Food

What to cook in May: B.C. spot prawns, rhubarb, mangoes and all the artichokes

Recipe ideas for making the most of spring’s gems.

Recipe ideas for making the most of spring’s gems

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If you only get excited about summer or winter cooking — grilling and ragus — you're overlooking a season of cooking that's special in its own right. Spring cooking is a fabulous. We're talking fresh artichokes and the bright pink stalks of rhubarb, B.C. spot prawns, and mangoes galore.

Don't miss out on what these months have to offer as you count down to berry season and everything summer brings. Fresh, new, and at their peak, here's how to make use of spring's best.

Artichokes

Don't let this thistle flower intimidate you. Cut off the top quarter and snap off about three layers of the tough outer leaves at stem. Stop when you get to the tender leaves underneath that have a streak of lighter green. Then slice off the dry tip of the stem, and peel the more tender parts of the stem with a vegetable peeler so you can still use the stalk.

Baby artichokes are easier to work with because they're mostly edible, but larger globe artichokes have a fibrous (and hairy-looking) choke inside which you'll have to deal with before you reach the heart. The simplest way is to scoop it out with a spoon after it's cooked.

Artichokes oxidize quickly, so drop your cleaned artichokes immediately into a bowl of lemon water (use the juice of one lemon for every two cups of water). And avoid cooking artichokes in cast iron or they may turn blue, because chemistry, you know.

Now let's get to some easy ways you can cook them.  

Grill 'em. Simply halve cleaned baby artichokes and brush with an olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette before throwing them on a hot grill until they're soft. Sprinkle with flaky salt and drizzle with olive oil to serve just like that, or arrange around a mound of good-quality ricotta or goat cheese for a special occasion.

Make risotto. Look up a recipe online and if it seems daunting, know that you can prep the artichokes up to two days ahead — just refrigerate them in a lemon water bath.

Steam a whole globe artichoke for a great appetizer. Trim and prep it as instructed above, and lay it in a steamer basket if you have one, or stand it upside down in an inch of water. Steam for 30-45 minutes, depending on its size' you'll know it's done when the leaves snap off easily. Serve it with a honey dijon vinaigrette, a roasted garlic aioli, or just plain ol' mayo for dipping. Encourage your guests to pull off the leaves and dip them, then scrape the flesh off with their teeth and discard the tough leaf exterior. Once you get down to the choke, scoop it out and cut the meaty base below the choke into quarters or eighths — this is the heart! Share it with your guests or eat it all yourself. We'll never tell.

B.C. spot prawns

These rock stars of the sea are in season right now. If you're in Vancouver, don't miss the festival this month celebrating their arrival. Supple and sweet, it doesn't take much to make a restaurant-quality dish out of them. Fry them quickly in garlic butter, or worship them one of these ways:

Host a prawn boil. Often made with crab or lobster, a boil is essentially a rustic one-pot seafood stew usually involving things like potatoes, corn, and sausage. You'll probably also need Old Bay seasoning, which you can easily make yourself (recipes abound online) if your grocery store doesn't sell it.

Douse the prawns in a herb-infused butter bath and roast them. This is an excellent option for a party. Just keep their shells on and pop them in the oven when your first guests arrive. By the time they're settled you can bring out the steaming hot prawns.

Skip the heat and marinate them in lime juice instead. This is essentially prawn ceviche and it's safe to eat, especially if you can get the prawns super fresh from the ocean. You'll need the juice of about 6-8 limes for every pound of chopped prawns, an amount that should coat them just enough but not so much that they're swimming. Toss in a bit of sliced cucumber if you want and let this all marinate, stirring a couple of times, for about 45 minutes and no more than an hour. Serve with chips, hot sauce, and a sprinkling of Mexican chili powder.

Mangoes

Sure, mangos are available year-round, but look out for some special and fleeting varieties this month. A box of kesar mangoes just might change your life, or at least open your eyes to the beauty of mangos at their prime. Even if you can't tell exactly what variety you're eating, you'll notice that they cost less while in season. Don't miss out! Here are some ways of cooking with them.

Simmer mangoes down into spreadable fruit butter. To do this, combine 1 pound of peeled and sliced mangoes with 100 mL of unsweetened apple juice in a pot on the stove and simmer, covered, until totally soft, about 30 minutes. Mash the mango with a potato masher and add granulated sugar to taste, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the whole mixture thickens up like apple butter, about 2 hours. Scale up or down as needed.

Freeze for smoothies and straight-from-frozen fruit salads. Buy them in bulk now and process them yourself. Use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin, then chop them up and freeze them on a single layer on a baking tray overnight. Pop the frozen fruit into a container or freezer bag once frozen. Mix with other frozen fruit for a refreshing fruit salad on a hot day.

Turn green mangoes into a salad or a refreshing drink. Slice them super thin or spiralize them for a Thai mango salad, or blend them up with sugar and lime juice for a bright, tart drink. Just make sure you buying unripe mangoes and not a green-skinned variety.

Swap mangoes for the tomatoes in your fresh salsa. Use either as a dip for tortilla chips, on pork tacos, or inside fresh veggie spring rolls. Process any leftover salsa in the blender and make a mango coulis to drizzle over fish.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is native to Siberia but it grows very well here in North America, maybe even in your garden. While it's technically a vegetable, it shines when cooked with more sugar and used in things like pies and cakes. Here's how to do that and even more.

Bake it with sour cream into a custardy rhubarb pie. Sour cream tames rhubarb's tartness and provides a richness that replaces the need for extra frills like ice cream and whipping cream — though feel free to serve them alongside anyway. As with other fruit pies, you'll want to thicken the filling with a couple of tablespoons of all-purpose flour or other starch, and maybe throw in a diced apple or two (Granny Smiths are nice) for a rounder flavour. An oat-y streusel topping really seals the deal.

Make rhubarb relish. Seek out a recipe online, particularly one using curry powder, ginger and apple cider vinegar. With this combo you'll get a sweet and sour condiment to serve with things like tandoori chicken or roasted pork. Make a big batch and freeze in smaller portions.

Turn rhubarb into a pretty pink cocktail. Using a ratio of 5:1 chopped rhubarb to sugar, add both to a big pot along with some peeled nubs of ginger and ribbons of lemon zest if you'd like. Cover everything with water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and cover, letting the mixture infuse for one hour, by which time it will have turned a beautiful spring-like shade of pink. Strain and serve over ice with a splash of prosecco or soda water.

Care for more detailed instruction? Start with the recipes below, then come back and try some (or all!) of the ideas above.

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

Rhubarb Shrub

Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts

(The Great Canadian Baking Show)

Mango Gingerbread Upside Down Sandwich Cake

(Credit: Nassima Rothacker)

The Easiest Mango Vanilla Mousse

Mediterranean Marinade


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

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