By Carol Witte, RDN, Senior Services Nutrition Program Director
In Michigan it is so easy to obtain a variety of colorful produce at the Farmers Market, fruit markets or even the grocery stores in the month of August and September. The variety of produce seems endless when summer is here. My biggest problem is limiting my selections because when I visit a produce market I want it all! I LOVE all vegetables, but fresh salads are my favorite! I also love vegetables that can be prepared quickly with every meal to provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and of course fiber. Squash, peppers, greens and tomatoes are a few of those foods.
Squash is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the Western Hemisphere. Summer squash is known for its prolific harvest, and at this time of the year green and yellow summer squash are seen everywhere. The toughest part of growing this squash is picking it when it is small and not overgrown. When purchasing your summer squash, choose those which have a firm skin, avoid those with bruising or blemishes. They can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks and should be washed right before cooking. Both the skin and seeds can be eaten, which is why they are so easy to prepare for a summer meal. Gently wash, cut off the stem and slice. They can be grilled with herbs and seasonings, steamed or slightly browned in a non-stick skillet with onions and garlic. You can also add squash to vegetable and bean soups and use them to cook bread and muffins. Squash blossoms can be used in some recipes to provide variety and color.
Next on the list are peppers. With all the colors and varieties available they also can add an endless supply of recipe ideas. Green peppers used to be more commonly found, but now the color and variety ranges from sweet to hot and bright colors like red, yellow and orange! Peppers are rich in vitamins C and A, lutein, beta carotene and lycopene. They are great to add to any dish from sauces to salads. Their flavor can’t be beat!
Greens—yum! And the selection is endless. From different types of lettuce which come in variety of colors, to kale, spinach, Swiss chard and turnip greens to name a few other varieties. The most important part, once picked or purchased, is the cleaning process. Greens need to be cleaned properly to remove all the soil that can be splattered on prior to picking. Rinse in cool water and dry thoroughly. Greens of all types can be added to eggs, soups and dips as well as used in a traditional salad. They are a great source of vitamin A and C, and some types of greens are also good sources of calcium, folate and iron.
Tomatoes come in numerous colors and sizes. In my mind, there is nothing more flavorful than a Michigan-grown tomato. Tomatoes are rich in vitamins C, A, lycopene and potassium. They are good to eat as a sweet treat as they are truly classified as a fruit and not a vegetable. Most people enjoy the tomato on a sandwich or in salads but they are very versatile and can be pureed and used in soups, sauces and casseroles. Gazpacho is another tasty summer treat where you can include a variety of vegetables to enhance the flavor. Just like peppers, the color variety is there– red, yellow and green. So, enjoy eating in color—with summer produce!