01 of 10
People love to say that the first person to eat an artichoke must have been very hungry indeed. It's true; this thistle doesn't welcome an eater easily. There are thorns to contend with and leaves to pull off – either beforehand as you trim them or afterward if you're eating them steamed. I, for one, am in no doubt that the nutty, rich flavor of artichokes is worth the hassle.
02 of 10
If we let asparagus alone, it would grow into four- to six-foot tall ferns. Instead, we harvest the young sprouts to grace our spring tables. Asparagus takes a lot of space and time (an asparagus field takes three years to yield a harvest), which is how it got its rep as a luxury vegetable.
Asparagus is more widely available and less expensive than it ever used to be. It no longer gets the royal treatment – being served as its course, for example. We may choose to steam it, but pan roasting , grilling, and just using asparagus raw have their fans, too.
03 of 10
Beets are available for much of the year, but the first spring beets, with their fresh greens still attached by deep rosy stems, are more tender than their larger brethren that are harvested later in the year.
04 of 10
Getting fava beans from pod to table requires a bit of effort. First, you need to get the beans from the pod, then the beans from the shells (see how the whole process works). That extra step puts a lot of people off preparing fava beans themselves. The thing is because they are such a hassle, it's the only way you'll ever get enough fava beans – restaurants are notoriously stingy when portioning out these labor-intensive spring treats.
Find delicious fava bean recipes.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Fiddleheads are the young shoots of ostrich ferns. They pop up along the forest floor when frost subsides, and things start to warm up a bit. They have a grassy yet earthy flavor, a bit like artichokes, a bit like fava beans, even a bit of mushroom flavor. Fiddleheads can be steamed, sauteed, or pickled, but never eaten raw – they can lead to various food-borne illnesses and stomach upset. Learn more about fiddleheads.
06 of 10
Garlic Scapes & Green Garlic
What's the difference between green garlic and garlic scapes? Green garlic is immature garlic pulled to thin the field, whereas garlic scapes are the flowering stalks farmers cull from hard necked garlic to promote bulb growth. Both have a mild, garlic flavor and can be at their best when chopped up and added to salads or otherwise used as you might use green onion or scallion.
07 of 10
Lettuces are at their sweet and tender best in spring. Look for an increasingly wide variety of lettuces - such as mâche, or lambs' lettuce, pictured here - at farmers markets. Dress spring lettuces lightly - often just a spritz of lemon juice will do the trick.
Always wash and dry lettuce as soon as you get it home - it will keep better if clean and rolled up in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.
08 of 10
Wear gloves and use caution when cooking stinging nettles. Nettles must be boiled in salted water to de-sting them; once drained. However, they are as harmless – and culinarily useful – as spinach! They have a slightly more robust flavor than the ubiquitous spinach but can be used in any spinach recipe. Nettles are particularly delicious when used to make a light, springy Stinging Nettles Soup.
Learn more about nettles, and look for them – often sold out of garbage bags, a handy way to gather them and protect those who handle them – at farmers markets.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Peas & Pea Greens
Sweet peas, garden peas, pod peas, English peas – I don't care what you call them. The fresh, plump, sweet peas that you pop out of their pods, which my family can eat pound after pound right from the pod before it ever occurs to us to cook them are one of the great eating pleasures of spring.
When you are done eating them raw, barely warming them with steam and serving them with melted butter is a nice way to go. I like to cook fresh peas with pearl couscous for a light spring dish or pureed a pot of minted pea soup. Or try one of these spring pea recipes.
When the peas themselves no longer capture your imagination, be sure to note their greens – the long, tangled vines for sale at some farmers markets that have a bit of that sweet pea essence to them. Pea greens are wonderful steamed or sautéed – just be sure to buy only the youngest, most tender vines (take a bite of the stem end, if you must).
10 of 10
Radishes may be around almost all the time, but they are smaller, sweeter, and dare I say even crunchier in spring? Radishes grow quickly, so they're a popular vegetable to plant – especially with kids. The spicy crunch of radishes is divine all by itself or, do as the French do and serve them with a bit of fresh butter and sea salt. It may sound odd, but it's a delicious combination.
Then try them in a Gingery Radish Salad or try them cooked, as in these Braised Radishes where their spiciness if lightly tempered with a bit of sweet glaze. Find more great radish recipes to enjoy these early spring treats.