What to cook in March: Spring-ish root vegetables, baby bok choy, plus kumquats — the cutest fruit ever
Break out of the winter stew routine and cook like spring has already arrived, even if the produce hasn’t
Are you over winter yet?? We hear you. But March is the bridge between snow and blossoms. While you may have no control over when spring actually gets here, you can make small adjustments with your cooking that hint at a seasonal change.
Try, for instance, cutting back on the potatoes, the yams, and the squash, and reach for things like cassava or celeriac, which are milder options, the latter being just as delicious served fresh and crisp as roasted. And reach for baby bok choy, with its tender leaves and compact structure, the perfect stand-in for not-quite-arrived spring greens. For fruit, try kumquats, the cutest-ever, doll-sized citrus that look like tiny oranges. They pack a puckering tartness that's the opposite of the warm, earthy flavours of winter. (You get what we're doing here? We're willing spring.) Here's how to get started cooking all of these things.
While you might already be drinking celery juice, you've gotta try celeriac, or celery root, depending on how you've come to know it. Its stalks are thinner and stronger in flavour and are usually removed before it reaches your store. That's fine, it's the beige-coloured, gnarled tuber that you're after (although if you do find the stalks, go ahead and use them just as you would regular celery).
The root itself behaves like a potato when cooked and like a less-sweet apple raw in salads — complete with the oxidizing quality so be sure to get cut pieces into lemon juice. While you may be tempted to attack the skin with a vegetable peeler, it's often easier to use a sharp knife to remove it. Cut off both ends, stand the root upright, and strip the skin as you would an orange peel for a fancy salad.
Now let's get to how you can cook with it.
Slice it thin for celeriac carpaccio. You've probably seen this preparation with meat or fish, but raw celeriac works just as well. Use a mandolin to shave celeriac into paper-thin slices and submerge it in a mixture of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Mix ⅓ cup more olive oil with 2 tbsp white wine or sherry vinegar, 3 jarred anchovies (the kind packed in oil and salt), and 1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped. Then fluff a low mound of arugula on a platter, lift the celeriac slices out of the lemon juice solution and lay them on the greens. Drizzle the anchovy dressing over everything and top it all with an abundance of Parmesan shavings.
Sizzle up celeriac fries. You don't even need to take the peel off. Just scrub the tubers really well with a brush and cut them into ¼-inch slices. Square them off if you wish, or leave them as is for rustic bites. Blanch them quickly and dip them first in egg and then in panko crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in a shallow layer of high-heat-stable oil like grapeseed, sunflower, or peanut oil, until the outside is crisp and the inside is tender. Finish with flakey salt and a dusting of finely chopped parsley, and serve with a lemon-herb aioli on the side.
Cube and boil celeriac to toss in a warm grain salad. Maybe one made with wild rice, toasted walnuts, and lemon caraway dressing, perhaps? Be sure to season the celeriac water with salt so that the mild root picks up a bit of flavour. And don't boil too long or the pieces turn to mush. Garnish the whole salad with finely chopped green celery leaves if you have them.
Bill Gates thinks cassava is "the world's most interesting vegetable", so why not try it to see if he's right. It goes by many other names too; yuca, manioc, tapioca (bubble tea!), or Brazilian arrowroot, so you may have actually had it already. It's incredibly versatile and makes a delicious gluten-free flour too if you grate it fresh (keep reading for how).
To peel a cassava, cut it into 3-inch chunks and score the bark-like skin lengthwise. Lay each piece onto its side and slide your knife under where you've just scored, to peel back the skin, taking off the pink layer underneath too. Fun fact: you actually have to peel and cook cassava thoroughly to destroy the naturally-occurring cyanide it contains. But don't let this toxic factor deter you. It's safe to eat if you treat it right and always opt for the sweet variety, the kind most often available (in Canada anyway). Here's how to take this rebellious tuber by the horns, or...roots.
Swap cassava for the potatoes in your mash. Peel and boil them and dress them up just as you do with your spuds. Cream, butter, garlic, and fresh herbs — cassava loves it all.
Grate fresh peeled cassava and bake with it. Find a recipe online for sweet Filipino cassava cake or the more savoury Jamaican bammy. Both ways are a win, and gluten-free!
Make cassava the starch in your March stews. If you need a jumping off point, look up a recipe for Latin American sancocho. Cassava also pairs nicely with other root vegetables if you want a colourful medley.
Baby bok choy
With its tender leaves and crunchy stems, baby bok choy's cleaner and sweeter in flavour than say, mustard greens. We're partial to the baby size which only need to be halved or quartered, stems and all, and cooked simply in a pan. If you're lucky, you'll stumble on Shanghai baby bok choy, which is especially mild and delicious. Here's how to work with them both.
Sauté baby bok choy and serve as a side of greens in place of salad. To ensure the thicker stems have a chance to cook all way through, cook in covered pan for two minutes with a couple tablespoons of water. Lift the lid and add a swirl of garlic oil and chili flakes if you wish, letting it all cook for a few more minutes until tender, and the water evaporates. From here, you can flavour it even more with a douse of sesame oil mixed with oyster sauce, or just a drizzle of good olive oil and your best flaky salt.
Work it into a Japanese-inspired grain bowl. Boil and serve topped with shiraae, a Japanese tofu paste made with tofu, sesame, miso and rice vinegar, or some sort of variation which you'll find online. Be sure to squeeze out all the excess liquid after boiling the baby bok choy. You can do this easily by wringing it between two clean dish towels. As for the kinds of grains to use in the bowl, we'd suggest whole grains, maybe quinoa, millet, or farro?
Shred it into ribbons and swirl it into your soup. Do this by sweating some leeks, carrots and celery and then cooking those in a good stock until soft. Add the greens right at the end of cooking so that by the time you're done seasoning it with lemon juice, salt and pepper, they'll be cooked. If you want some protein, freeze a small amount of sirloin steak so you can slice it really thin. Drop the raw meat into the soup along with the greens at the end so it'll be ready at the same time.
Fresh berries are still a couple months off, so for now reach for kumquats to take their place. This lesser known, bite-sized citrus fruit is in season right now, and is a refreshing change from all the clementines, key limes, and grapefruits we hope you're already eating.
Go ahead and pop a whole kumquat into your mouth, rind and all, but prepare for some lip-puckering. Opt for the round variety if you can find it, it's a little sweeter than the oval variety. But their big personality is why it's easy to fall in love with these little fruits. Here's how to work them into your cooking.
Candy them to use to garnish desserts or a salad or whatever else could use a pop of colour. To do this, slice them into thin coins, removing any seeds with the tip of your paring knife. Cook them for an hour in a 1:1 sugar to water solution. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and dry on a greased wire rack overnight.
Blanch and add to salad. A quick blast under hot water, or even just a pour over from the steaming kettle, will soften their rind. From there, cut them into quarters, removing any seeds with the tip of your paring knife. Use them in salads wherever you'd be using citrus or dried fruit, pairing them whenever possible with a bold green like arugula, bitter radicchio, or endive all which stand up nicely to kumquat's tartness.
Simmer up a batch of kumquat marmalade or chutney now to serve or gift at all of your spring feasts. Find a recipe online, one with lots of lemon for brightness to carry the preserve into a fresher season. The striking orange colour of your preserves will be enough to get conversations going. Pair it with lamb but prepare for a quiet gather, guests will be too busy eating to chat.
Now that you've got a whole whack of fresh ideas to get you through the last weeks before spring, there's not better time than now to get started. Here's a recipe or two to get you going.
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.