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There’s nothing like the promise of a warm spring breeze after months of sniffles, sweaters, and polar vortexes. It’s this time of year when our gardens start to get colorful, and our bodies crave more movement and lighter foods. For those eating seasonally, this means a host of crunchy, scrumptious—and often overlooked—vegetables to brighten up your plate and your palate.

Early-in-the-season vegetables like asparagus, greens, peas, and rhubarb don’t always get the credit they deserve. Asparagus can be tough when eaten out of season. Greens and peas rarely get the limelight. And rhubarb can be intimidating if you’ve never cooked it before. But if these produce picks are eaten in their prime and prepared well, you may be surprised by what you’ve been missing. We’ve selected a menu of four recipes that showcase the vibrant hues and flavors of the season’s best underdogs.

Three cheers for asparagus

One of the first crops to be harvested is asparagus, and in Germany in particular, this is cause for celebration. When I studied abroad in Berlin, I was fortunate to be there in the spring, during Spargelzeit, literally “Asparagus Time.” Nearly every restaurant has a special menu this time of year, featuring asparagus in a variety of preparations. In the United States, we’re used to green asparagus (which is cut once it’s grown above the soil), but in Germany, the more common variety is white (which is cut below the soil, just when the tips begin to surface).

Try: Spargelsuppe

This simple soup is best served with toasted bread and slices of Gruyere or Gouda. A glass of Riesling wouldn’t hurt either.

It actually can be easy to be green

We typically peg summer as salad season, but greens prefer cooler weather—so that makes early spring the perfect time for a bright salad. With so many different textures and flavors, from subtle to spicy to choose from, mixed greens offer more than meets the eye. It doesn’t take much to make them taste ah-mazing.

Try: Spring Green Salad

Skip the store-bought dressing: this recipe calls for good olive oil and lemon juice poured right over seasoned greens. This actually couldn’t be easier.

See your staples in a new light

For too long, I considered peas a kind of meal filler. I’d throw frozen peas into a pasta dish to balance out food group proportions, but I never really looked forward to eating them. Same thing with lettuce—I thought of it as a base for the more interesting stuff. When these two items are fresh, though, they are totally capable of taking center stage.

Try: Pasta with Peas, Asparagus, Butter Lettuce, and Prosciutto

I know, I know—more asparagus. But it’s just so good this time of year, and even better when paired with lettuce, pasta, prosciutto, and peas. (Can you say that three times fast?)

A classic combination for the win

Like asparagus, rhubarb is one of the first crops ready to harvest. If strawberries aren’t ready in your market yet, you could opt for frozen to create the classic combination. To be honest, I don’t have other rhubarb recipes in my repertoire. Because really, who needs ’em?

Try: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

This recipe suggests creating the topping with an electric mixer, but I’ve had success mixing by hand (which means fewer tools to clean up later!). If you want to say that the leftover fruit base and oatmeal topping qualifies as breakfast the next day, we’re not stopping you.

A change of season is a great time to try something new. May this spring be full of unexpected triumphs and joyful surprises, from the food on your table to the friendships you build around it. 

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