Seasonal Produce Guides

Lettuce: A New Spin

Lettuce varieties

At farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture farms, lettuces make their appearance in May and go strong through mid-summer. When I belonged to a CSA farm, each week, we could take as many as three healthy heads of lettuce for our share. No matter how much one loves salads, three heads a week is a lot of lettuce! If you shop at farm markets, they, too will be bursting with lettuces. more→

Asparagus: Buying, Cooking, and Enjoying

bunch of asparagus

After long winter months of root vegetables and tubers, the farmers market re-awakens in spring – pulsating with energy and brimming with cheerful colors, enticing smells and delicious flavors that make for a full sensory experience. Strolling by the vibrant stands of produce, you’ll find everything to fulfill the stirring desires of re-awakened palates: fresh field strawberries, crisp green beans, plump artichokes and, of course, bright green asparagus.

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Chile Peppers: Healthy Hot Stuff

Red chili peppers

Chile peppers are an indispensable part of many ethnic cuisines that have become intrinsic to the healthy cook’s home repertoire. Chilies are one of the most widely produced and utilized condiments in the world, after salt and black pepper.

Members of the capsicum genus, their flavors range from mild to sweet to explosively hot. There are hundreds of varieties, with inconsistent names and little standardization of labeling. Here are a few basic guidelines to help the curious chili lover: more→

Mushrooms—A Guide to Wild and Cultivated Varieties

Mushrooms on cutting board

Not long ago, when a recipe called for mushrooms, it meant the white button variety. What else was there? Now, nearly every natural foods store, supermarket, and produce grocery offers a wide array of mushrooms. Mushroom lovers, you’ll find many tasty recipes on VegKitchen’s category of recipes featuring mushrooms. more→

5 Simple Ways to Eat More Leafy Greens

Greens in colander

Everyone’s mad for greens these days! Once you get into the leafy greens habit, it’s hard to stop. And why would you? Greens are acknowledged as the most nutrient-rich group of veggies, with a multitude of benefits. The hardier greens, like kale, chard, and collards, are superb sources of highly absorbable calcium, a perk that’s especially valuable to vegans. They’re one of the best sources of Vitamin K, essential to bone health, and are abundant in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid) and C. Greens also provide a wealth of antioxidants and chlorophyll, are protective against cancers, and are anti-inflammatory. more→

Fresh Herbs: Growing, Buying, Storing, and Enjoying

Basil, thyme, and parsley in cans

When a recipe calls for basil and dill, do you reach for the spice rack? This summer, find out why the best cooks go to the garden instead. Their distinctive flavors and aromas enhance summer’s produce as dried, store-bought herbs never could. If you’re hesitant about  new flavors, start with a little less than a recipe indicates. If your an aficionado, lavish summer fare with herbs to your heart’s content. Here are just a few of the fresh herb-flavored recipes you’ll find on VegKitchen: more→

Spinach: A Powerhouse Veggie

Spinach in a crate

When vegetables are rated in terms of overall nutritional value, spinach is usually among the powerhouse veggies that top the list. It’s vitamin-rich and a good source of iron and fiber.

Spinach is a cool-weather leafy green, and one of the first seasonal offerings at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and and farm markets, or if you’re lucky enough, from your own garden. Like any veggie that can be cooked and eaten the same day it’s pulled from the earth, just-harvested spinach is incomparable. Later in the summer, you might like to explore Malabar and other varieties referred to as summer spinach; they have larger, thicker leaves and stems, more akin to chard than its small and tender cool-weather cousins. more→

Strawberries

Strawberries in a bowl

Few fruits offer a much sensory satisfaction as fresh strawberries. The season for good, ripe strawberries, particularly local ones, is rather fleeting compared with other fruits. The good news is that you can’t eat too much of this Vitamin C-rich fruit. The bad news is that strawberries consistently rank near the top of lists of foods most heavily sprayed with pesticides. The only answer is to buy organic strawberries. Yes, they are more expensive, but they’re usually also riper, sweeter, and juicier than mass-produced strawberries. more→

Apples: Varieties and Benefits

Granny Smith apples

Fall pleasures abound in New York’s Hudson Valley, where I make my home: Crisp days, cool nights, dazzling foliage, pumpkins on the roadside. I love all these autumn touchstones, but one of my fondest memories is of apple-picking outings with my kids when they were young. We returned home with barrels of apples to cook into big batches of applesauce and bake into pies. more→

How to Cook Beets (or use them raw)

how to cook beets

Here are some tips on how to cook fresh beets (or use them raw). Cooking or roasting beets brings out their natural sweetness. There are three main ways to prepare beets (other than not cooking them at all): microwaving, cooking, and roasting. Beet lovers can also explore our complete listing of beet recipes —easy, vegan, and delicious. There you’ll find lots of unusual salads, borscht recipes, beet burgers, sides, and juices.

