harvested locally? Yes, there are locals who grow and preserve olives, who dehydrate the rinds of lemons they harvested last year, and who dry many types of homegrown hot peppers. We even have beekeepers who make honey here in the Las Vegas area.
Garlic chives (left) can be tossed with spinach (upper right) and beet greens (lower right.) The gardens pictured here are in Sunrise Manor and Henderson, Nevada.
Now we can start to gather a little bit of everything from an early spring garden, starting with garlic chives. These relatives of onion chives combine well with many spring vegetables, including beet greens and spinach. Garlic chives are an incredibly useful flavor substitute when garlic bulbs are not yet ready to be harvested.
An artichoke harvested in Southern Nevada (L), and basil growing in a garden near the Las Vegas Convention Center (R)
One excellent garlic chives partner is an artichoke, which can be steamed and cooled and added to a spring salad. Artichokes combine well with other herbs, too, such as basil.
Carrots harvested near Sunset Park
Basil, in turn, goes well with carrots, which can be drizzled with honey. Carrots can be your flavor gateway to a variety of spring garden ingredients, including celery, dill, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon.
Spring flowers blooming in Henderson vegetable gardens
This is a good time to throw in a few lavender petals– these will combine nicely with our honey and vinaigrette– as well as some calendula petals, the bitterness of which melds well with the olives, red pepper flakes, honey, artichoke, and thyme. You can even try adding a bitter-to-bland snapdragon flower or two. Please note: Only add edible flowers to your salad sparingly, and only after you have a) carefully identified them, b) gained enough knowledge about them to know which parts are edible, c) learned how your body may react to them, and d) made sure they have NOT been treated with harmful pesticides.
Local garden goodies
Peppery nasturtium flowers go well with peas.
Early spring harvest in Green Valley, Nevada
Any asparagus spears poking out of the ground can be picked and added to the salad, too. They pair well with the tarragon mentioned earlier, as do beets. Carrots and asparagus also taste great with tomatoes, if you have any of those ready to pick early. Tomatoes and olives blend beautifully with oregano.
Locally grown vegetables, flowers, and herbs
While it may be too early to harvest cucumbers, you can pick borage flowers and add them to the salad for a cucumber-like flavor, which combines well with lettuce, fennel, mint, and green onions.
Spring-harvested radish pods in Southern Nevada
Radishes go together with mint and green onions, as well. If your radishes have bolted in the heat, then you may want to allow some to go through the flowering stage and then harvest the seed pods when they appear. Radish seed pods are an excellent substitute for radish roots. They even have a similar crunch.
A pot of strawberries in Green Valley
Most fruits are probably not ready to pick yet, but strawberry season may be underway, so let’s add some of those! Strawberries will go nicely with our lemon vinaigrette, and also with sweeter-tasting edible flower parts like pansy and rose petals. (The white portions of rose petals taste bitter and should be removed.)
The roses behind this raised veggie bed have edible petals (upper left.) Pansies (upper right.) Bok choy (center left) and broccoli with other spring vegetables (center right.) Onion chives (lower left.) Harvesting cabbage (lower right.)
If you still have bok choy growing, then red pepper flakes will help this leafy vegetable mesh with the others. Broccoli combines well with red pepper flakes, too, and with lemon vinaigrette and chives (onion or garlic chives.) Don’t overlook the edible broccoli leaves, or the leaves of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, or of kale and cabbage, for that matter; all of these vegetables are closely related, both botanically and flavor-wise. Sage is a final herbal addition that complements our starter ingredients of vinaigrette and chives.
Garden sage in a community bed of herbs and flowers at an apartment complex in Paradise, Nevada
It will take some experimenting to work out the best ways to combine these spring ingredients– or whichever fruits and vegetables you can most easily access– into one salad. Your trials with flavor combinations will give you opportunities to engage your senses by observing and connecting with the botanical world, even if you don’t have much free time or cooking experience. They will also help you learn which flavor pairings you personally enjoy. Harvesting a little bit of everything at a time means you will have many chances to fine-tune as you go. This is one way to start getting your fill of vegetables and fruits, all year long.
Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Produce. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2004.
Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Herbs and Spices. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2006.
Stradley, Linda. “Edible Flowers Chart.” What’s Cooking America website.