Around this time of year, everything is full of the promise of spring. Blossoms bloom, lambs frolic and the days stretch out ever longer.

But in the garden and at farmers' markets, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything good to eat. Dig a carrot and chances are it will be covered in unattractive long, white hairs. If do you eat it, the experience will likely be woody and tough, offering not a skerrick of sweetness.

Suddenly, often in a matter of a few days, plants that have held out through the cold months of winter start to grow flower stems, simultaneously stopping all useful growth of the vegetable itself. Even onions and potatoes start to sprout.

Flavours change in this process, and what was once sweet, juicy and crisp becomes bitter, tough and dry. It's a normal part of a plant's life cycle to produce seeds, but unfortunately when a vegetable plant bolts, its harvestable days are over.

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At the same time, all the newly planted spring crops are weeks, if not months, away from being ready to harvest. Warm northern gardens may be producing soft salad greens and quick-growing veges like bok choy, but for me down in the south, the pickings are lean - there's loads of miners' lettuce and mache, some scraggly rocket but not a lot else.
As we step into spring we're desperate for a change from all that rib-sticking fare that has kept us warm and happy through winter. Our palates start craving light, fresh tastes - food that will fill us with energy and zing. But what to eat?

I tend to work on two approaches at this time of year. The first takes an Asian noodle bowl theme - I load up a broth with tasty Asian flavours, throw in veges and protein and serve it over some slurpy noodles for a bowl meal that's super-quick but nice and light. The second is to explore another of my favourite springboard recipes - vegetarian bowls. These power-packed meals-in-a-bowl deliver loads of vitality and offer the ability to change out culinary cultures, depending on the dressing and the starch.

Start with your dressing, saving dishes by mixing it up in the serving bowl (or a portable jar if you plan to take it to work). Add some kind of cooked grain, such as lentils, beans, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet or rice. Then layer in robust vegetables such as diced roast pumpkin or kumara, steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets; top with a protein, such as cheese, nuts or seeds; and finally add some leafy greens or sprouts.

Putting the grain at the bottom with the dressing allows it to soak up the flavours, and putting delicate or crispy at the top means they won't get soggy or lose their texture. When you're ready to eat, give it a toss to mix everything up (or tip the jar into a bowl).
Vegetarian bowl meals like these deliver the much-needed pick-me-up that spells spring, and they're the perfect way to celebrate International Vegetarian Week this week (October 1-7).

De-Stress Bowl

Ready in 10 mins
Serves 2

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated
1 apple, grated
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1½ cups cooked black quinoa or kibbled wheat
6-8 button mushrooms, finely sliced
2 cups watercress leaves, tightly packed
¼ cup tamari-roasted sunflower seeds

Fennel dressing
2 Tbsp orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
1½ tsp miso
½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
½ tsp fennel seeds, finely chopped

To make dressing, mix the ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the beetroot, apple, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Transfer to a large serving bowl or jar (or divide between two medium jars). Layer in quinoa or kibbled wheat, mushrooms, watercress and sunflower seeds and screw on the lid or lids. To serve, toss gently or invert into one or two large bowls and toss gently.

Annabel says: Quinoa, kibbled wheat, amaranth, rice, chickpeas, beans or lentils and even rice can be cooked in bulk and then frozen in small portions so you can assemble a bowl meal in a flash. Beetroot is a terrific booster ingredient - it elevates iron and energy levels and helps to lower blood pressure.

Energy Boost Bowl

Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

Ready in 15 mins
Serves 2

1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
1½ cups cooked millet or brown rice
½ cup mung bean sprouts
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
½ cup tamari-roasted almonds

Seaweed dressing
¼ cup wakame seaweed
2 Tbsp orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
1½ tsp miso
½ tsp finely grated fresh ginger

To make dressing, cover wakame with boiling water and set aside for 5 minutes. Drain wakame and transfer to a large serving bowl or jar (or divide between two medium jars). Add orange and lime juice, miso and ginger and stir or shake to combine. Cook broccoli in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain, refresh under cold water and drain again well. Layer in millet or brown rice, broccoli, bean sprouts and egg, top with almonds and screw on the lid or lids. To serve, toss gently or invert into one or two large bowls and toss gently.

Annabel says: If you don't have access to wakame, just tear or slice up a packet of nori snack seaweed. All seaweed is rich in iodine, calcium and magnesium and, with lots of umami, it delivers a real depth of flavour to the dressing.

Corn and Quinoa Bowl

Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

Ready in 10 mins
Serves 2

2 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups corn kernels
10-12 green beans, chopped and blanched (optional)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves

Lime dressing
3 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

To make dressing, combine lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large serving bowl or jar (or divide between two medium jars). Layer in quinoa, then corn, then green beans. Top with spring onions and coriander and screw on the lid or lids. To serve, toss gently or invert into one or two large bowls and toss gently.

Annabel says: Rinse quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) in a fine strainer before cooking to wash off the bitter coating. For a chart of cooking times for grains and pulses see my website.

For more clever and adaptable recipes see Annabel's new book, Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a beautiful compendium of more than 650 of her best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.