Summer Vegetable Guide(Printer-Friendly Version) | Eating Well

Summer Vegetable Guide

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_food_guide/summer_vegetable_guide

How to choose the best vegetables for the summer season.

Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini are ripe right now. This handy guide offers information on picking the best summer vegetables and the nutritional benefits of each.

Next: Corn

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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 through corn is available year-round, fresh-from-the-field corn is a must-have in the summer.

What You Get: 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.

Shopping Tips: The best way to buy corn is in 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.

One medium ear of corn yields approximately 1/2 cup fresh kernels.

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.

Next: Cucumbers

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Cucumbers

Just thinking about cukes cools you down. 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.

What You Get: 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).

Shopping Tips: The most common cucumbers are 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.

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 those 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.

Next: Tomatoes

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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?

What You Get: 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 the carotenoid lycopene (this is what makes tomatoes red), which helps prevent some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

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 dishes.

Plain "supermarket reds" are versatile for cooking and for using raw.

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 those that are plump and shiny and 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.

Next: Zucchini

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Zucchini

Whether you’re growing your own or buying them at the store, 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 to make stuffed zucchini.

What You Get: 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.

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. The zucchini 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.