Powering Up Your Summer Plate

Mango,Pomegranate and Rocket saladSummer brings with it the main growing and harvesting season of the year, which means that farmers’ markets are overflowing with fruits and vegetables of amazing diversity. I like to take advantage of this season to try something new every week when I drop by my local farmers’ market. So which nutrient-packed items could you be using to power up a usually boring meal? Here are a few of my favorites to add to anything from salads to desserts.

Ask for Advice

The first thing that’s difficult about being faced with a wall of weird-looking veggies is knowing what’s what and how to prepare them. Which are good for salads? Which ones can I grill? The best way to figure this out is just to ask. Talk to one of the vendors at the stall and tell them what you have in mind. Because many of the people there grow and use the vegetables themselves, they’ll be able to give you great advice about which vegetables will fit in your dish or which usual ones they might replace. They can also point you to varieties of familiar vegetables that you might not have tried.

Try Some New Vegetables

When I tell my patients that they need to double down on the veggies, many of them complain about flavor. They say vegetables are too bland or that they don’t like the texture. But those complaints just mean they haven’t truly explored the diversity that exists in the plant world. Here are a few of my favorites that go with a lot of dishes and that pack a ton of vitamins and minerals into a small package.

  • Swiss Chard. This colorful green is packed with nutrients including vitamins A, C, K, iron and calcium. It’s great cooked any way you prefer and makes a great replacement for spinach or other cooked greens. It can be eaten raw, but it’s better cooked.
  • Garlic Scapes. These strange-looking, curly finds are actually part of the garlic plant. They have a lighter garlic flavor, but carry a lot of the same wonderful nutrients that make garlic so good for you. These can be used lots of ways, but my personal favorite is a homemade garlic scape pesto.
  • Beets are available at most grocery stores nowadays, but not in the wide variety that you can get at a farmers’ market. Beets are packed with vitamins and minerals and can be used in lots of different ways. You can cut them up and add them to a salad, roast them in place of potatoes, or slice them and bake them as potato chip replacements. And remember, the leaves are edible too!

Check Out Different Fruit Varieties

You might not see too many new fruits at the farmers’ market, but you’ll see a lot of different varieties of the ones you’re used to. Be adventurous! Most vendors will be happy to tell you how one variety might differ from another and what they’d be best used for.  Many will even let you have a taste. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Cherries are packed with nutrients, and they’re wonderfully sweet. What I like the most is how easy they are to pack as a snack for later. Throw a few in a bag for your purse.
  • Peaches make a great replacement for dessert and can be added as a delicious sweetener to plain yogurt. Donut peaches are one of my favorites and pack a lot of flavor and nutrition into a small package.

Plan Ahead

While all the options might be thrilling, exercise some restraint. Make sure you only buy as much as you need for the week. This produce is fresher, but it also tends to be riper than much of the produce you buy at the store. That means it has the potential to spoil faster. Once you get a sense of what’s available, find a few recipes from vendors or on your phone and pick out what you need for them.

Take advantage of the season to fill your plate with plenty of colors, flavors and nutrients. Happy eating!