What to Eat NOW: Summer’s Bounty
It’s here, the official start of summer! While most of us have been living it up since Memorial Day, grilling out and packing in the watermelon and corn on the cob, gardens are bursting with fresh produce begging to be eaten.
The fruits and vegetables in today’s issue are packed with nutrition and flavor, and they’re some of the best bets for fresh summer dining. I’ve got the best ways to incorporate them into your diet, and you know I wouldn’t leave you without some tasty recipes.
By now we’ve probably all heard about lycopene, the antioxidant in tomatoes that helps prevent cell damage from free radicals. They also help prevent pancreatic, prostate and colorectal cancers.
In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are rich in fiber and vitamins A and C. Just one cup of fresh tomatoes provides more than half the body’s daily requirement of C and almost 25 percent of the need for vitamin A.
Tomatoes also reduce the risk of heart disease because of their niacin, B6, and folate contents. Niacin has long been used to safely reduce high cholesterol. B6 and folate act as homocysteine converters, rendering innocuous a substance that weakens the walls of blood vessels.
When using tomatoes for their heart-disease protection, it’s best to consume them cooked. Your best bet is at least two servings of cooked tomato products per week, with the rest being raw.
Perhaps the most fascinating property of tomatoes is their ability to reduce inflammation. People with autoimmune disease are often told to stay away from the nightshade family, of which tomatoes are a prominent member.
However, an Italian study found that drinking a glass of tomato juice daily for 26 days lowered TNF-alpha (an inflammation marker in the blood) almost 35 percent. TNF-alpha is linked to almost all chronic degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
One of the best ways to enjoy tomatoes is with heart-healthy olive oil, because the oil aids in the absorption of lycopene. This easy recipe combines them with a little vinegar, salt, pepper and balsamic for a fresh, delicious starter to any meal.
Olive Oil Drizzled Tomatoes
- 6 tomatoes of various colors
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or slightly more to taste)
- 4 basil leaves
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4-1/2 tablespoon Real Salt
Core and thinly slice tomatoes and arrange on platter. Pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a cup. Pour over tomatoes. Julienne the basil, then sprinkle it on top of tomatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Flavor is best if allowed to sit for about 15 minutes.
Like the tomato, summer squash is high in vitamin C, folate, and fiber. It’s also got a good deal of beta-carotene. The yellow crookneck variety is naturally sweet, whereas zucchini is mild in every way.
Because of their high water content, summer squash aren’t as nutrient dense as other summer veggies, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them! They’re exceptionally filling because of their fiber and very low in calories. When you consume more vegetables, there’s less room for other junk.
I’ve talked before about making noodles from zucchini, and we do this often in the summer. Why boil water when you can spiralize a few zucchini and have fresh pasta-like strands to compliment your meal?
Now, I love loading up veggies with cheese and butter as much as the next guy (Ok, that’s a lie. I actually don’t), but squash has a delicate flavor. Our favorite way to enjoy squash is sauteed with just a bit of coconut oil, onion and garlic.
When you want something a little more filling, squash soup makes a nice light summer meal, especially when you add a piece of crusty bread and a green salad.
Buttermilk Summer Squash Soup
Recipe from 101cookbooks.com
- Generous splash of olive oil or 3T. butter
- 3 large shallots, chopped (or 1 medium sweet onion)
- 1/2 teaspoon Real Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake, to taste
- 3-inch sprig of rosemary
- 1 1/2 pounds yellow or green summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 3/4 pound potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
- 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 cups lightly flavored vegetable stock or water
- 2/3 cup buttermilk (can use 1/2 c. coconut milk for a vegan version)
Heat olive oil/butter in large thick-bottomed pan over medium heat. Stir in the shallots, salt, red pepper flakes and rosemary. Saute until shallots are tender – a couple minutes. Stir in squash and potatoes and cook until squash starts to get a bit tender — a few minutes.
Stir in garlic, remove the sprig of rosemary and add the stock (or water) to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender — about 15 minutes.
Puree with a hand blender. If you like a silkier soup, feel free to pour the soup through a strainer. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk, and taste and adjust the seasoning – adding more salt if needed.
