Spring Salad of Asparagus, Ramps, Snap Peas, & Peas With Lemon Zest Vinaigrette

Want to make great food in the spring? All you've got to do is find some perfect ingredients and not mess 'em up.

Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Video: Serious Eats Video.

Why This Recipe Works

  • This entire dish can be made ahead of time. Blanch your vegetables, make the purée, make the vinaigrette, even poach the eggs, and store them in the fridge until you're ready to assemble and serve.

Spring is here, the weather outside is awesome, and I got some dogs that need a walkin', so I'm going to keep this as short and sweet as possible.

Here's a game: Go up to any chefs and ask them what their favorite season of the year is. Chances are "Spring. Right now," is the answer. Why is that? Well, they might get all poetic and claim that it's because of what spring represents—those first shoots of tender life that burst forth through the ground after the long, cold winter and all that.

But here's the truth: Chefs love spring because it makes their job easier.

Sure, winter's great, and a good chef'll be able to coax flavor out of those cellared parsnips or overgrown leeks, but it takes an awful lot of work to do so. Spring is just about the complete opposite. You want to make great food in the spring? All you've got to do is find some perfect ingredients and not mess 'em up.

My favorite way to do it? Blanching. A bit of knife work, a quick bath in well-salted boiling water, a cool down in an ice bath, and a few sparingly applied aromatics and seasonings, and you've got the essence of spring in a perfect, simple salad.

A poached egg doesn't hurt either.

The Rules of Blanching

There are no set rules for exactly what vegetables to use, but there are some basics to bring them together perfectly. Here are the rules I go by when blanching vegetables. This method will work for many of spring's finest green vegetables, including but not limited to: peas, fava beans, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, snow peas, and snap peas.

Rule #1: Use A Big Pot With Lots of Water at a Rolling Boil.

When you drop a green vegetable into a pot of boiling water, a number of changes occur.

Firstly, blanching will destroy enough cellular structure to just barely tenderize your vegetable to the point that it has lost its raw, fibrous edge, but still retains crunch.

Secondly, intercellular gasses will expand and escape from the vegetable (you'll notice small bubbles coming out of, say, your asparagus stalks for a moment or two after dropping them into hot water). This initial escape of gas is what causes the color of a vegetable to change from pale green to a vibrant, bright green—the gases pockets that had been diffusing light suddenly disappear, allowing the full color of the chlorophyll pigment to stand out. At the same time, enzymes that would naturally break down green pigments into brown ones are destroyed.

Peas being blanched in a pot of boiling water.

Serious Eats

That's why blanched vegetables appear brighter green and more importantly stay bright green much longer than fresh vegetables. Of course, continue cooking too long, and the chlorophyll will eventually break down and your vegetables will go from bright green to a drab olive green or even brown.

The goal is to effect those changes as quickly as possible, without allowing time for the chlorophyll to begin breaking down. That's why you want to use plenty of water—it retains its temperature better after adding the vegetables, which subsequently cook faster.

Rule #2: Blanch Vegetables Separately

A close up shot of the top of a pile of asparagus spears.

Serious Eats

Asparagus isn't exactly like a snap pea. Snow peas are thinner than fiddleheads. Vegetables all take a slightly different amount of time to cook depending on their size, density, etc. The only way to get all of your vegetables cooked perfectly is to cook them separately (you can use the same pot and same water, of course). This takes us to...

Rule #3: Cut All Your Vegetables The Same Size

Chopped snap peas on a cutting board.

Serious Eats

That is, each type of vegetable should be trimmed to pieces that are all the same basic size and shape so that they cook evenly. With snap peas, for instance, I like to trim out the string, cut of the tips, then slice it at a bias into nice, pea-sized pieces that cook quickly and evenly.

For asparagus, I'll actually trim off the tip and cook it separately from the stalk, as the tip is so much narrower and more fragile that the rest of the asparagus.

Fiddleheads can be cooked as-is, as can shelled peas of fava beans. If you want to go real hardcore with your peas and favas, blanch them first, then peel off the thin shell around each individual pea/fava. It's time consuming, but you'll end up with pretty results.

