At the start of the month, markets don’t always have much new. You can still find what’s in season in February. But newcomers like strawberries were still expensive and not sweet yet. Now, seasonal produce is on the upward swing towards summer’s abundance in the Middle East and those piles of strawberries fill the air with their fragrance as you move from vendor to vendor in the shuk. Strawberry prices will continue to fall slightly as spring progresses, but if you want to put jam up now, you won’t regret it.
Fruit and Avocados
Avocados must be the best bargain in fruit right now. Black, wrinkly Hass avocados are sold dead ripe and ready for eating right now. Try our natural moisturizing blend with some of these ripe avocados. The larger smooth green varieties are mostly sold hard for ripening at home.
Melons have begun. The smaller varieties are sweet already, but I advise waiting for hotter weather to buy watermelons. Here’s our guide on how to choose the best one. Oranges and clementines are still around, but fading out of the picture. Lemons are still abundant and good. Bananas are attractive, with prices slightly lower than at the beginning of the month.
Apples and pears are mostly imported from colder climates like Europe and although attractive, not especially sweet. International shipping and perhaps refrigeration seem to draw the sweetness and flavor out of fruit. However, loquats are out in quantity, and they are a purely local fruit to the Near Middle East region.
Other springtime arrivals are passion fruit, and kiwi fruit, both highly priced. Passion fruit vines grow easily in the climate of Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority regions. Turkey and Jordan too. Find the fruit dropping off garden fences onto sidewalks, but kiwi is produced by farmers in colder hilly regions. Quinces are available and look beautiful, but are most expensive.
Papaya fruit has now arrived, although scanty and expensive. Yellow guavas, with their unforgettable heady odor, are another springtime newcomer.
Vegetables in Season
Timeless cooking principle we live by: cook seasonal produce together. Right now eggplants, peppers and tomatoes are fat and glossy, so cooks here naturally grill, then blend them together with garlic and olive oil. It’s a delicious spread with the slightly charred flavor that says Middle East. Or try grilling chunks of vegetables, our way.
Another tip: garlic confit will never go to waste.
Shakshoukah, eggs poached in a tomato sauce with bell peppers, is another brilliant way to combine seasonal vegetables. It makes for a hearty breakfast to share. Great for brunch.
Those prime ingredients for Middle-Eastern chopped salad, cucumbers and tomatoes, are excellent now and prices are coming down as summer approaches.
Red, green and yellow bell peppers in all their colors are fat and prime for stuffing, grilling and pickling. Red bell peppers are slightly more expensive than their yellow, orange, and green cousins. Beware peppers imported from Turkey though. Buy organic if you can. Peppers are worth buying for salad or muhamarra spread now, but wait for full summer to buy quantities for pickling.
Eggplants again: both long, slender and full-bodied varieties, are worth buying now. Once the hot weather starts eggplants are the first to spoil and buckle in the heat. So buy now and enjoy some baba ghanoush with our tried and tested recipe.
Squash varieties like pumpkins and zucchini are handsome and excellent for light springtime soups.
Green string beans and yellow wax beans are more in evidence although their prices are still on the high side. Artichokes are full and heavy; this is prime season for them.
Red, white, and baby potatoes of both colors are excellent, as always in spring. Onions are improving – you can ignore the sprouty ones that vendors are still trying to get rid of for the fresh new crops.
Peas are in the markets now, as are green fava beans. Cardoons are in the markets. The cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, also called the artichoke thistle, is a thistle in the sunflower family. It is a naturally occurring species that also has many cultivated forms, including the globe artichoke.
Fresh green garlic is here and if you like it, now’s the time to buy for drying or preserving. Two ways to preserve fresh garlic are peeling and freezing it, or burying the cloves or entire cleaned bulbs in olive oil and herbs and baking till soft. This confit of garlic also freezes well. And eggplants yet again: baby eggplants for pickling are available in some markets. Buy now if you like them.
Some cold-weather vegetables are still firm and worth buying: cabbages, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, carrots, celeriac, parsley root.
Leafy vegetables like lettuces, Swiss chard and celery are very good. Broccoli has been looking rather old, but cauliflowers are going strong, fat, and white.
Season for herbs
Herbs are so exuberantly beautiful and plentiful that they deserve space all to themselves. Mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, watercress, arugula, rocket, bitter wormwood for a sprig in tea, coriander leaf, fresh fenugreek leaves, which are favored by the Indian community, a garlicky Persian leaf called” richu,” basil, scallions, leeks, fresh ginger and “shav,” or sour grass for soup.
A variety of savory that tastes like za’atar is being sold now.
If you are a forager
Forager’s notes: Mulberry trees will be starting to put out leaves, good for stuffing or drying and crumbling later for tea. Look for them. Shepherd’s purse is flowering and getting leggy, but the heart-shaped seed pods make a peppery accent in salads. Wild marigolds and chamomile flowers are very abundant wherever they’re allowed to grow.
Nettles, chickweed and mallows are no longer worth picking. It’s too late in the season. Plantain leaf is especially abundant now because of the recent heavy rains. Fumaria and cleavers are still good. Mandrakes may be seen in cold regions, but beware – the intriguing purple fruit is toxic.
We promised you eggplant ideas, and here they are: