From soup to nuts, here's a light and lively menu to get the spring party started:
Some attention-grabbing appetizers include breadless bruschettas made with grilled Portobello mushrooms topped with a confetti of chopped heirloom tomatoes, fresh green garlic and shredded basil. Butter lettuce wraps stuffed with crunchy rice noodles, snap peas, chopped kale and grilled shrimp paired with a ginger chili dipping sauce really tweak the appetite, while an impressive presentation of seasonal cheeses, especially fresh sheep and goat are good and plenty during spring's peak breeding and lactating months.
Tease the palate with tart, sweet, briny, musky, tangy and caramelly nuances with sheep's Pecorino Romano, a hard cheese from Italy, buttery Brebisrousse d'Argental from France, or Queso Manchego with playful hints of candied butterscotch from Spain. A creamy log of goat chevre coated with a blend of chopped fresh herbs spreads nicely on crackers, fruit and raw vegetables, while a wheel of snow white, mold-ripened Humboldt Fog goat cheese with a lemony earthiness, and silvery ribbons of vegetable ash running throughout is a real knockout.
Displayed on an interesting slab of stone, marble or wood pair these international cheeses with an eye-catching chunk of honeycomb or delicate golden acacia honey, fresh figs and apricot slices, tart dried cherries, and Marcona almonds with assorted seedy lavosh flatbreads.
Refreshing chilled soups, both sweet and savory are a nice change up from the beefy and carb-loaded ones of last season. Creamy cucumber mint, spring pea, avocado, wild blueberry and thyme, or a combo of golden and ruby beets with a goat kefir or Greek yoghurt base are silky and smooth spring delights. For the more adventuresome taste buds indulge in a bowl of roasted heirloom tomato basil, tomatillo gazpacho, leek and new potato, or strawberry Champagne.
Carb-lovers will not feel deprived with healthier riffs on the winter blues comfort dishes. Try zucchini or eggplant lasagna, spaghetti squash with turkey meatballs, kale pesto, spring lamb or chicken Bolognese, and pizza with a cauliflower crust studded with dollops of goat or nut-based mozzarella along with roasted artichoke hearts, broccoli florets and morel mushrooms.
Liven up risotto with Meyer lemon zest, tender asparagus tips, lavender blossoms, or fresh mint leaves; lighten up a classic chicken pot pie with flaky puff pastry, petite peas, new potatoes, pearl onions, fiddleheads, and other fresh spring offerings; and redo traditional beef meatloaf with chicken, turkey, ground whitefish or a mix of wild mushrooms and red quinoa.
Now, get saucy with zesty condiments from bright green chimichurri bursting with the fresh flavors of parsley, garlic and oregano to dial up grilled fish, steak, and steamed vegetables to vibrant watermelon radish relish (see recipe) to add an antioxidant oomph and crunch to seared scallops, burgers of all kinds, shrimp or chicken fajitas, or avocado toast.
For just desserts spring's rock stars are the duo of strawberries and rhubarb, which pair well in a multitasking compote to amp up frozen treats, pound cakes, and parfaits. Indulge in other seasonal treasures especially raspberries, apricots, kumquats, kiwis, and edible flowers that provide an eye-popping garnish as well as nutritional and healing benefits. Whip up a raspberry lavender coffee cake, cherry, Meyer lemon and thyme biscotti, an apricot hibiscus tart, or a kiwi and strawberry dessert pizza with a light and nutty almond meal crust to cheerfully spring into May.
Recipe: Watermelon Radish Relish
• Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups of watermelon radishes (or radishes of choice), trimmed and coarsely chopped; 2 Persian cucumbers, diced; 2 fresh apricots, pitted, thinly sliced; 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped mint; juice from one Meyer lemon and one tangerine; 1 teaspoon of honey (orange blossom, chestnut, acacia, Manuka, your choice); sea salt to taste.
• Method: In a small glass bowl, whisk together lemon and tangerine juices, honey, mint, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl combine radish, cucumber and apricots. Toss with dressing. Garnish with additional mint. Chill. Serve as an appetizer, topping, or side dish.