Spring vegetables: artichokes and asparagus
Every Wednesday and Sunday, I go to the open market so I can find an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables picked earlier that morning right from the farm. I like to buy seasonally to take advantage of the better prices and peak flavor of the fruits or vegetables. During my last visit, I filled my basket with the spring vegetables that were the most desirable: avocados, beets, asparagus, artichokes, apricots, strawberries, fresh garden baby greens and lots of fresh herbs.

I'd never had an avocado until our family moved from Cleveland to California in the early '60s. My first trip to the famed farmers market is where I discovered this buttery vegetable when I ordered a taco, served with a wonderful smooth, green concoction called guacamole. I have been a major consumer of avocados ever since and eat one almost every day!

Yet, I didn't love all of those seasonal vegetables. In fact, it wasn't until recently that I discovered beets. I hated them as a kid, and of course my mother would make me eat them because she said they were chock full of iron. (I was convinced it was because she was punishing me for something—I thought they tasted like dirt!) I also hated asparagus and despised artichokes! For the life of me, I couldn't understand why you would spend so much time pulling those tiny leaves off and dip them in melted butter one by one. All this effort to get to the heart while you proceed with caution, because if you got those tiny hairy prickly leaves in your mouth, you would choke! I use to complain to my mom that they should call these things "you oughta chokes"!

Now I can't get enough of these veggies. If you don't have an open market or if you live in the part of the country where it's always cold, obviously your supermarket will be the place to buy your spring and summer fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets carry all kinds of wonderful seasonal produce! When I do buy fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, I ask the produce person if what I'm looking at is from the day before or if he has just brought them out. If he tells me they were from the day before (I can usually tell), I will ask him to please go into the back and bring out a fresh carton for me to pick from. You should ask too—who knows how long the veggies and fruits have been sitting out or how long it takes to get from the farms to market!

At the open market, I only go to the vendors that have signs saying "Certified organic." If you have any doubts whether the vendor is certified, you can ask to see his/her certificate. Vendors are required by law to carry the certificate that shows they are indeed organic. If vendors say they don't have it with them or can't find it, I simply move on.

Get a list of Cristina's favorite seasonal veggies and how to prepare them.
I've picked four of my favorite spring veggies to share with you, along with some ideas on how to prepare them and some nutritional information so you know how good they are for you!

Artichokes are high in fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and other essential minerals. My favorite way to prepare and enjoy an artichoke is grilled. I also love them stuffed or steamed, served with a cucumber salsa. I also toss artichoke hearts in pasta or salad.

Asparagus is extremely rich in vitamin K, which is important for bone health and nearly 66 percent of folate, which helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. The peak season for asparagus is April through May. I steam, grill or oven-roast them, and I also make asparagus soup, which you can serve hot or cold. Add them to salads or toss them into pasta.

Avocados provide 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin B and folic acid. I eat them sliced in all kinds of salads, sandwiches, vegetable wraps, guacamole, soups and salsa, or I'll eat them cut open, pitted and with a squeeze of lemon and kosher salt.

Beets are a remarkable source of choline, folic acid, iodine, manganese, sodium, fiber and carbohydrates in the form of natural digestible sugars. I know many people like to boil beets, but my favorite method is to roast them in the oven until all the natural sugar starts to come out and caramelize. I peel them after they have been roasted, then slice them thin and serve with creamy goat cheese, fresh arugula, olive oil and a thick balsamic glaze over the top! The sweetness from the beets, along with the slightly bitter taste from the arugula and the tangy balsamic, is a dynamite combination. It made a beet-lover out of me!

Thankfully my taste buds have matured since my childhood, and I adore and can't get enough of all kinds of vegetables! Here is the recipe for my Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Arugula.


Sending a big bowl of springtime goodness,
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