Enjoy and Preserve Summer Vegetables
Summer is squash season. Both types – the sport that helps you play more and the food that helps you eat well, like zucchini – can be part of your summer commitment to health.
Summer squashes – zucchini, pattypan, yellow summer squash – are abundant in mid-summer gardens and lend themselves to a variety of dishes.
Other vegetables abound this time of year, too. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant all ripen in the heat of the summer.
Whether you grow your own, find them at the farmers market, or grab them at the grocery store, these bountiful summer crops can help you eat well this summer.
A bounty of vitamins
Summer vegetables are full of vitamins:
- Bell peppers are a great choice for getting vitamin C. One medium pepper contains a whopping 190% of your daily requirement of C.
- Summer squashes are also good sources of vitamin C. One cup of zucchini contains 35% of your RDA; one cup of yellow summer squash contains 30%.
- Tomatoes are high in vitamin A with 20% of your RDA in a medium tomato and 40% of your vitamin C (40%), and they contain the antioxidant lycopene.
- Cucumbers are extremely low in calories: a cup contains just 10 calories and provides 10% of your calcium.
- Eggplant is low in calories and high in fiber with 3 grams of fiber in a 20-calorie cup of raw eggplant.
Summer vegetables lend themselves to a variety of recipes and cooking methods.
Sautés and stir-fries are always good, and summer is the perfect time to try grilling vegetables or eating them raw in a colorful salad.
Summer vegetable tips
Below are the top summer tips from EvergreenHealth nutrition expert Marcy Dorsey:
Eat whole foods. Fresh, unprocessed foods are better for you. To quote Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: “Eat food that is grown from a plant, not made in a plant.”
Seek seasonal and local food. Summer crops include berries, melons, corn, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, and more. Visit a farmers market to get crops fresh from the growers.
Pick fresh berries. Dark berries are loaded with antioxidants to reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and lower cancer risk. They are high in fiber, full of vitamins and minerals, and delicious.
Load up on veggies. So much produce is in season that it is easy to get extra servings in your diet. Raw, grilled, marinated – add colorful vegetable servings any way you like them.
Make festive salads. Skip the iceberg and boost the color and nutrient content of your salads by using seasonal produce. Make salads complete meals by adding whole grains or beans or sprinkling them with nuts or seeds.
Marcy also recommends making your own salad dressing to incorporate high quality fats, save money and eliminate preservatives and other contaminants: mix two parts extra virgin olive oil to one part vinegar or fresh lemon juice; then add salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices.
Stay hydrated. Get 8-10 glasses of water per day to ensure proper absorption of nutrients, remove toxins, regulate your body temperature and blood pressure, and keep joints cushioned and lubricated.
Get more potassium. It’s necessary to maintain your body’s fluid balance, which is critical in the summer heat.
Good sources include legumes, meats, avocado, bananas, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beets, dark leafy vegetables, and whole grains.
Cool down with a small homemade smoothie, which provides more nutrients than ice cream or frozen coffee drinks. You can blend fruits, vegetables, green tea or juice for a healthy cool-down.
Preserving your summer bounty
Even with extra servings of summer vegetables in your diet, your backyard garden may still leave you with more produce than you know what to do with.
Or maybe you just want to get the garden-fresh taste of a farmers market tomato in the dead of winter.
With the right tools, it’s easy to can your own produce. Follow these steps from the Simple Bites whole foods website:
Get the right equipment:
- Canning jars and seals – mason-style jars with sealed lids and rings
- Lid wand – for easily removing lids and rings from boiling water
- Large pot – for boiling canned preserves, fruits, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables
- Jar lifters or tongs – rubberized lifters for removing cans from the water bath
- Cloths – to wipe down jars, lids, and rims
Follow the proper canning process:
- Sterilize your jars. Wash lids and jars in hot soapy water, then move to a boiling water bath for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove jars from water bath but leave lids in hot water until ready to use.
- Slice, dice, pickle, and pour. Can your fruits and vegetables immediately after harvest for the highest vitamin and nutrient concentration. Prepare vegetables by slicing and dicing or pickling before placing in jars. Tomatoes should have lemon juice or another citric acid added to them prior to canning to ensure their pH level is above 4.6.
- Fill your jars. Be sure not to fill them completely, since produce expands during the boiling process. Leave adequate space at the top to prevent the jar from overflowing.
After filling your jar with produce, pour boiling water, pickling solution, or juice to cover vegetables. Make sure there are no air bubbles along the sides of the jar and that vegetables are submerged in liquid. Wipe rims of the jars down with a clean cloth and cap with the flat sealing lids and rims.
- Process your jars. Preheat water in your pot. For hot produce, water should be preheated to 180º F; for cold produce, 140º F. This will help prevent jars from cracking when placed in the pot. Water should be an inch or two above the top of the canning jars when placed in the pot. Add jars using tongs or jar lifter, careful that they do not touch. Place lid on the pot. Bring the water to a slow boil and process for the length of time dictated by the vegetable and your altitude. Find guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation (see link below).
- Remove jars and let them cool. Place jars on a flat wood or cloth-covered solid surface. Allow to cool for 24 hours. While cooling, the jars will start to pop, creating the vacuum seal. After they have cooled, press down on the center of each jar to ensure it has sealed completely. Any lids that spring back have not sealed and can be placed in the refrigerator to be eaten.
- Label and store your preserved food. Label jars with the contents and canning date. Store jars in a dark, dry place for up to one year.
For more detailed information on what and how to can, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
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