Summer is in full swing! I try to get to the farmer’s market early these days, before it gets too hot and I regret my decision to go in the first place. July is filled with the berries and stone fruits that came to ripeness last month, balanced by the cooling flavors of cucumbers, zucchini, dill, and watermelon. Add your favorite barbecued treat and you’re ready for the 4th of July! Enjoy!
Avocado: Avocados are a fabulous source of fiber, anti-inflammatory fats, and carotenoids. The highest concentration of carotenoids occurs in the dark green portion of the avocado, just beneath the skin. It’s best to peel the avocado by cutting it in half lengthwise, twisting it apart, and peeling the skin away with your fingers so you preserve the dark green flesh. Avoid refrigerating avocados as this method is difficult when the skin is cold.
Cucumber: Next to tomatoes, cabbage, and onions, cucumbers are the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world and they are actually part of the melon family. Mostly known for its low-calorie content, cucumbers are actually a great source of phytonutrients like lignans and flavonoids as well as vitamin K. Select firm, dark green cucumbers with rounded edges and store them quickly in the refrigerator as they are sensitive to heat.
Dill: While dried dill is available throughout the year, fresh dill is in season during the summer and early fall. Dill’s soft, sweet taste makes it a wonderful addition to salad dressings, sauces, and fish dishes. The name “dill” actually comes from an old Norse word meaning “to lull.” This name reflects dill’s traditional uses both as a carminative stomach soother and an insomnia reliever. Choose fresh, green, feathery dill. Dill leaves that are a little wilted should still be edible – dill leaves droop very quickly after being picked.
Green Beans: Green beans are commonly known as “string beans,” though the “string” has been mostly bred out of modern varieties. Though they are rich in carotenoids (just like brightly colored tomatoes and peppers), their high chlorophyll content is what gives them their green hue. Look for beans that have a smooth feel, vibrant green color, and “snap” easily when broken. Store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze them for 3-6 months.
Nectarines: Originating in Asia, nectarines are a close relative of the peach. The sweetest nectarines are a product of a very cold winter season, followed by warm weather during the spring. Nectarines are a good source of certain B vitamins as well as minerals and electrolytes like potassium, iron, zinc, copper, and phosphorous. Select ripe nectarines as those harvested prematurely will not have the same flavor as those picked ripe.
Pecans: Though you can find most nuts in stores all year long, pecans are typically harvested from October through December, then dehydrated, and are available for purchase during the summer. Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which have been shown to support healthy blood lipids. They are also a rich source of important nutrients like ellagic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, and beta-carotene, all of which support a healthy immune system and may be cancer-protective.
Summer Squash: Summer squash like zucchini or yellow squash are an excellent source of antioxidants, blood sugar balancing nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, and omega-3 fats. Select squash that feel heavy for their size and have shiny, unblemished rinds. If the rinds are hard, this indicates that the squash are over-mature and will have hard seeds and stringy flesh. Choose squash that are of average size as those that are overly large may be fibrous.
Watermelon: Though classified in the melon family, watermelon belongs to a different genus than other melons. Alongside tomatoes, watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, a phytonutrient that’s especially important for cardiovascular health. Recent studies have confirmed the nutritional importance of allowing a watermelon to fully ripen. To choose a ripe watermelon, look for one that feels heavy for its size as a watermelon’s water content will increase as it ripens. Look for the “ground spot” where the melon was resting on the ground. This spot should turn from white/green to yellow upon ripening. The side opposite the ground spot, where the melon was exposed to the sun, should be slightly dull in color. Uncut watermelons should be stored in a cool place, but not as cold as a refrigerator.