Now that summer is here, and so many gorgeous offerings from the garden are available, it's the perfect time to think about how to get the best of nature's bounty at mealtimes. So here are just a few tips, gleaned from years of dedicated shopping, on how to pick the best fresh produce at market.
There's a great resource on the Internet for specifics on successfully choosing an array of produce: World's Healthiest Foods (whfoods.org). Here, you will not only find clear instructions on how to select many different fruits and veggies, but also information about their health benefits. It's one of my favorite virtual destinations!
Choose Your Venue
The farmers' market, of course, is always a reliable source. There you'll find a cornucopia of fresh produce that will make a healthful contribution to any meal you can imagine.
But what happens when you're looking to make a perfect peach pie on Friday, and the market was last Sunday? Or perhaps the nearest farmers' market is too far away? This is when your health food store is indispensable. It may not have the selection of a supermarket, but chances are very good that it will have something to suit your needs-and it will likely be fresh, local, and organic. Problem solved!
Use Your Senses
Here we move into an arena that's more art than science. Obviously, each fruit or vegetable has its own criteria for selection, and overall rules for assessment vary. That said, a few basic approaches can be helpful.
Your first experience of that bundle of asparagus or that mound of plums is sight; the colors should be pleasing and suggest ripeness, the surfaces should be free of punctures and discoloration, and the textures should appear fresh and unwrinkled.
Next, pick it up. Again, individual items will have their own special requirements, but you want each to conform to a standard: stone fruits should yield slightly to pressure, tomatoes should be moderately firm (not mushy), and carrots should be crisp. Corn should be unwithered, melons should be heavy for their size, cucumbers should be smooth and dry.
Finally, inhale. Does that nectarine smell rosy and sweet? Grab it. Do those raspberries give off a heavenly perfume? Yes, please. But do those potatoes smell musty? Move along.
Grilled Nectarines w/Honey & Greek Yogurt
A simple and perfect summer dessert!
4 ripe nectarines
1 Tbs. grapeseed oil
8 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt
2 Tbs. local organic honey
- Pre-heat grill to medium. Cut nectarines in half, and remove pits. Moisten both sides with grapeseed oil, and grill about 4 minutes each side until marked and slightly softened. Remove from grill, let sit for a few minutes, then remove skins.
- Place two nectarine halves on each of four plates. Top each half with dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of honey.
PER SERVING: 164 cal; 7g pro; 4g total fat (<1g sat fat); 28g carb; 0mg chol; 22mg sod; 2g fiber; 23g sugars
Riff on a Greek Salad
This tasty re-imagining of the Greek classic is perfect for a summer buffet.
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup Greek olive oil
3 Tbs. safflower oilsalt and pepper
8 cups hearts of romaine, torn into pieces
6 Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/3- inch slices
6 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 medium sweet onion (Maui, Vidalia, or Walla Walla),quartered and thinly sliced
2 7-oz. packages feta, crumbled into big pieces
- In large jar, combine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, and oregano. Shake vigorously to combine. Add olive oil, safflower oils, pinch salt, and quick grind of pepper; shake again to combine. Taste, and adjust vinegar or oil as desired. Set aside.
- Layer romaine in bottom of large shallow bowl, then layer cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olives, and feta. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle dressing over entire salad, and serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 368 cal; 11g pro; 30g total fat (10g sat fat); 17g carb; 50mg chol; 951mg sod; 3g fiber; 11g sugars
An Organic Quibble-Check Your Origins
Organic is great. But organic and local is even better! Sure, those peaches are organic-but they came from Peru. It took a lot of jet fuel to get them here. And those green beans are organic, too-but they arrived after a long dusty truck ride from south of the border, and contributed a lot of emissions along the way.This is a controversial topic these days, and I don't wish to wade too far into it. But I think we can all agree that organic produce, locally grown, is best for our dinner table and our environment.