Annabel Langbein's best dishes for a summer-ready body (+ recipes)
Around this time of year, everything is full of the promise of spring. Blossoms bloom, lambs frolic and the days stretch out ever longer. But in the garden and at farmers' markets, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything good to eat. Dig a carrot and chances are it will be covered in unattractive long, white hairs. If do you eat it, the experience will likely be woody and tough, offering not a skerrick of sweetness.
Suddenly, often in a matter of a few days, plants that have held out through the cold months of winter start to grow flower stems, simultaneously stopping all useful growth of the vegetable itself. Even onions and potatoes start to sprout.
Flavours change in this process, and what was once sweet, juicy and crisp becomes bitter, tough and dry. It's a normal part of a plant's life cycle to produce seeds, but unfortunately when a vegetable plant bolts, its harvestable days are over.
At the same time, all the newly planted spring crops are weeks, if not months, away from being ready to harvest. Warm northern gardens may be producing soft salad greens and quick-growing veges like bok choy, but for me down in the south, the pickings are lean - there's loads of miners' lettuce and mache, some scraggly rocket but not a lot else.
As we step into spring we're desperate for a change from all that rib-sticking fare that has kept us warm and happy through winter. Our palates start craving light, fresh tastes - food that will fill us with energy and zing. But what to eat?
I tend to work on two approaches at this time of year. The first takes an Asian noodle bowl theme - I load up a broth with tasty Asian flavours, throw in veges and protein and serve it over some slurpy noodles for a bowl meal that's super-quick but nice and light. The second is to explore another of my favourite springboard recipes - vegetarian bowls. These power-packed meals-in-a-bowl deliver loads of vitality and offer the ability to change out culinary cultures, depending on the dressing and the starch.
Start with your dressing, saving dishes by mixing it up in the serving bowl (or a portable jar if you plan to take it to work). Add some kind of cooked grain, such as lentils, beans, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet or rice. Then layer in robust vegetables such as diced roast pumpkin or kumara, steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets; top with a protein, such as cheese, nuts or seeds; and finally add some leafy greens or sprouts.
Putting the grain at the bottom with the dressing allows it to soak up the flavours, and putting delicate or crispy at the top means they won't get soggy or lose their texture. When you're ready to eat, give it a toss to mix everything up (or tip the jar into a bowl). Vegetarian bowl meals like these deliver the much-needed pick-me-up that spells spring.
Quinoa, kibbled wheat, amaranth, rice, chickpeas, beans or lentils and even rice can be cooked in bulk and then frozen in small portions so you can assemble a bowl meal in a flash. Beetroot is a terrific booster ingredient - it elevates iron and energy levels and helps to lower blood pressure. Get the recipe
If you don't have access to wakame, just tear or slice up a packet of nori snack seaweed. All seaweed is rich in iodine, calcium and magnesium and, with lots of umami, it delivers a real depth of flavour to the dressing. Get the recipe
For more clever and adaptable recipes see Annabel's new book, Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a beautiful compendium of more than 650 of her best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.