A stand selling fresh vegetables and fruit was one of the highlights of summer when I was a kid living in San Ramon in a development so new that my sister and I used to peek through the holes of our backyard fence to see a horse and a cow grazing. At the produce stand, mother showed us how to pick out string beans and cherries (99 cents a pound) from bottomless bins. She boiled big artichokes and we all had one to pull the leaves from until we reached the heart, which we handed to her or my dad so they could pluck away the spiky choke before we ate it.
Come fall, we drove past the produce stand on our way to the supermarket, feeling sad to see it boarded up. It was an object lesson (not that we knew it at the time) about seasonal produce; about why zucchini could also be called “summer squash.”
Here are 10 vegetables to be sure to add to your meals before the season ends.
Corn has gotten something of a bad rap of late “thanks” to products like high fructose corn syrup and GMOs. But corn contains lutein and zeaxanthin (two phytochemicals that promote healthy vision) as well as plenty of dietary fiber. The season for corn ends in October and the sooner you can eat it after it’s been harvested from the stalk, the better.
You can get these at any time of the year, but summer is when they’re in season. They’re full of fiber and water and also contain vitamins A and C and traces of B6, E and K.
Cultivated since prehistoric times and, along with tomatoes and potatoes, a member of the nightshade family, eggplant is low in vitamins and minerals but rich in phytochemicals. It has many names (aubergine, brinjal, melongene, garden egg, or guinea squash) and many varieties, from the familiar bulbous purple ones to slender Japanese varieties.
A staple of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, eggplant can be used in dishes like ratatouille, spreads like baba ghanoush, French West Indian fritters called accras and also in this vegan version of eggplant Parmesan.
4. Bell Peppers
Whether red, orange, yellow (my favorite) or green, peppers are rich in vitamins C and B6 and contain trace elements of A, B, E and K vitamins, as well as antioxidants. They’ve also been linked to preventing cardiovascular disorders.
Orange carrots have become ubiquitous and readily available at all times of the year. Unusual varieties (including heirloom types) are only to be found in the summer, the natural season for carrots. Whatever color or type, carrots are rightfully called a powerfood as they have been linked to cancer and heart disease prevention and can help to cleanse the body.
Another vegetable that is now grown year-round, garlic is biggest and sweetest in late summer and fall. Besides adding that extra savor (not beloved of some, admittedly) to your meal, garlic has antioxidant and cholesteroal-reducing properties and contains vitamin C and some B vitamins; it has been cultivated for its medicinal properties throughout history.
7. Green beans
Now is the time to enjoy these (especially the smaller ones) at their most tender and sweetest. Eating them raw (in a salad) gives you one-sixth of the vitamin C you need in a day as well as vitamins A, B, E and K — and one-eighth of the iron that you need.
Summer is the time when peas (frozen boxes of which are also ubiquitous in the freezer case) are fresh and tastiest. One cup gives you almost all your vitamin C for the day as well as plenty of Vitamin A, plus iron and magnesium.
9. Pattypan Squash
Looking like toy tops, flying saucers or even sea creatures, these squash contain vitamins A and C and can be green, yellow or white. They’re at their most intense when small and immature (two to three inches in diameter).
They can be steamed, stuffed and roasted.
10. New Potatoes
Tiny and tender to the bite, new potatoes are potatoes that have been harvested when they’re still young. Their skins are thin as paper and they’re and less mealy than older potatoes.
They’re perfect for a potato salad (cold or warm), though a simple preparation — boiling with some spices or seasonings and olive oil — is all that’s needed to celebrate them and the flavors of summer before the season passes.
Photos from Thinkstock