Good food and healthy eating both start with an essential element: quality ingredients—which typically include in-season foods. In this article, Rebekah Fedrowitz shares the benefits of eating seasonally in summer including what peak-season fruit and vegetables to look out for and some delicious summer recipes to get you started and tempt those taste buds.
THE BENEFITS OF SEASONAL EATING SERIES
When I cook for people, whether as a guest in my home or as an attendee at a cooking class, I often hear comments like: “This is incredible—I don’t usually like this food.” Or “I wish I could cook like you. I would actually enjoy eating healthy.” While I appreciate the kind words, let me assure you I’m no James Beard. I don’t deserve awards or accolades for my innovative talents in the kitchen. My cooking is simple. Yet that’s exactly what makes it so appealing to people.
Good food and healthy eating both start with an essential element: quality ingredients. Mixing bad ingredients with a few herbs and spices or simply smothering them in a sauce will not lead to a satisfying and flavorful dish, not to mention one of any real nutritional quality. When we think of eating healthy, we often boil it down to mere science. We count grams of fat or carbs, food timing, fiber and sugar levels, or specific vitamins and minerals. Often we deconstruct food in such a way and focus solely on the science of nutrition. Yet by doing so we lose one of the most important elements of eating for health: flavor.
The Art of Eating Well
There’s an art to eating well, and it starts with using the best tasting, highest quality ingredients. This typically includes ‘in-season’ foods.
What does in-season really mean? Seasonal foods are those that are in their peak growing and harvest time during the present season. This will be dependent on your particular geographical area. I shared about the many benefits of eating in-season food in a previous article: “The Benefits of Eating Seasonally: A Guide to Spring Nutrition.” This focused on how eating seasonally includes superior taste, increased nutritional benefits, and lighter environmental load. Now, as we enter the summer months, let’s take a look at some of the common, and maybe a few not-so-common, foods of the season to tempt those taste buds.
SUMMER’S SEASONAL PRODUCE
Summer is truly the mecca of flavor and variety. It boasts the greatest volume of peak-season fruits and vegetables. Here are some key fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are at their best during the summer months.
- Berries, berries, and more berries: Think blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, and even a few late varieties of strawberries. In the summer months, berries are in surplus. Their juicy sweetness knows no end to the variety of uses. Throw them into smoothies or on a salad. Use them to make a salad dressing, ice cream, or jams. Or just simply enjoy them fresh and raw.
- Beans: This includes pole beans, like the common green beans, to many varieties of shelling beans like kidney, black, and lima beans. You can easily source beans in the summer months. Shelling beans are great for drying and storing for use year-round. But there’s nothing quite like the crisp flavor of a fresh, in-season green bean. Enjoy them sauteed or grilled, cooked and chilled for a salad. Or freeze them for use in the colder months.
- Chard: This leafy green tolerates the heat better than most others and is at its peak in the summer months. It is usually labeled as Swiss Chard or Rainbow Chard. Sautee it alone or add to omelets, potatoes, and soups. Or even throw a handful of raw chard into your summer smoothie for extra nutrients.
- Corn: A little sweet and a little savory, in-season corn definitely screams “summer!” When eaten fresh, this starchy vegetable is enjoyed both on and off the cob. It works well as a stand-alone ingredient as well as mixed in with numerous other foods. Corn kernels can easily be removed from the cob to be frozen whole or dried and used as a grain.
- Cucumbers: The cooling nature of cucumbers makes them one of the quintessential summer foods. Technically a fruit, the versatile cucumber is great for snacking. It’s also good mixed into salads and other dishes. You can even add it to water for a refreshing treat, or use it as a cooling eye treatment for an at-home spa day.
- Eggplant: These tend to be a hit or miss vegetable for many people. But eggplants can be a surprise favorite when enjoyed in the summertime. When out-of-season, picked before it’s ripe, and transported farther distances, eggplant can often be pithy and bitter. But in season, picked just at the perfect ripeness, and eaten within a few days makes all the difference. Eggplant can offer a savory flavor that may leave you wanting more. Roasted or grilled eggplant makes a great side or even a main vegetarian dish. Or add it to hummus for a baba ghanoush-inspired snack. And one added tip: Try and buy and store eggplant that’s been kept at room temperature. It’s not generally a fan of the cold, humid refrigerator.
- Figs: The richness of figs is the perfect bookend to summer and introduction to fall. And it’s one of the fruits I look forward to most. With its somewhat recent revitalization, we no longer only think of this fruit dried inside of a folded cookie. We can also enjoy it raw as an appetizer or on salads. Try it cooked with meats, or in desserts. It pairs well with goat cheese, walnuts, leafy greens, and my personal favorite—in an olive oil ice cream.
