Chow Town

Forget the cold, look for early spring crops

While the textures and flavors of winter are meant to comfort, the tastes and smells of spring are meant to awaken brighter days and fuller flavors.

But like its weather forecast, spring’s harvest can be confusing.

Cold temperatures and late freezes in April mean production is a month or so behind for local growers.

But that isn’t stopping area farmers from bringing an abundance of greens to farmers’ markets from Brookside to City Market to Overland Park and beyond.

Yet beyond those leafy greens lies a culinary wonder that is largely unknown.

The Allium species is the hallmark of spring. A short harvest season requires fast action in order to take advantage of all these herbaceous perennials have to offer.

Here’s a guide to help you through the myriad of names given to these edible onions, garlics, chives and leeks.

• Ramps

, commonly known as wild leeks and wild garlic, have a short season here in the Midwest with an early spring harvest. Ramps smell of garlic and taste like onion and are often foraged in wooded areas.

They can be sautéed with greens, snipped into a salad, or, for the tops that are too tough to eat, thrown in soup or stock—just remove before eating, as with a bay leaf.

• Spring garlic,

also known as green garlic or fresh garlic, is picked prematurely in the spring and resembles something between an overgrown green onion and a leek.

Similar to a green onion, use the white part, the light green part, and the first few inches of the leaves, if tender. Spring garlic is stronger in flavor than a green onion and milder than garlic.

I recently roasted potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper until crisp, and then tossed them with slivers of spring garlic and white cheddar cheese for a bright and flavorful side to meatloaf.

For root-to-leaf cooking: dry the leaves and use like dried herbs. Or, eat raw to ward off spring allergies.

• Leeks

are a cylinder of bundled leaves and, without a bulb like an onion, resemble a stockier, larger green onion. Leeks have a mild onion-like taste.

Because of their bundled leaves, first remove the darker green parts of the leaves (reserve to use in stocks and soups, discarding when done), then slice the remaining white base and light green parts length wise.

Rinse in cold water to remove any remaining dirt. From there, slice and sauté, add raw to a salad, or use in soups in place of onions.

Home cooks can look for these Alliums at local farmers’ markets. And avid eaters can check out restaurants like The Farmhouse, The Rieger, and Room 39 whose chefs are always serving seasonal specialties.

While many Alliums can be used interchangeably, they each have their own vibrant distinctions worth exploration.

So instead of bemoaning the lingering chill in the air, get out there and make the most of the early spring crop.

Andrea Shores, the manager of the Brookside Farmers Market, is an enthusiastic eater and curious cook. She loves sharing her passion for local food by telling farmers’ and food purveyors’ stories.