Beets are one of those veggies that inspire passion one way or the other—you either love them or loathe them. If you’re firmly in the “love them” category or want to be, here are some tips on how to cook beets or use them raw.  If your beets come with the greens, save them and use as you would chard, which they greatly resemble.

See lots more tips from readers on how to cook beets (including grilling) in the comments below this post.

How to cook beets

Varieties
how to cook beets
Aside from the common red beets, try golden beets if you can find them—they’re not as common as their magenta counterparts, but they’re even sweeter (and a bit less messy). Even less common than golden are chioggia beets, an Italian heirloom variety with red-and-white stripes—as sweet as it is gorgeous, and formanova, which, with its long, cylindrical shape is great for getting uniform-sized slices. You might look for unusual beet varieties at farm markets, or if you’re a gardener, cultivate them yourself.

How to cook beets in the microwave
This is the easiest and quickest of cooking beets, providing that you don’t object to microwaving. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Place beets in a deep microwave-safe container with a half inch or so of water at the bottom. Cover securely with the container’s lid and microwave for 2 to 4 minutes per beet (2 minutes for small beets, 4 for medium-large). This is a general guideline; depending on your particular microwave unit. Best to start with less time and check for doneness).

Don’t use too much water, otherwise it will boil up and get all over your microwave. If the beets aren’t done when you check them, turn them over and go for another minute per beet. They’re done when you can just pierce them—and when cooking beets, try not to overcook!

Cooking beets
It’s best to use small or medium beets if you want to cook them conventionally, otherwise it takes forever. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Combine in a large deep saucepan with water to cover; bring to a boil, then simmer until just tender. How long this will take varies greatly upon the size of the beets; start checking after about 20 minutes, but don’t poke too many test holes into them, or they’ll bleed like crazy! When done, drain.

To finish: Whether you’ve microwaved or cooked beets, once just tender, plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them over the trash or compost container, then and dice or slice as desired. To prevent discoloration of your cutting board, you can cover it with a piece of wax paper.

Roasting beets
how to cook beetsRoasted beets are delicious, but the prep makes a bit of a mess, since it’s best to peel and slice or dice them while raw.

That said, if you partially microwave or cook them ahead of time according to the directions above (and let cool for a while) it will be easier to peel and chop them. Roasting time will be reduced as a result.

Either way, to minimize the mess, peel over the trash or compost container, and slice them on a cutting board covered with wax paper. Place sliced raw beets (allow 1 medium beet per serving) in a foil-lined baking dish and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake at 400 or 425º F. for 20 to 30 minute or so, until tender to your liking. Stir once or twice during that time. Beets are nice roasted with other root vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes. See this recipe for a roasted root vegetable medley.

How to cook beets by not cooking them: use beets raw
That’s an easy one — simply peel them and cut into small thin pieces or grate them to add to salads; peel and cut into chunks to put through your juicer or to add to your smoothies (a high-powered blender is best for the latter).

How to cook beets simply:

  1. cooking beetsWhen beets are are at their most flavorful, usually in late summer, they need no embellishment. Just serve them plain, sliced and served on a plate, or in salad.
  2. Dress warm sliced beets in just a little lemon juice and agave nectar.
  3. As mentioned above, raw beets are wonderful grated and tossed into salads or combined with other grated roots, as in Beet and Red Cabbage Slaw.

Here’s just a sampling of recipes for how to cook beets; make sure to link to Beet Recipes — Easy, Vegan, and Delicious — for lots more!

Nearly raw beet borscht

Raw or nearly raw beet borscht; photo by Hannah Kaminsky

Leafy Greens of Spring

Baby bok choy

The distinct flavors of leafy vegetables such as arugula, sorrel, watercress, and others can be an invigorating treat for palates grown accustomed to the mild roots and squashes abundant in the cold season. Most spring greens are tender enough to use uncooked or very lightly steamed—all the better to showcase their clean, fresh flavors. Explore Asian greens as well, which are becoming more widely available in farm markets. more→

Produce for the Winter Pantry and Kitchen

Onion and garlic varieties

The creative winter pantry and kitchen make liberal and imaginative use of gnarly tubers and roots, dark sturdy greens, all of the alium (onion and garlic) family, and an array of multicolored, whimsically shaped hard-shelled winter squashes. Cold-weather vegetables are true multi-taskers, capable of nourishing and sustaining us in fragrant pots of warming soups and casseroles, or simply steamed, roasted, or baked. The brilliant colors, assertive flavors and crisp textures of winter vegetables and fruits used raw or marinated in salads and slaws are also outstanding.

There are many compelling reasons to “follow the seasons” in our kitchen as we continue to learn more about healthful and responsible eating. In this country, on average, most food has traveled some 1,500 miles to reach us, all powered by petroleum. Eating seasonally means eating more regionally grown foods as they come into season, supporting local agriculture, economies, the environment and our health. And it’s delicious too! more→

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