Asparagus bunch
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A look at the latest spring flavors

Vegetables cooked simply, ethnic flavors and micro greens are among the season's hottest trends.

’Tis the season for fava beans, micro greens, fiddlehead ferns and rhubarb, and this spring many chefs say they plan to let the produce speak for itself.

Simplicity will be key in the coming months. Additionally, a shorter winter truffle season, meaning more expensive truffles and fewer of them, might mean an abundance of mushroom dishes to satisfy consumer cravings.

High beef prices and a bit of pork fatigue will give duck and lamb a chance to shine. And the flavors of the Middle East, Korea and Southeast Asia will likely gain more prominence, some chefs say. Other trend watchers note that diners’ cravings for bold, pronounced flavors will continue.

Springtime bounty

Kevin Johnson, chef and owner of The Grocery in Charleston, S.C., will introduce a Bowl of Spring to his menu this season — a crunchy salad of local, raw vegetables that could include beets, radishes, spring onion, carrots, arugula, asparagus, or anything else that sprouts in the Low Country in the coming months.

He also will offer a salad of blanched and chilled local asparagus topped with pecorino sabayon, shaved radish and spring onion, housemade pickle beets and herb vinaigrette.

Steven Redzikowski from OAK at Fourteenth in Boulder, Colo., said he sees the small farmers in his area getting more organized and capable of providing more produce for chefs. Those local items taste so good that he said it is important not to overwhelm them with other flavors.

Vicky Moore of The Lazy Goat in Greenville, S.C., plans to use fresh green garbanzo beans in a dish she calls falafel waffles.

Danny Bortnick, chef of Firefly in Washington, D.C., also is excited about green garbanzo beans, which he plans to cook, purée and serve with pan-roasted Alaska halibut, fingerling potatoes, turnips and either fiddlehead ferns or chanterelle mushrooms. He said green garbanzos also are great quickly fried and salted as a bar snack.

Bortnick also predicts an abundance of smoked fish this spring and preserved lemon, which is a favorite flavoring of North Africa.

Middle Eastern influence

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Sumac, a Middle Eastern spice with a lemony flavor, will likely join garbanzo beans and preserved lemon on menus this spring.

David Colston, chef of Brooklyn Winery in Brooklyn, N.Y., advocates sprinkling sumac on Tokyo turnips sautéed in sunflower seed oil.

“They have a mild heat but very sweet crunch,” he said of the turnips. “The sumac brings a bright astringent tartness to the turnips and makes them pop in your mouth. Most vegetables pair nicely with this Eastern spice.”

Chop’t Creative Salad Company, a 15-unit fast-casual chain in New York City, will also represent North African flavors. One of its seasonal salads for March and April is the Roasted Moroccan Cobb, containing farro; a mixed roast of carrot, parsnips and cauliflower; romaine and spinach with chermoula vinaigrette.

Chermoula is a North African marinade of olive oil, lemon, and herbs and spices, such as hot peppers, garlic, cumin, parsley and cilantro.

Middle Eastern cuisine has been growing in popularity in the United States for years now, in part, some trend watchers say, because of its continued presence in the news, and also as a logical extension of the popularity of neighboring northern Mediterranean cuisines, such as Italian, Spanish and Greek.

Asian expansion

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Similarly, Americans’ longstanding affection for Chinese and Japanese cuisines has spread, most recently to Korea, whose influence has been seen in the famous Kogi Korean taco truck in Los Angeles and its countless knockoffs, as well as dishes such as apple kimchi with the soft Middle Eastern cheese labneh — a fusion of two trendy cuisines — not to mention the lettuce-wrapped meat, or ssam, at Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York City.

This spring, Chip Ulbrich, executive chef of South City Kitchen in Atlanta predicts new variations on kimchi, including pickled Vidalia onion greens with green garlic, two other items Ulbrich sees popping up this spring.

But Korean cuisine is a relative newcomer to the American culinary dialogue. Southeast Asian food, mostly from Thailand and Vietnam, but also from Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, is better established.

“We are seeing great success this spring with spicy, bold flavors found in our Bangkok green curry entrée, and Vietnamese pho rice Noodle soup,” said Randy Murphy, chief executive chef of 13-unit Mama Fu’s, based in Austin, Texas. “Both of these entrees are being featured on our spring Black Market Menu, which is a secret collection of off-menu exclusives, changed seasonally.”

Marc Taft, chef and owner of Chicken and the Egg in Marietta, Ga., is using a house-made Sriracha mayonnaise for his version of a Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich, which also contains housemade braised pork belly and pickled vegetables.

Beyond beef

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Parind Vora, chef of Braise in Austin, says duck will make a comeback this spring, possibly in more casual forms, such as in stews or upscale quesadillas.

Anthony Gray, executive chef of Southern Art in Atlanta, said: “I see lamb belly continuing to grab the attention of chefs.”

He said he makes a lamb pancetta for his butcher’s board.

Mushrooms

Sean Brasel, executive chef and co-owner of Meat Market in Miami Beach, Fla., said the lack of truffles will inspire the use of premium mushrooms, such as morels and chanterelles.

Tim Carey, chef of Papilles in Los Angeles, recently served a broccoli velouté with Chanterelles.

Carey is also a fan of black trumpet mushrooms, which he recently served, cooked in a little chicken stock, with flowering broccoli. He used the trimmings from the mushrooms to make a cream sauce that he served with blue nose sea bass from New Zealand.

“It’s something we put on the plate to show attention to detail, and for style and elegance, as well as a sense of seasonality,” he said.

And for dessert

Teryi Youngblood, pastry chef of Soby’s in Greenville, S.C., is adding a carrot cake to her dessert menu this spring.

“Reminiscent of springs from childhood, carrot cake is always my go-to, so I’ve created a mango carrot cake with buttermilk panna cotta and toasted macadamia nuts,” she said.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] [6].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary [7].