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Stumped in the produce section? No fail tips for picking perfect summer veggies

By Michelle Edelbaum, June 25, 2010 - 11:53am

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Stumped in the produce section? No fail tips for picking perfect summer veggies

Few things make me sadder than ruby-red tomatoes with no taste, a golden ear of corn with no sweetness, cucumbers with soft, wrinkly ends and zucchini that’s so banged up I have to peel it.

Since I shop for vegetables every Saturday at the farmers’ market (and what seems like most nights before dinner at the supermarket), I don’t want to waste money or my time. So I asked my friend Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell’s associate food editor and resident veggie queen, for tips on how to pick veggies that will be ripe and flavorful. (Perfect for using in these veggie-packed summer dinners.) Here are her tips for perfectly picking 4 summer favorites:


Tomatoes

Known as a “love-apple” in its early history, the summer tomato is worthy of the name. Bursting with nutrients, loaded with flavor—what’s not to love?

Recipes to Try: Make Tomato Corn Pie, Fresh Pasta Sauce and more recipes with tomatoes, featured on the July/August cover of EatingWell Magazine.

Shopping Tips:
• Bite-size cherry and grape tomatoes are delicious in salads or for snacking.
• Roma, or plum, tomatoes have fewer seeds than other varieties and are good for making sauces and other cooked applications.
• Plain “supermarket reds” are versatile in cooking and raw applications.
• Heirloom tomatoes—grown from older seed varieties—are cultivated for their flavor and texture. Unlike mass-market varieties—bred for consistent looks and durability—heirlooms come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
• Buy tomatoes as close to home as possible.
• Look for plump, shiny tomatoes that give slightly when pressed; smell the stem end for that distinctive, sweetly acidic aroma.

Storage Tip: Refrigeration destroys the flavor of tomatoes; free them from any packaging and store at a cool room temperature, away from sunlight.

Why tomatoes are good for you: A medium-size fresh tomato is an excellent source of vitamins A and C—and if you eat them in season, you’ll get twice as much vitamin C as at other times of the year. Tomatoes also contain lycopene (this is what makes tomatoes red), which helps prevent some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

 

corn

Corn

Nothing quite beats eating quickly boiled or grilled corn on the cob with butter dribbling down your chin. Now’s the time to get shucking—even though corn is available year-round, fresh-from-the-field corn is a must-have in the summer.

20 Recipes to Try: Coconut Creamed Corn, Corn & Basil Cakes and more summer sweet corn recipes.

Shopping Tips:
• The best way to select corn is by looking at the husk, which protects the kernels from dry air and also tells you how fresh the corn is. Moist green husks are clearly fresher than dry brown ones. The tassel (silky strings at the tip) should be golden brown; a pale tassel is an indication that the corn was picked too early.
• Rather than peeling back the husk to check for freshness—this can dry it out—feel around through the husk for plump, resilient kernels.
• And most important, take the corn home immediately; don’t let it sit in a hot car.

Storage Tips:
• The sooner you can eat corn after purchase, the sweeter it will be, as the sugar in corn begins converting into starch as soon as it’s picked.
• If you can’t eat your corn right away, refrigerate it, with the husks left on, in a plastic bag, and cook within 2 days.

Why corn is good for you: Although classified as a vegetable by the USDA, corn is actually a grain. Like other whole grains it is high in complex carbohydrates. Corn contains some protein and fiber and provides some potassium and vitamin C, plus a variety of trace minerals. One medium ear of corn yields approximately 1⁄2 cup fresh kernels.

 

Zucchini

Zucchini

Whether you’re growing your own or are buying them at the store or farmers’ market, zucchini are plentiful in the summer. Small-to-medium zucchini are most tender—use those for sautéing, grilling or eating raw. The big ones are starchier—save those for stuffing.

Recipes to Try: Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Easy Oven-Fried Zucchini Sticks and more.

Shopping Tips:
• Look for shiny, dark green zucchini (the freshest ones will have slightly prickly skin) with moist stem ends at least 1 inch in length. They should be firm to the touch and heavy in your hand.
• Avoid zucchini with breaks, gashes or soft spots.

Storage Tips:
• Store zucchini in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
• If there’s just too much zucchini for you to use, don’t let it go to waste—you can freeze it for several months. Slice, grate or chop the zucchini, blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water, then chill; pack in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container, leaving an inch of space at the top, and freeze.

Find out the easiest way to freeze 16 summer vegetables, berries and fruits here.

Why zucchini is good for you: Zucchini has just 29 calories per 1 cup. It offers lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that promote good vision. Additional nutrients: potassium, magnesium, manganese, folate, fiber, vitamins C and A.

 

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Just thinking about cukes makes my mouth feel cooler. Indeed, perhaps its most important nutritional contribution is refreshment: at 95 percent water content, a cup of cucumber slices is nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water. Crisp kirbys and nearly seedless greenhouse cukes offer variety to the usual thick-skinned types that dominate supermarket bins.

Recipes to Try: Quick Pickles, Japanese Cucumber Salad and more.

Shopping Tips:
• The English or European greenhouse cucumber, often sheathed in plastic wrap to protect its very thin skin, and the American slicing cucumber, which has a slightly thicker skin and more seeds, are the most common.
• Don’t overlook other varieties like the pickling cucumber (a.k.a. kirby) and Middle Eastern slicer. There’s even a “burpless” variety of cuke.
• Whichever variety you choose, be sure to select firm cucumbers that feel heavy for their size.
• Avoid cucumbers that have any yellow on them or have soft or wrinkled spots at the ends, a sign of improper storage.

Storage Tip: Store cucumbers in a ventilated plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator.

Why cucumbers are good for you: While the cucumber isn’t known as a nutrition powerhouse, it does provide a small amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins—particularly vitamin C (about 6 percent of the Daily Value per cup).

What do you like to make with your fresh summer veggies? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Michelle Edelbaum, Healthy Cooking Blog, What's in season

Michelle Edelbaum
Michelle is the digital editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at EatingWell.com and in EatingWell Magazine, authoring the Good Questions interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.

Michelle asks: What do you like to make with your fresh summer veggies?

Tell us what you think:

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