Seasons Eatings

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Rittenhouse Sq Revue.  Click to see the issue in its entirety.

When you’re in a rush in the grocery store, it’s easy to fall into a fruit and vegetable “rut.”  We  tend to grab what is most familiar – apples, bananas, lettuce – and ignore produce that we don’t know what to do with, or that we assume will take too much time to make.

Summer, however, is a great time to try some new fruits and vegetables.  And since fresh produce from local farms has never been more accessible in Philadelphia, sampling the unfamiliar should be easy.  Whether the fruits and vegetables listed below are familiar favorites or are new to you, now is a terrific time to purchase them.  Take a stroll to Sue’s Produce Market just off Rittenhouse Square at 18th and Sansom, or visit the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market right on the square on Saturdays to pick up some farm-fresh produce.  Give the quick, healthy and delicious preparation methods detailed here a try, and then enjoy the results with your friends and family.  All of the produce mentioned below is in season, and grows on various farms throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania:

Eggplant:  Eggplants contain phytonutrients, or antioxidants, which can help prevent damage from “free radicals,” offering protection from certain types of cancer.  Some studies also show that eggplants can help lower cholesterol levels.  Don’t let its unique color or spongy texture fool you – eggplant is a cinch to cook.  Pick an eggplant that is a bit heavy, and that has a shiny, tight skin.  Cut it into one-inch-thick slices, brush these with some olive oil and salt and pepper, and then grill each slice for a few minutes per side.  For a quick summer appetizer, stack one slice of grilled eggplant and one slice of fresh mozzarella on top of a slice of fresh tomato.  Top the stack with a sprig of basil, and then drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top.

Watermelon:  What is more delicious in the summer than a juicy, cool slice of fresh watermelon  Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin E.  It is also a rich source of lycopene, which studies suggest can reduce the risk of heart disease and alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  For a nice twist on this familiar summer fruit, toss it with fresh mint and feta cheese.

Beets: Beets are another vegetable that people often don’t know what to do with, but they are a great addition to any diet.  Several studies suggest that the pigment that gives beets their rich color, betacyanin, may help reduce the risk of cancer.  Beets have a high sugar content, but are very low in calories and contain no fat, so they are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Their beautiful color makes for a great addition to an everyday summer salad.  Beets have also been shown to help cleanse the blood, cleanse the colon and strengthen the gall bladder and liver.  To roast them, heat your oven to 375 degrees, rinse them, and trim off any leafy tops.  Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast them in the oven until you can easily pierce them with a knife – about one hour.  Remove the beets from the oven, and when they’re cool enough, peel the skins off.  Then slice them and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Finally, toss with arugula, goat cheese and pistachios to make a light summer salad.

Peaches:  Fresh peaches are low in calories and rich in iron and in potassium, an important mineral for the proper function of all cells, tissues and organs in the human body.  For a substantial summer salad that will keep you satisfied, bring 3 ¼ cups of water to a boil in a large pot and add 1 ½ cups of wheatberries.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed.  Set aside, cool, and toss with some chopped peaches, scallions, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries.  Serve at room temperature.

Berries:  Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all in season now, and are all delicious, rich sources of antioxidants.  One cup of strawberries provides 100 mg of vitamin C, almost as much as a cup of orange juice.  Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, and have been shown in numerous studies to improve vision, learning capacity and mental acuity.  For a delicious summer smoothie packed with good-for-you nutrients, combine ¾ cup of ice; ½  banana; 1 cup of berries; ¼ cup of yogurt; and a splash of milk, juice or water in the blender.  Blend and then garnish with fresh berries.

Peppers:  Aside from adding brilliant color to any dish, bell peppers are a great source of vitamins A and C, and contain a healthy dose of fiber and folic acid.  They add a great crunch to salads, and can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, or eaten raw with a low-fat dip for a healthy summer snack.  Here’s one suggestion:  Throw some peppers on the grill, and then cut them into thin slices and toss with bowtie pasta, fresh basil, and sautéed spinach, as well as a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Top with fresh parmesan cheese.

Cucumbers:  Want glowing skin  Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve complexion.  After a day at the beach, toss some cucumber slices with water and use as a toner to make your skin radiant.  Snacking on cucumbers can keep you hydrated throughout the season, since a cucumber’s high water content makes it naturally thirst-quenching.  It is also a cooling vegetable, great for keeping your body temperature down on hot days.  For a quick Israeli salad, toss chopped cucumbers with chopped tomatoes, parsley, onions, mint, green peppers, and the juice of a lemon.  Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.

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