Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I loved summer. Not only did I explore new places to run, like Castlewood Park or passing the Arch on the riverfront, but I also checked out the many local farmers’ markets and produce stands that would pop up in the most random, but genius, of places.
Although now a West Coaster, I still crave certain seasonal vegetables that just seem to taste a little better when grown in the Midwest. Here’s my top five:
Packed with Vitamins A and C, folic acid and antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid and lycopene, tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse1.
- Selection and Storage: Whether choosing small, cherry or large, beefsteak varieties, look for tomatoes that have firm, unblemished skin. And when you’re about to pop those gems into the refrigerator, think again. Refrigerating tomatoes damages the membranes inside the fruit walls, causing the them to lose flavor and develop the mealy texture, so store tomatoes on your countertop and room temperature.
- Usage: Since cooking tomatoes actually improves the absorbability of their nutrients, I love adding them to gluten-free, vegan pizzas, often accompanied by a fresh stacked tomato and basil salad.
2. Green Beans
These starchy veggies make a great side dish.
- Selection and Storage: Green beans should be crisp and firm. There should be no soft spots or signs of discoloring. When storing, keep beans refrigerated in a plastic bag. For longer storage, wrap beans in a paper towel to absorb extra moisture.
- Usage: Green beans are so incredibly versatile, and are delicious roasted, grilled (yes, grilled!) and steamed. Whether you are featuring them in a salad or as a side dish, there is a key to keeping their bright green color: blanching and shocking them. To do so, cook them quickly in plenty of rapidly boiling, heavily salted water. Transfer them to an ice bath (water and ice) for about five minutes. Remove, pat dry, and dress to your liking.
This nutritional powerhouse needs no introduction. Rich in vitamin K, folate and iron, this little gem needs to be in our diets1.
- Selection and Storage: Select bright leaves that are free of any evident bugs or infestations. Leaves should be vibrant and green.
- Usage: What recipe shouldn’t include spinach?? Toss this leafy green into your chocolate smoothie, blend into your favorite soup or just enjoy raw as the base of your monster salad.
Packed with fiber, Vitamin C and minerals like phosphorus, zucchini is one of the most versatile, low-calorie vegetables1.
- Selection and Storage: Select zucchini that are firm and unblemished.
- Usage: Being Italian, I love pasta, but not always the added calories and carbohydrates. By swapping julienned zucchini for pasta noodles, I benefit from the killer nutrients while consuming a fraction of the calories.
5. Bell Peppers
Best known for its extremely high vitamin C content1, bell peppers are perfect as a main or side dish.
- Selection and Storage: Select peppers that are bright and vibrant, firm and unblemished. While you can store green peppers up to a week in the refrigerator, red, yellow and orange ones aren’t so lucky. They’re limited to five days.
- Usage: Bell peppers are awesome either cooked or raw, and can be enjoyed both ways. Try stuffing or skewering them for an entrée, slicing them into a salad, or enjoying them in a creamy, vegan dressing.
So, if you’re reading this from the Midwest right now, go to the closest farmer’s market or produce stand and try one (or five!) of my favorites.
Which Midwest produce are you going to pick up and enjoy tonight!?
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Accessed on 7/18/14 from:.http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/\