Summer is here, and fresh local vegetables abound. My dad was an avid backyard gardener and had quite the green thumb. His garden was the envy of all with its orderly rows of squash, lettuce, cornstalks and more. I grew up playing outside all summer long and snacking on green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes right off the vine. There's nothing that comes close to the taste of a sun-warmed tomato straight from the garden on a hot summer day.
While not all of us are lucky enough to have a bounty of homegrown vegetables right outside the back door, local produce is plentiful this time of year at farm stands, farmers' markets, and pick-your-own farms. Local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is also on the rise. Joining a CSA involves purchasing a prepaid subscription to a farm's produce for the season. Each shareholder receives a weekly supply of vegetables, herbs, fruits and sometimes even meat, poultry, eggs, cut flowers and more. This arrangement not only gives farmers financial security, but it also gives you, the shareholder, the opportunity to meet and get to know the people who grow your food. It's a win/win.
The fun starts when you bring those gorgeous vegetables into your kitchen. When it comes to produce that's only a few hours out of the garden, it's all about holding onto peak goodness and flavor. To retain that just picked taste, I like to keep it simple, with little to no cooking and minimal added ingredients. Enjoy fresh tomatoes, by simply cutting them into thick slices and arranging them in a single layer on a large plate. A very light sprinkling of sea salt will enhance the flavor.
Zucchini plants are usually prolific producers all season. Choose smaller to medium- sized zucchinis, slice into halves or thirds, brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with dried oregano. For more flavor crush the oregano between your fingers as you sprinkle it on. Put on the grill, or bake in a 375* oven, just until cooked through and still tender.
Try a refreshing salad of chopped tomato and cucumber dressed with a little olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. You can do the same with any combination of raw vegetables chopped to uniform size, such as yellow summer squash, zucchini, green beans, yellow beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers and cucumbers.
The following recipes are favorites at out house. The cucumber salad is my German grandmother's recipe that's been passed down through the generations. I'm fortunate to have inherited her handwritten cookbooks, which are full of original recipes. Nothing fancy, but oh, so good! The julienne cut vegetable "noodle" dish is one of my own creations. The flavors are inspired by a chicken, carrot and lettuce wrap recipe I once made from a Martha Stewart cookbook.
Grandma Arzt's Cucumbers and Vinegar
Following these directions, you can use any amount of cucumbers to make as little or as much as you like. This is best when made ahead of time to allow the flavors to develop. It keeps well in the fridge for almost a week. Don't hesitate to be a bit more generous with the salt, because most of it gets rinsed off. A tip, stick with plain white vinegar. I've tried different varieties in this recipe, but it's just not the same.
- cucumbers in the amount desired, can be peeled if you like but it's not necessary
- 1 part white vinegar (good, old-fashioned "distilled white", not white-wine vinegar)
- 3 parts water
Optional: cracked black pepper and snipped chives, to taste
- Slice cucumbers into very thin rounds.
- Layer cucumber slices in a bowl, sprinkling salt in moderation between each layer.
- Cover and set aside on the counter for up to 1 1/2 hours, the longer the better.
- After the time is up, rinse cucumbers thoroughly under cold water to remove the salt, discarding all the rinse water.
- Place cucumbers in a bowl large enough so they fill about one-half of the bowl. Set aside.
- In another bowl mix the 3 parts water and 1 part vinegar. Pour this mixture over the cucumbers. Cucumbers should be fully immersed and floating in the liquid. If needed, add more liquid that's been prepared using the 3-to-1 ratio of water to vinegar.
- Add optional cracked pepper and chives, if desired.
- Store covered in the refrigerator.
Squash, Pepper and Portobello "Noodles"
(Makes one 1-block serving of carbohydrate)
This dish is also very good chilled thoroughly and served as cold "noodles".
- 1 small yellow summer squash, seeded, julienne cut
- 1 red pepper, seeded, julienne cut
- 1 portobello cap, discard stem, julienne cut
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce (I use Bragg's "Liquid Aminos)
- a few drops of agave sweetener
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a small prep bowl, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and agave. Set aside.
- Layer the cut vegetables in a medium skillet, pepper on the bottom, portobello next, then squash on top. Add a small amount of water. Steam lightly over medium heat, tossing with a fork now and then after the first minute or so, cooking just until slightly softened but still crisp. Add small amounts of water as needed to prevent sticking. Total cooking time is only a few minutes.
- Add the vinegar mixture to the pan, toss with the vegetables and cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat immediately.
- To serve, pile the "noodles" high on a plate like a small tower and add a sprinkle of sea salt and ground pepper.
Until next time, happy Zoning and enjoy your veggies!