Rule #4: Trust Nothing Except Your Own Senses

When blanching vegetables, do not rely on a timer, do not rely on past experience, trust no one and nothing save your own eyes and mouth. Despite the best efforts of Monsanto, vegetables are still real, living organisms that are naturally diverse. The asparagus you're cooking today is different from the asparagus you cooked last week and will take a slightly different cooking time.

Watch carefully as they cook, fish up pieces and taste them often, and as soon as they are ready, fish them out with a wire mesh strainer and drop them into your ice bath. What ice bath? This one:

Rule #5: Shock Your Vegetables in Ice Water

This rule was a no brainer for any chef a few years ago, then suddenly it became controversial because of a big, fat book that came out which reported that the hallowed technique was, in fact, useless.

That book got a lot of things right, but this is not one of them, and it's quite simple to prove to yourself: Blanch a big ol' pile of peas, take them out, and put them into a bowl without shocking them in ice water. Let them cool like that. What you'll find is that the peas at the bottom and center of the pile will have overcooked by the time you dig'em back up.

This is because the reactions that cause a pea to lose its bright green color are not instantaneous. The peas have to be above a certain temperature for a certain amount of time to lose color. A single pea cooling at room temperature will rapidly cool to a safe zone. A single pea in the middle of a pile of other really hot peas, however, may stay hot for a good fifteen minutes to half an hour, depending on the size of your pile. That's plenty of time for the pea to lose its color.

Eggs and Ramps

Two uncooked eggs sitting next to some uncooked, trimmed ramps.

Serious Eats

With all those fine spring greens blanched and ready to get dressed, they need a couple dates to the prom. A poached egg is a fine addition to any salad, but goes particularly well with spring vegetables, which are enhanced by a quick swirl through a liquid-centered yolk.

Two eggs poaching in water.

Serious Eats

There are three real keys to making poached eggs:

  • Use the freshest eggs possible. Eggs lose structure as they get older. To make the tightest, most perfectly shaped poached eggs, make sure to use absolutely fresh eggs. To get even tighter yolks, I like to break my eggs into a small bowl, the very, very carefully tilt the bowl with my hand cupping the yolk and white to let and loose, liquid white drain off before adding my egg to the water.
  • Use vinegar-spiked water at a sub-simmer. A tablespoon of vinegar per quart of water will lower its pH, causing egg proteins to set a little bit faster and making it easier for you to help the eggs retain their shape. To the same end, the water should be at a sub-simmer (bring it up to a simmer, then lower the heat until the bubbles pretty much stop) in order to reduce any turbulence that could bounce the eggs around.
  • Swirl your water and lower your eggs in carefully, one at a time. Give your pot a slight whirlpool effect with a wooden spoon before carefully dropping your eggs in one at a time. This will keep the eggs from sitting on the bottom of the pot and getting too flat on one side. I'll also help shape the eggs into a neat package as the vortex will cause it to stretch slightly in one direction.

Poached eggs can be fished out with a slotted spoon and transferred to a bowl of warm tap water to keep warm until ready to go on your salad.

As for the ramps, no spring dish is complete for me without the delicious edible wild onions. I'm not a fan of blanched ramps, so I fry mine in a bit of olive oil until brown and crisp.

Two Simple Sauces

We've assembled some perfect ingredients, so now all we have to do it dress them and put them all together. The first sauce I'm using here is easy: I took the blanched asparagus stems and simply puréed them in the blender with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and a drop or two of water to create a creamy emulsion that I spooned onto the bottom of the plate.

A spring salad with a poached egg in the center.

Serious Eats

The second sauce is a simple lemon zest vinaigrette. The most basic vinaigrette is a mixture of oil and acid, mixed vigorously until emulsified. The emulsification helps the sauce cling to foods more easily, coating them in light flavor. For this version, I used lemon juice, lemon zest, extra-virgin olive oil, and some finely minced shallots.

