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Not Your Usual Summer Vegetables

When I think of summer vegetable I think of tomatoes, carrots, squash, and corn – the usual vegetable I would grow in my own garden. But here are some not-so-usual summer vegetables to consider next time you visit your local farmers market. Spice up your life and try something different for a change!

Arugula - A fixture of many-a-bistro salad, arugula is an excellent source of foliate and vitamin C as well as a good source of calcium. Although arugula is typically mildly flavoured, larger leaf varieties can have a more peppery, almost hot taste than the smaller, softer leaf variety, so choose your arugula accordingly! Arugula is typically best served in a salad with olives, hard-boiled eggs, onions and salty cheeses and is most flavourful when paired with lemon juice or vinaigrettes with a strong acid content, such as aged red wine.

Avocados - Although available year round, avocados are at their peak in the summer months! Touted most frequently for their high quantity of good fat (or oleic, monounsaturated and therefore heart-healthy fat), avocados are also an excellent source of potassium, foliate and vitamins C and B6, and are considered a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and magnesium. In addition, avocados also contain a compound that helps with the absorption of healthy carotenoids from vegetables, making them a welcome addition to a seasonal chopped salad (or when combined with store-bought salsa for a quickie guacamole). To pick the perfect avocado, look for those that have a uniform and unblemished skin that gives gently when pressed.

Cucumbers - A member of the squash family, the cucumbers high water content makes it a refreshing (and hydrating) addition to summer menus. Although comprised primarily of water, cucumber is also a good source of vitamin C and silica, which is important for connective tissue health and also does wonders for the skin (both when ingested or applied topically to reduce swelling or redness). In addition, the skin of the cucumber is a great source of fibre, potassium and magnesium. When selecting a cucumber, look for slender cucumbers (which are a sign of their tender age) and those with dark green, firm skins. Cucumbers can be added raw to salads, sandwiches, soups or dips and are most flavourful when paired with chives, dill, mint, salt and vinegar.

Eggplant - Although it is almost always assumed that an eggplant would have a purple skin, eggplants can come in just about any shade from black to a near-translucent white (and just about every colour in between!). Eggplants are revered for their excellent fibre content as well as several phytonutrients that play an important role in antioxidant activity. Although selecting an eggplant is easy enough – again, just look for those with smooth, taut skin and those that feel heavy for their size. Cooking can be a little bit more complicated. Cut or slice the eggplant, salt it and set it out to “weep” for 20 minutes, a process that will remove any residual bitterness. Eggplant is tasty grilled and seasoned with oregano, salt and pepper or as a casserole when combined with tomatoes, olives, peppers, onions and fresh oregano.

Hot Peppers - There is a lot to be said for good ol’ hot peppers. Chief among its benefits, hot peppers boast a hefty dose of capsaicin, a compound that can alleviate the symptoms of migraine headaches, arthritis, inflammation, gastric ailments (really!), reduce the risk of cancer AND serve as a thermogenic agent to speed metabolic activity. In addition, hot peppers are high in antioxidant carotenes and flavonoids, and contain about twice the amount of vitamin C as oranges. Due to the intense flavour of the peppers, they are best used to spice up everyday soups, stews, chili dishes, stir fries, salads and salsas.

Kolarabi - Often referred to as cabbage turnip, this green vegetable looks almost like an oversized radish, complete with a ball-like bulb and bushy sprouting leaves. When selecting a kohlrabi, look for smallish, firm bulbs less than 3 inches in diameter (the larger ones tend to be woody and have a more earthy taste). So why not stock up? First, kohlrabi is an excellent source of vitamin C as well as potassium. When raw, it can be added to salads and vegetable platters or served as relish. When cooked, it can be steamed for inclusion in casseroles or hollowed out, stuffed with a meat or vegetable filling and oven baked much like a stuffed pepper.

Mushrooms - Although there are different types of mushrooms available year round, summer is the season for chanterelles and porcinis varieties. With a low sodium and fat content and high levels of fibre and riboflavin, niacin, potassium and riboflavin, mushrooms are an excellent way to add bulk to a meal without dramatically changing the nutrition content of foods. When shopping for mushrooms, they should be dry and firm and, if open, should have gills that are intact and appear fresh. Mushrooms will generally keep for several days if stored in a paper bag in a refrigerator and should be cleaned – preferably with a damp cloth – before cooking. Mushrooms can be served raw, added to salads or sautéed, grilled or broiled for inclusion in any number of dishes.

Shallots - Of all the vegetables in the onion and leek family, shallots have one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants. In addition, they have also shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties. As such, shallots are associated with a reduction in risk for several cancers, including those affecting the liver and colon as well as heart disease and diabetes. If you’re thinking of trading in your regular white onion for a shallot, choose those that are firm and appear dry. When cooking, separate similar to a garlic clove and use as a base for sauces or to add taste and texture to casseroles, stir fries or other dishes where onions are common.

Zucchini - Freshest – and most plentiful – among local growers between May and July, zucchinis are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese and a good source of dietary fibre, magnesium, vitamin A, potassium, copper, foliate, phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids, protein and several B vitamins. When shopping for zucchini, look for those that resemble a cucumber in size and shape and have a smooth, thin skin that is either green or yellow in colour. To enjoy, cut in half, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. If you’d prefer your zucchini raw consider chopping julienne and serving as part of a vegetable platter or add grated to salads, sandwiches and other summer salads.

So if you have never tried a Kolarabi or Eggplant, maybe this summer is the time to step out of the box and live a little!

Author: Kathryn Hartwell


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