Summer is right around the corner, and so are the local markets teeming with fresh and colorful summer produce! Eating the rainbow of colors through veggies provides us with more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Yet, as creatures of habit, how many of us go to the grocery store or market and buy the same vegetables each week? All of us have different exposures, experiences, knowledge, and preferences when it comes to our veggies (all types of food, really!). Whether you are a vegetable lover or not, all of us have to figure out how to eat our vegetables week after week. So – let’s talk about a few different cooking methods and recipes to try with these summer vegetables:
Raw Summer Produce
For many vegetables, eating them raw gives you the most enzymes, vitamins, and minerals needed for good health. Raw veggies can provide more energy, better skin, improved digestion, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. And because preparation methods for raw vegetables are relatively simple, you can maintain or lose weight by fitting them into your meal plan.
- Super Fresh Cucumber Salad: This recipe is a summer classic. Cold, crunchy, and juicy – it’s full of flavor and packs a punch with the feta-vinegar combination.
- Summer Squash Salad: Swap your normal coleslaw recipe for this squash salad. The squash is julienned, giving the salad a tasty alternative to coleslaw. Instead of canola oil, try olive or avocado oil for an even exchange.
- Zucchini Salad: Peel zucchini into thin strips and toss in lemons, herbs, and cheese to have a quick and easy fresh side for any lunch or dinner. Add pine nuts for even more flavor!
- Marinated Raw Eggplant: Leave the eggplant to marinate for a couple of days to improve the flavor. If you have never tried this before, it is a must! Pair alongside grilled chicken breast and some rice and you will be amazed.
- Okra Salad: If you like hot flavors, give this recipe a try! Combine hot sauce with balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper to provide a spicy marinade to soak okra, tomatoes, and onion.
- Raw Citrus Beet Salad: Sweet, crunchy, and bright makes this dish oh-so-delicious! You can thinly grate or shred the beets. A food processor makes this recipe a whooole lot easier. And do not forget to keep the beet greens! You can use them for another recipe – salad or smoothie (see examples below).
Grilled Summer Produce
Vegetables headed for the grill should be cleaned and cut into slices that won’t fall through the grates – about ½-inch thick. Recommended for direct-heat grilling: asparagus, bell peppers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, and corn (in the husk). For grilling over indirect heat: firm, whole vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, heads of garlic, artichokes, and large mushrooms such as portobellos.
Prepping them with olive oil, salt, and pepper to start will do wonders. Extra virgin olive oil prevents sticking, keeps foods juicy, and promotes caramelization/grill marks. For great grill marks, place your (direct heat) food across the grates from left to right. Most grilled vegetable recipes will require some type of marinade or brushing/coating the veggies in oil. When choosing an oil, try to stick with olive and avocado oils.
- Grilled Beets: I’ll be honest: beets are very hard and the skins are not easy to peel. But with this recipe, you can wrap each beet in aluminum foil to grill and the skins will fall off after 20-30 minutes on the grill. The fresh herbs and vinegar will make this one of your new favorite summer dishes!
- Grilled Zucchini and Summer Squash: Minimal prep! Grill these up for less than 10 minutes to enjoy a fresh side to a burger or fish fillet.
- Grilled Okra: Kebab night! Skewer okra with onion and season with steak seasoning, cajun seasoning, and hot sauce for a fiery side to chicken, shrimp, or beef skewers. To minimize prep, just do veggies on skewers and serve alongside poultry, or make a plant-based chili with beans and lentils.
- Grilled Tomatoes: Doused in olive oil, thyme, garlic, and Parmesan cheese, this recipe is bound to be a crowd favorite. Serve as an appetizer or as a side dish to a salad or meat dish. These juicy bites are perfect for a hot summer day!
Stir-Fried Summer Produce
You can use any vegetables for stir-frying, as long as they’re cut to a uniform size. Add vegetables that need more time to cook first, like broccoli florets, mushrooms, snow peas, green beans, water chestnuts, sugar snap peas, and baby corn. Add softer vegetables like bok choy, zucchini, red bell pepper, and bean sprouts toward the end of the cooking process. If there are big vegetable pieces in the dish like broccoli or bell pepper chunks, blanch them beforehand or par-boil them in the wok before adding them to your final stir-fry.
Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for all pre-frozen vegetables. It stops enzyme actions, which can cause loss of flavor, color, and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color, and helps slow the loss of vitamins.
Another thing you have to think about is the type of oil you’re using. Use high smoke oils. Go-to oils for stir-fries are avocado oil (it’s the best choice with a smoke point of 520° F), light olive oil made for sautéing and grilling (smoke point of 468° F), and canola/vegetable oil (it has a lower smoke point of 400° F). While this lower smoke point isn’t ideal, canola/vegetable oil tends to be more readily available and affordable.
- Spicy Summer Vegetable Stir-Fry: Lots of veggies are combined together and tossed in a honey chili garlic sauce in this delicious and quick recipe. Reminder: you do not have to use all of the veggies! If you do not have coconut aminos, you can use soy sauce as an equal substitute. Keep in mind the sodium content of your soy sauce!
- Pan-Fried Okra and Tomatoes: All of you bacon lovers out there need to give this recipe a try! Okra, tomatoes, and onions are cooked in bacon drippings and served with bacon pieces. This recipe only uses one piece of bacon, so you don’t have to worry about the added sodium and saturated fat. It’s a great addition to a healthy meal!
- Stir-Fried Cucumber with Egg: This recipe is fantastic for a super quick and easy weeknight dinner when you don’t feel like cooking. Whip up eggs and add diced cucumber after minimal prep. If you are wary of this one… you can’t knock it ’til you try it!
There are dozens of other cooking methods to experiment with your summer produce. If you want to learn more about cooking techniques and food nutrition, the YMCA Nutrition Counseling Program helps adults find a healthier way of eating that’s right for them with the help of our Registered Dietitian. Learn more »
—Mattie Lefever, LDN, RDN