I have neither space large enough nor thumbs green enough for a home garden, so thank goodness we have some pretty amazing farmers’ markets here in the Bay Area.
On my shopping list? A few warm-weather vegetables that are available in abundance right now (not to mention they make a super-healthy addition to summertime meals).
Read on for fun facts and quick recipes for five of my favorites:
Averaging 84 calories per ear, corn contains vitamin A, folate, fiber and antioxidants.
Look for husks that have an even green color, silks that are a pale golden tone and plump kernels that ooze a milky juice when popped, which means the ear is fresh.
Corn is also super-convenient because it comes pre-packaged for grilling! Simply remove the silks, brush a little butter on the kernels and pull the husks back up before tossing on a preheated grill for about 15 minutes, turning regularly.
There’s truth in the saying “Cool as a cucumber;” did you know that the inside of this potassium-packed vegetable can actually be up to 20 degrees cooler than the air in which it sits?
As a general rule, the smaller the cucumber, the smaller the seeds, and look for one that is firm, straight and blemish-free.
For a sweet and sour treat, try slicing two cucumbers thinly and mixing with one-quarter cup of rice vinegar, one teaspoon sugar and one quarter teaspoon salt, plus two tablespoons toasted sesame seeds.
Crunchy, flavorful and a rich source of fiber, green beans boast important nutrients such as vitamins A, B6 and C – not to mention a healthy dose of minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium.
Choose crisp, well-formed beans that have smooth skin because a woody or tough appearance with discolored brown spots is usually a sign they are not fresh.
For an elegant side dish, combine a pound of blanched beans with two tablespoons olive oil and one-third cup each of crumbled blue cheese and crushed walnuts.
Lacking the hotness for which some of their family members are known, sweet (or “bell”) peppers contain small levels of the healthy alkaloid compound capsaicin, which may have anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties.
Go for a firm pepper that’s vibrant in color and free of surface punctures, bruises or shriveled stems.
Roasted peppers are a quick fix that will allow you to add exquisite flavor to a variety of dishes; simply quarter peppers, removing seeds and membranes before roasting in a 500-degree oven until the skin blisters and turns black (peel off skin when cool).
Although technically a fruit, the tomato is used most often as a vegetable for cooking purposes. Lycopene, a much talked-about antioxidant present in tomatoes, has been known to neutralize free radicals in the body and cut the risk of some cancers.
When buying, focus on choosing a specimen that feels heavy for its size and smells deliciously earthy. And whatever you do, don’t refrigerate tomatoes when you get them home; you’ll run the risk of turning them mushy or mealy in temperatures cooler than 50 degrees.
For a delicious side dish, halve tomatoes and top with a mixture of one quarter cup grated Parmesan, one teaspoon fresh oregano, plus salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 15 minutes – or until tender – in a 450-degree oven.
If you want to eat more local veggies this summer, a good place to start is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Smarter Living: Eat Local” site here, which includes information about markets around the country as well as which produce is currently in season around the U.S.