Want to infuse your meals with the best summer has to offer? Look no further than your supermarket or farmstand, where ripe, colorful vegetables are especially abundant right now. From slender green beans and juicy cucumbers to leafy spinach and Swiss chard, nutrient-dense vegetables are ideal additions to any meal. Here’s how to select, store, and prepare six summertime favorites to ensure that you’ll get the freshest taste in every bite.
Beans: Crisp, flavorful, and versatile, green beans and pale yellow wax beans are easy to prepare and are delicious warm or chilled in a salad. Best when slender, they will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator when tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. Steam or simmer the beans just until tender, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil. Or toss both green and yellow wax beans with a little extra-virgin olive oil and combine them with thin slices of part-skim mozzarella cheese in this refreshing salad, which is topped with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.
Bell peppers: Whether you choose red, green, yellow, or orange bell peppers, you’re in for a flavorful treat. Look for peppers that are richly colored and firm, with a shiny skin. Buy them up to a week ahead and store them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. In salads, bell peppers provide color and crunch, but they’re also excellent roasted, grilled, or steamed. In this Steamed Halibut with Bell Pepper and Summer Squash, a light, delicious one-pan entrée, orange bell pepper, halibut fillets, and yellow summer squash are steamed, then seasoned with fresh lemon juice and Dijon mustard.
Cucumbers: Mildly flavored and crisp, cucumbers typically show up in a salad, although they are delicious in soups and stir-fries, too. Shop for cucumbers with brightly colored skins and avoid any that have soft spots. Cucumbers can be refrigerated whole for up to 10 days, and for up to 5 days once cut, if tightly wrapped. Don’t wash a cucumber until you’re ready to use it. This summery Sesame Cucumber Salad with Peppers and Green Beans, flavored with sesame oil and rice wine vinegar and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, is delicious with grilled chicken or turkey burgers.
Spinach: Whether you buy the widely available prewashed baby spinach or the more mature spinach that is sold loose, you’ll turn to this bright green classic over and over again for salads, omelets, and stews. Keep in mind that spinach leaves should be dark green, crisp, and fresh; avoid any that have yellow spots and look damaged. If you buy the prewashed baby spinach, it’s a good idea to still rinse it. Mature, loose spinach should be thoroughly washed, however. Store spinach in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Fresh spinach can be sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, steamed, or added to soups and salads. On hot summer days, enjoy it in our crunchy, colorful Tempeh, Tomato, and Spinach Salad, which combines baby spinach, halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped shallot, strips of tempeh, and diced part-skim mozzarella with a splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil.
Swiss chard: Swiss chard should have brightly colored leaves and crisp stems. Unwashed, Swiss chard can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 5 days and should be washed just before using. Try Swiss chard in this flavorful Balsamic Chicken with Tomatoes and Swiss Chard, a vitamin-rich main course that’s fragrant and flavorful, thanks to the fresh thyme and balsamic vinegar. Best served in large, shallow bowls, it takes just minutes to prepare.
Zucchini: Zucchini come in many sizes. Look for small, tender ones if you’re steaming, stir-frying, or sautéing; larger zucchini can be halved and stuffed for baking. Always select zucchini that are vibrantly colored and blemish-free. For a warm weather treat, enjoy grilled zucchini: Halve the zucchini lengthwise, brush with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and season with a little fresh tarragon and sea salt. Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally and brushing with the oil and vinegar, until the zucchini is tender and browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Or use it in our Curried Zucchini Soup, which is perfectly spiced with curry powder and fresh ginger and mellowed with fat-free plain yogurt.