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Spring's Dining Table Reaches Its Full Bounty

By Jennifer ViegasSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 21, 1998


During spring, nature rolls out a lush green welcome carpet and invites us to her table.

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Each week some new treasure springs from this seasonal bounty. For those of us who love good food, each delectable arrival merits its own celebration.

Spring foods tend to be delicate, sweet, and tender. They disappear from gardens and marketplaces faster than you can say, "summer heat wave."

The past few months in southern California have brought us a veritable wheelbarrow-full of produce.

One of the first to arrive was artichokes. When available, buy baby artichokes. They can be trimmed, steamed, and eaten whole since the choke has not yet fully developed. Add sliced lemon and garlic cloves to the cooking liquid for additional flavor.

Other early arrivals followed: cucumbers, spinach, and rhubarb. There is no comparison between small, tender, garden-fresh cucumbers and those large waxy clubs found at markets during the off-season. Tender, young spinach and rhubarb equally have no rivals for quality and taste.

April's plethora of plenty came next. My California herb garden burst forth with its display of fragrant greenery and edible flowers. Like the song, fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme now are in season. For an interesting flavor treat, try a breakfast smoothie with parsley, mixed fruit juices, a banana, and toasted wheat germ. You will be surprised at how well parsley works in this manner.

For more traditional herb usage, saut boneless, skinless chicken breasts in butter and olive oil. Just before serving, stir in a mixture of minced spring herbs and add a dash of balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice.

April further brought us celery, endive, radishes, lettuce, greens, asparagus, and carrots. If you have a home garden, and the weather is still on the cool side, consider planting some of the more unusual varieties of radishes, such as black radishes, which have a marvelously pungent bite. They are perfect for appetizer platters and salads, as is garden cress. This spicy green, similar to watercress, will provide zip to any vegetable dish. With such flavorful salad ingredients, very little dressing is needed.

The month of May was named after Maia, the Roman goddess of planting, and it lives up to its ancient namesake.

Potatoes and strawberries come into season during this month. Early peppers, tomatoes, beans, and peas also are ready for picking. My sugar-snap peas barely make it to the kitchen, as I cannot help but nibble on them directly after picking.

The following menu showcases spring's edible splendor.

Marinated Loin Lamb Chops

This serves 8 light eaters, or 4 who really love their lamb.

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 1-1/2-inch thick loin lamb chops

2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Whisk first 5 ingredients together and place in non-aluminum casserole or baking dish. Add lamb chops. Cover and marinate overnight, or for several hours, in the refrigerator, turning several times.