I like this soup topped with a bit of crumbled feta, some toasted almonds, a drizzle of olive oil and a small pinch of red pepper – but it’s perfectly good straight with no fuss on top.
Figs evoke all sorts of mental images; the succulence of the ancient Middle East, Adam and Eve’s nakedness in the Garden of Eden, rich cheeses and salty prosciutto — all things rich and sensuous.
They’ve been used for centuries to strengthen those recovering from illness and keep the elderly strong and vigorous. It’s no wonder, with their natural sugars, fiber content and loads of minerals.
Figs are one of the most alkaline fruits. The potassium level in figs can help lower blood pressure naturally, and the fiber is excellent for helping tone the intestines.
I enjoy figs in my green smoothie. Although they can be somewhat earthy tasting, a bit of cucumber or a handful of grapes will balance the drink, giving you a mineral-packed and tasty treat.
Figs work well in both sweet and savory applications. Most of us have seen fig jam. Baked figs with bubbly cheese with Serrano ham are popular, too. One of my favorite recipes is for a fig and citrus spinach salad. It’s out of this world!
Fig and Citrus Salad
Modified slightly from CalFreshFigs.com
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon Real Salt
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 naval oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise
- 8 large fresh black or green figs sliced lengthwise 1/4-inch thick
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch spinach
- 1/3 cups walnut pieces, toasted
To make dressing, combine juice, vinegar, oil, honey, and salt and pepper flakes in blender container. Blend until thoroughly mixed. Place fruit and onion in large mixing bowl. Pour dressing over all. Set aside at least 10 minutes or up to one hour.
To serve: line individual salad plates with spinach leaves. Spoon fruit and dressing mixture on top, dividing equally. Sprinkle each salad with about 1 tablespoon toasted walnuts.
Though exotic (and expensive) superfoods like acai and raw cacao are alluring, the humble blueberry is an antioxidant powerhouse and just coming into season.
Blueberries protect the urinary tract system against infections just like their cranberry cousins. They contain a chemical compound called anthocyanins. It gives the berries their rich blue/purple color, and so much more.
Anthocyanins strengthen the circulatory system and enhance the positive effects of vitamin C. They also strengthen collagen in the body (hello, fewer wrinkles) and prevent free radical damage.
These anthocyanins also protect the heart from disease. In a study published by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, wine made from blueberries provided more cardioprotective benefits than red wine itself.
Half a cup of blueberries as one of your three or more servings of fruit per day can help prevent macular degeneration. The phenols help protect against color and ovarian cancers. Finally, blueberries may protect the brain against Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
With all of those health benefits, plus the obvious help to the digestive system as fiber-packed as these berries are, why would anyone resist adding blueberries to their daily diet?
Whether you pick your own or get them at the market, these juicy little orbs are flavorful and couldn’t be easier to manage. After all, you can just wash and pop them into your mouth! If you prefer to get your phytochemicals in ways other than straight off the bush, don’t fret.
We all love blueberry muffins, and aside from the teeth-staining effects, I could eat blueberry pie every day. However, this tart is just as tasty and significantly lower in sugar.
Recipe modified slightly from EatingWell.com
- 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1 large egg white
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, liquid (room temperature or warmer)
- Pinch of Real Salt
- 8 ounces Neufchatel, softened
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grade B maple syrup
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
1. To prepare crust: Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Coarsely chop walnuts in a food processor. Add graham cracker crumbs and process until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.
3. Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until frothy. Add the crumb mixture, butter, oil and salt; toss to combine. Press the mixture into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan.
Set the pan on a baking sheet. Bake until dry and slightly darker around the edges, about 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
4. To prepare filling: Beat cream cheese, sour cream and 1/4 cup maple syrup in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth.
5.When the crust is cool, spread the filling evenly into it, being careful not to break up the delicate crust. Arrange blueberries on the filling, pressing lightly so they set in. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup over the berries. Chill for at least 1 hour to firm up.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make all of the recipes in today’s post for a fantastic and filling dinner (with more than enough for leftovers, I’m sure).
Please don’t forget about the beautiful peppers, onions, melons and greens that are in season right now. Peaches are coming in soon, along with apricots, nectarines, beets and eggplant. You can’t go wrong with all of those fresh fruits and vegetables in your summer diet!