Want to improve 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 simply steamed or chilled in a salad. Best when slender, they will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator if tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. Steam or simmer the beans just until tender, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of sea salt. 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 Green and Yellow Beans with Fresh Mozzarella and Pine Nuts, which is topped with 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 topped with a sauce made with extra-virgin olive oil, 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 and can even be grilled. Shop for cucumbers with brightly colored skins and avoid any that have soft spots. If you like cucumbers with fewer seeds, choose the long hothouse variety. 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. In our refreshing Cucumber Soup with Grilled Shrimp and Dill, the cucumbers are puréed in a blender, mixed with low-fat yogurt, lime juice, salt, and pepper, then topped with grilled shrimp and fresh dill.
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. 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 always be thoroughly washed. Store spinach in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Fresh spinach can be eaten in salads or be steamed or sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic. It's also a delicious addition to stir-fries and soups. Enjoy our crunchy, colorful Warm Wild Mushroom and Spinach Salad, which combines sautéed wild mushrooms of your choice with fresh baby spinach leaves and a garlicky balsamic dressing.
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 zucchini in our Curried Zucchini Soup, which is perfectly spiced with curry powder and fresh ginger as well as garam masala (if you like) and made creamy with the addition of plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt.