Food

What to cook in April: Asparagus and lamb — but also daikon and pineapple for all of your spring feasts

New ways to cook old favourites, and new vegetables and fruits to pick up this month.

New ways to cook old favourites, and new vegetables and fruits to pick up this month

Think back to last spring when you were planning what to make for Easter, or Passover or just a gathering of friends you haven't seen all winter because, well, winter. You probably considered recipes for lamb and asparagus because they make sense right now. And they still do this year, but instead of steaming your asparagus and dousing it in butter like always, or spending a fortune on lamb chops to feed everyone, challenge yourself to new ways of cooking spring's favourites!We'll get in just how do that below, and also send you off to pick up daikon and pineapple right now. The first is crunchy and fresh, and pineapple is particularly sweet and juicy right now. Both give your spring feasts the vigor they need until your garden, or a farmer's nearby, can take over the task.

Here's how to cook with these four ingredients and win at spring feasting this month.

Lamb

There are three things to keep in mind when you're cooking lamb. First, you want to trim it well. Plan to spend up to 30 minutes cutting away the fell (membrane) and most of the fat, no matter how good your butcher is. Well-prepped meat delivers a cleaner and less gamey flavour. Do leave a little of the fat though, just enough to keep the meat moist and flavourful.

Second, avoid overcooking lamb; go no more than medium-rare if possible, and if not everyone is down with that, roast a boneless leg flat instead of rolled and tied. That way the thickest parts will can be cooked to a rare doneness, and the thinner parts will be more well done to keep fans of that doneness happy.

Last, keep in mind that lamb's strong flavour is a great companion to other big flavours, so choose pairings wisely. It will shine with things like mint, anchovy, rosemary and dried fruits. Here are some ideas to get you going.

Pair lamb with anchovy. Skeptical about the those little fish? They melt away to become simply the best flavour enhancer. To try this, make about a dozen or so 2 x 2-inch deep incisions all over a bone-in or boneless leg of lamb. They need to be big enough so that you can slide in a slice of garlic, a piece of canned anchovy, and a sprig of rosemary. Roast the leg as you normally would, or look up a recipe online. You'll wonder why we didn't tell you about this sooner.

Simmer up a Persian or North African lamb stew. Something like an apricot-studded Moroccan tagine works well, or this herb-filled and fragrant stew. Either way you'll feed a crowd or get a days of delicious meals for the work of one — whatever your intentions.

Grill lamb skewers the Italian way, and make spiedini. Cube a boneless lamb leg or shoulder into ½-inch cubes and thread onto skewers. This can take awhile - or you can make it a group task! Submerge the skewers in a marinade made with equal parts red wine and olive oil, lots of salt, a few smashed cloves of garlic, and rosemary sprigs. Let the meat bathe in that for 3-4 hours before grilling or broiling in the oven.

Asparagus

Asparagus may be spring's veggie mascot, but how you cook it doesn't have to stay the same. When shopping for asparagus, keep in mind that slimmer doesn't always mean better. A vibrant green colour more accurately indicates whether it's tender or not.

Store asparagus in a jar of water in your fridge and use a knife to slice off the bottom of the tough stalks, rather than snapping and wasting more of it than you need to. Keep things classic but exciting with an asparagus mimosa (no, not the drink, recipes abound online), a spring frittata or a quiche, or any of these ways of showcasing it:

Eat it raw in salad. Cut the stalks very thin and at an angle, then cut into 1 ½-inch lengths or shave into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. Toss with your favourite vinaigrette.

Char the spears on the grill or in a lightly-oiled cast iron pan indoors. The key is to turn the spears only after they've developed the black marks and to patiently do this to all sides. When you're done, turn down the heat and add a glug of olive oil if you've got them in a pan. Let them cook a few more minutes before finishing with flaky salt and more olive oil if you wish.

Turn asparagus into a vibrant green dip. Boil a bunch until tender and puree to add it to your favourite hummus recipe. Or look up a recipe online for a dedicated asparagus dip, pairing it with spinach for an even deeper green.

Daikon

You may have seen this white winter radish in the grocery store and wondered what it is. It resembles a carrot, with the name meaning "big root" in Japanese. Used often in Asian cooking, it's sweeter and milder than the red radishes you may be used to, and equally delicious boiled in stews, eaten raw or even swapped for noodles. Here are some more ideas.

Pickle it and add it to salads, sandwiches and grain salads. Look up a recipe online and make it now to use all month. Just remember daikon is in the same family as broccoli and cabbage, which all exude a funky smell when cooked or fermented. So if the pickles smell when you first take off the lid, let them sit for 10 minutes or so until the smell dissipates.

Eat daikon raw in salads. It's the perfect addition to spring coleslaws and other salads. Simply julienne, grate or peel into ribbons and dress with your favourite slaw or citrus dressing.

Sub daikon for the turnips in your spring soups and stews. Or look up a recipe for Chinese daikon soup, with pork or not, and really let daikon's flavour shine.

Pineapple

Rely on pineapple to get you through until summer's berries arrive. To prepare, lob off the top of the pineapple, saving it to decorate a fruit platter if that's what you're making. Stand the pineapple upright and slice off the skin, trying to avoid cutting too deep or you'll waste a lot of the fruit. If you do it right, you'll be left with a repeating pattern of pineapple eyes (those pokey spikes), which you can slice off in thin and efficient wedges at a diagonal. YouTube the process it to become a master. Seared, taco-fied, or soaked in wine, here's how to cook with this tropical fruit.

Slice it into ½-inch rounds and grill it. Like the asparagus above, you can do this inside on high heat in a cast iron pan, or outside on your grill.  Cooking the pineapple maximizes its sweetness. Use it as a yogurt or ice cream topper, drizzled with a rum caramel sauce if that speaks to you.

Swap cubed pineapple in for the out-of-season tomatoes in your tacos. If you don't already have a taco recipe you love, follow online directions for making tacos al pastor, or make these one-pan shrimp tacos. Spring taco party, anyone?

End your spring feast on a tropical note with a pineapple fruit salad. Soak the cubes in  white wine or that bottle of ice wine you've been hanging onto -- no better time than now! Taste the fruit after an hour and sweeten with a bit of brown sugar if it needs it. Squeeze in some fresh lime juice and garnish with mint, and toasted cashews and coconut flakes for crunch.

With all these ideas to get you started, you're well on your way to an epic spring feast. If you need a bit more direction, start with the recipes below before experimenting with the ideas above. Happy feasting!

Lamb Osso Buco with Saffron Barley Risotto

Shahir's Maldoum

Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi

(Photography by Eric Wolfinger)

Spring Vegetable Quiche

Potato Salad Prima Vera

Miso Soup with Root Vegetables

Sheet Pan Shrimp and Pineapple Tacos

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

Pineapple Whip

Pineapple Slushy Mojito


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.

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