- Herbs: While not typically the star ingredient, herbs are the supporting characters that can make a dish shine. Fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, lavender, oregano, and so much more are available in the summer. So take advantage of these fresh herbs while you can. Chop to season and garnish dishes. Use in pesto or other sauces, freeze with olive oil in ice cube trays. Or infuse in water alone or with fruit.
- Melons: Would summer be summer without watermelon? I think not! But other types of melons also abound this season. Cantaloupe, honeydew, and many new varieties are becoming more accessible. Of course, melon is amazing when enjoyed raw. But you may want to try grilling it, adding it to salads, or even making it into a cooling gazpacho.
- Peppers: From sweet bell peppers to fiery habaneros, peppers love the heat. And they show their full color in the summer months. Green, yellow, orange, red, and purple. There’s a pepper for almost every color of the rainbow, which is indicative of their nutritional value. Slice and enjoy raw, sautee with other vegetables, or stuff and bake them, just to name a few uses.
- Potatoes: Potatoes span the seasons. This starts with new potatoes in the spring and finishes the harvest in fall. Summer provides a mix of tender new potatoes along with some fully mature varieties. This gives us ample options for potato salads as well as grilled or baked potatoes.
- Okra: While popular in the South, not everyone knows about or has had the pleasure of trying okra. These rocket-shaped pods are great grilled, in soups (especially gumbo), and pickled. Give them a try—they may surprise you.
- Stone Fruits: From peaches and nectarines to plums and pluots, most stone fruits are at their best from mid-to-late summer. When ripe and ready, these fruits are some of the juiciest foods you will eat all summer. Take a bite into a southern peach or make a rustic tart with a juicy plum. Or slice a nectarine to add to a summer salad.
- Summer Squash and Zucchini: The thin-skinned varieties of the squash family make their debut in the warm months. They are the perfect addition to many summer meals. Their uses are plentiful, from grilled or sauteed to baked or added to sweet breads. They also make a great addition to smoothies when pre-chopped and frozen. And don’t forget about their blossoms, which are delicious stuffed and served as a beautiful appetizer.
- Tomatoes: Another versatile summer fruit (yes, a fruit, although typically served as a vegetable) are tomatoes. Small, cherry-sized varieties come early in the season and larger varieties arrive a little later. They are commonly added to mixed green salads or sauteed vegetable blends. They’re great too in dishes like salsa or pasta sauce. But let your imagination run wild with these. Add to a salad with watermelon or slice and serve with a pinch of good quality salt and olive oil. Roast them alongside chicken thighs, or add to savory scones, just to name a few ideas.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the produce you may find in the summer. So keep your eyes open and ask your local farmers or food experts for more ideas. In addition to the surplus of produce in peak season, there are outlying fruits and vegetables lingering from spring and debuting early for fall. This includes foods like beets, cherries, apples, pears, and grapes. There’s so much to choose from so you can enjoy maximum flavor and plenty of variety!
WHERE AND HOW TO BUY
In-season produce is usually easy to find at your grocery stores and supermarkets, farmer’s markets, or through a local community-supported agriculture (CSA). Refer to my Guide to Spring Nutrition where I introduce the best options to buy.
When you’re buying your produce, remember to take the time to both look and smell. Does it look ripe, plump, and firm, or is it wilted, browning, and limp? Does it smell sweet and aromatic? Our eyes and nose are our best guide before we buy, and our taste is our guide thereafter. If we allow our senses to do the work they were created to do, we may just find ourselves eating in a more wholesome and delicious way.
RECIPES TO TRY
Learning about new foods to try can be exciting but also somewhat overwhelming. Most of us are so busy that we typically don’t have the time to research recipes for how to use new or in-season ingredients. I recommend you take it slow and do what feels manageable to you. To help with some inspiration, here are a few recipes you may want to try with some of these aforementioned delicious summer fruits and vegetables:
- Tomato & Melon Salad
- Grilled Summer Vegetables
- Masala Grilled Vegetables
- Potato Salad with Green Beans
- Caribbean Style Okra
- Cucumber & Peach Salad
- Gluten-Free Berry Galette
- Roasted Nectarines with Labneh, Herbs & Honey
- Balsamic & Mustard Glazed Chicken Thighs & Figs
- Blueberry-Balsamic Popsicles
As you experiment more with the flavors of the season, share your favorites and any new ideas you have in the comments below.
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