Springtime vegetables tend to be small, in part because the growing season is new and they're picked young. What that means for you the cook, in the practical sense, is that they're tender and don't necessarily need to be cooked. It also means that you can serve crisp, tasty side dishes with no pots, no pans, and no heat. All you need is a sharp knife and a cutting board, but if you want to up your game, a mandoline or other slicer and a grater will give your vegetables eye appeal and a variety of textures.
When it comes to dressing raw vegetables I like to use olive oil and little lemon juice. A squeeze from an orange or grapefruit also does the trick. A sprinkle of salt and pepper finishes this simplest of dressings.
One of my favorite springtime combinations is lemon and dill. Although dill has a distinctive flavor, it's delicate rather than assertive. Fresh lemon juice provides a sharp accenting counterpoint to dill's green herbiness.
My Springtime Squash Salad combines yellow squash and zucchini, but you can use just one kind of squash. I used a Japanese shredder for the dish pictured above, but a box grater or food processor with the grating blade will also work. For the freshest flavor, I like to sprinkle the dill on the vegetables after they're plated, but you can put all the ingredients into a bowl and toss.
There's no more visually impressive vegetable than a beet. If you've never cooked with beets it's important to know that they tend to stain things, like white cutting boards, fabric, and your fingers. Yellow beets are somewhat more forgiving when it comes to the stains. If I've got several beets to prepare I'll wear gloves, but that's in part because at work I always have food handler's gloves on hand. At home I hold the beets under running water after they're peeled and before I slice or dice. This rinses off some of the excess juice and minimizes staining.
For my Shaved Beet Salad, I thinly sliced both yellow and red beets with a hand-held slicer. The goal is to get the thinnest slices possible so that their crunchy uncooked texture adds to the overall effect, while avoiding too-thick slabs that are overwhelmingly raw. Slivered green onions are the yang to the beets' sweet ying, pistachios add some richness, and a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt finish the dish. If an all-beet salad pushes your envelope farther than you'd like use half beets and half apples.
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Spring is all about new things -- and that includes expanding your kitchen repertoire.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.