The greatest part of a dish like this is that you can do pretty much everything ahead of time—blanch your vegetables, make the purée, make the vinaigrette, even poach the eggs—and store them in the fridge. When you're ready to eat, just mix your vegetables (I added a few tender raw snow pea shoots into the salad as well) and toss them in vinaigrette until coated. Lay them on top of your purée, add your egg, drizzle with a bit more vinaigrette (or just straight up olive oil), and you're ready to dig in.


How to Poach Eggs

This recipe was originally published as part of the column "The Food Lab Lite."

April 2012

Recipe Details

Spring Salad of Asparagus, Ramps, Snap Peas, & Peas With Lemon Zest Vinaigrette

Active 60 mins
Total 60 mins
Serves 4 servings

Want to make great food in the spring? All you've got to do is find some perfect ingredients and not mess 'em up.


For the Vinaigrette:

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons juice from 1 or 2 lemons

  • 2 teaspoons grated zest from 1 lemon, plus a few extra thin threads of zest for garnish

  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley leaves

  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad:

  • 1 cup fresh shelled English peas or 1 cup defrosted frozen peas

  • 2 cups fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces on the bias

  • 1 pound asparagus, stalks trimmed, tips removed, tips and stalks reserved separately

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 large very fresh eggs

  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

  • 8 to 12 whole ramps, ends trimmed and cleaned

  • 2 cups tender pea or snow pea shoots, thick stalks trimmed and discarded


  1. For the Dressing: Combine olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, parsley, and shallots together in a small sealable container. Mix together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

  2. For the Vegetables: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Prepare an ice bath. Blanch peas in water, boiling until bright green and just tender, about 1 minute. Transfer to ice bath with a wire mesh strainer. Add snap peas to blanching water and cook until bright green and just tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to ice bath with a wire mesh strainer. Add asparagus tips (not the stalks) to blanching water and cook until bright green and just tender, about 1 minute. Transfer to ice bath with a wire mesh strainer. Remove all vegetables from ice bath and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to dry. Set vegetables aside.

  3. For the Asparagus: Transfer asparagus stalks to blanching water and cook until completely tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer hot stalks to the jar of a blender. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Start blender at slow speed and gradually increase to high. Blend until asparagus purée is completely smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of blanching water and scraping down sides as necessary. Season purée to taste with salt and pepper and more olive oil if desired, then set aside to cool slightly. Discard blanching water.

  4. For the Eggs: In a large saucepan, bring three inches of water to a simmer over high heat. Add vinegar and season with salt. Reduce heat until water is just barely quivering. Break one egg into a small bowl. Swirl water in pot with a wooden spoon, then carefully lower egg into the water. Repeat until all four eggs are in the water. Cook, gently swirling the water and turning the eggs occasionally, until whites are set but yolks are still liquid, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove eggs and transfer to a bowl filled with warm tap water. Set aside.

  5. For the Ramps: Heat canola or vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until smoking. Add ramps and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring and tossing occasionally until browned and lightly crisped. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer ramps to a plate lined with a paper towel.

  6. To Assemble the Salad:: Spread asparagus purée along the bottoms of four wide, shallow bowls or plates. Toss the peas, snow peas, snow pea greens, and asparagus tips with 3/4 of the dressing in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad evenly amongst the four bowls. Top each salad with sautéed ramps and a poached egg. Spoon remaining dressing over the egg and season the egg with salt. Serve immediately.

    A closeup of a spring salad with a fork breaking open the yolk of a poached egg.

    Serious Eats


Feel free to substitute whatever fresh green vegetables you can find. Young broccoli stalks, brussels sprouts, fava beans, or fiddlehead ferns would all work well.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
480 Calories
39g Fat
21g Carbs
15g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 480
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 39g 50%
Saturated Fat 6g 30%
Cholesterol 186mg 62%
Sodium 499mg 22%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 7%
Dietary Fiber 8g 28%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 15g
Vitamin C 73mg 367%
Calcium 148mg 11%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 794mg 17%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)