In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Whether from your own garden or a farmers market, freshly harvested vegetables bring good health.

Summertime's Fantastic Food

It's not that I don't eat well year-round. I have several freezers filled with all manner of vegetables and fruits, plus shelves filled with jars of pickles, salsas, chutneys, jams, preserves, and plenty of tomatoes. Yet, in the last several weeks, with trips to my own garden as well as farmers markets, I realized just how wonderful it was to have really, really fresh food. And easy too! With several hours work, I can fill my refrigerator with an assortment of salads and cold cooked vegetables that provide several days of "instant" meals when I come in from the garden.

As we teeter on the cusp between spring and summer, with all of nature sprouting and blossoming, and a feeling of freshness and new beginnings, it's a perfect time to rejuvenate our meals and ourselves. To add great flavor and nutrition to your early summer menu, let's look at some foods and recipes that will make you feel revitalized.

Asparagus
There are only a few more weeks left to catch local asparagus (stop picking asparagus by the end of June), so enjoy as much of this folate-rich vegetable as you can. Among the easiest of any vegetable to prepare, simply steam on the stove or in the microwave, grill, or roast in the oven. Squeeze a bit of lemon on top, and you've got a healthy, low-calorie treat.

Beets and Beet Greens
Although I can some dynamite pickled beets, there is nothing quite like small, sweet, freshly pulled beets. And what a bonus their greens are! The pigments in beets provide powerful antioxidant health benefits, and beets are another rich source of folate, while the greens are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Roasting beets in a covered pan in the oven has become popular lately, but I still prefer them boiled. Serve warm with butter or slice and keep in refrigerator for a simple addition to a meal. Beets can also be eaten raw, grated into salads. Steam the greens or blanch for one minute in boiling water. Simply serve with salt and pepper or drizzle on some olive oil and vinegar.

Carrots
Carrots are well-known as a rich source of vitamin A carotenoids, but they are also an excellent source of vitamins C and K, plus fiber. Raw carrots are one of nature's great snack foods and are a great addition to salads or featured as a salad itself. For example, combine grated carrots with minced parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic clove, raisins, and salt to taste. This versatile vegetable is especially delightful when steamed and glazed with honey or orange juice. Or toss steamed carrots with minced dill and crumbled feta or goat cheese.

Lettuce
If you or your favorite market farmer uses shade cloth and drip irrigation, lettuce can be grown throughout the summer. Of all the lettuces, romaine contains the most nutrients, especially vitamin C, beta-carotene, and chromium. Romaine can form the basis for any salad, of course. For the healthiest dressing, combine 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon honey, and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. This makes enough for two servings. A hint for having romaine all summer in your garden- grow the heat-tolerant variety called 'Jericho.'

Green Beans
Fast-maturing green beans are already at my farmers market, plus the ones I planted will bear for the rest of the summer. Rich in vitamins A and C, green beans are an adaptable vegetable, either as a simple, steamed side dish or serving as a fiber-rich addition to composed salads along with rice or quinoa and other vegetables. Be bold this year and learn to like green beans lightly cooked, not boiled to mush.

Peas
Although the season is winding down on peas, what with the weather heating up, there's still time to enjoy this rich source of B vitamins, whether as green peas, snow peas, or snap peas. The healthiest way to prepare green peas is to heat a bit of stock or water in a saucepan. When it begins to steam, add the peas, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Mushrooms or carrots are a classic addition to peas, while thyme and mint are perfect herb matches.

And to think that there are still tomatoes, corn, okra, cucumbers, summer squash, and other great vegetables to come. Life is good.


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