Q: Chef, I want to start eating healthier - especially more fresh local produce. What is in season?
A: In last month's column, we talked about some of the early spring produce you might find popping up at local farmer's markets.
Spring and summer are excellent times to focus on including more fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets.
Shown is a serving of marinated red cabbage salad, a slaw-type salad that includes organic red cabbage, fresh radishes, rainbow chard, scallions, baby kale and spinach. In Pennsylvania, cabbage is in season from June through October.
This month we want to continue our discussion about what is in season and offer some suggestions about selecting and preparing the produce.
This winter was particularly long so some of our produce is a week or two behind in the growing season than usual.
Radishes are in season from April to June and from October to January in most parts of North America. Radishes can sprout from a seed to small plant in as little as three days.
Radishes contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc - all for only about 20 calories per cup.
The entire radish plant is edible. The tops can be used as a leaf vegetable or greens. They also can be eaten as sprouts.
Select radishes with greens that are crisp and not wilted with smooth, medium sized radishes.
To store radishes, cut off the greens and wash thoroughly. Radishes store for about a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Radishes can be steamed, broiled, roasted, stir fried or eaten raw.
Peas are available from early spring through late fall. They take 60 days to mature, but they can be planted up to two months before the average last frost date.
They are a member of the legume family, but are one of the few varieties that are usually served as a fresh vegetable. Most legumes are dried.
They are relatively low in calories and are a great source of vitamin C. A cup of peas contains 60 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Green peas are a very good source of vitamin K, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin B1, copper, phosphorus and folate. They also are a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B2, molybdenum, zinc, protein, magnesium, iron, potassium and choline.
Garden peas have rounded pods that are usually slightly curved in shape. Snow peas are fatter than garden peas. Snap peas have plump pods and are very crunchy.
You can eat the pods of snow peas and snap peas, but garden peas must be "snapped" or cut to remove the peas.
The greens from pea plants also can be eaten sauted or steamed.
To prevent the sugar content in peas from turning into starch, prepare or refrigerate right away. Unwashed, unshelled peas will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Peas can be eaten raw on salads, steamed, boiled or sauted.
In Pennsylvania, cabbage is in season from June to October.
Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin B6. It also is a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper.
It also is a good source of choline, phosphorus, vitamin B2, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, protein and niacin. A serving of cabbage contains about 25 calories.
Select cabbage heads that are compact and firm. The leaves should be crispy with no markings or browning. Make sure the stem looks fresh and trimmed.
To prepare cabbage, remove the outer leaves and cut the cabbage to the desired size. Don't cut open the head until you are ready to use it because it loses vitamin C quickly. Any cut cabbage should be tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator.
Cabbage can be steamed, boiled, roasted, stir fried or served raw in salads, fermented and made into sauerkraut or as a wrap for meat (such as stuffed cabbages).
We did some shopping at the Grower's Market on Saturday morning.
We bought fresh radishes, rainbow chard and scallions. We picked some baby kale and spinach from our garden. The cabbage is a little behind this year so we purchased organic red cabbage at the store. Following is a recipe for a slaw type salad using these delicious, fresh ingredients.
Marinated red cabbage salad
1 small head of red cabbage
3 stalks rainbow chard
Fresh greens (we used baby kale and spinach)
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (we used balsamic vinegar infused with orange, mango and passion fruit)
3 tablespoons fruit infused olive oil (we used olive oil infused with blood orange)
Salt and pepper to taste
Thoroughly wash all vegetables. Remove core from cabbage and cut in half. Cut into thin slices about 1/8 inches thick. For best results, we recommend using a sharp knife to cut the cabbage, but you can use a shredder if you prefer. Cut radishes into thin half-moon shaped slices.
Dice a small portion of the radish greens to use as a garnish. Dice scallion bulbs and green leafy stems about half way up the stem. Slice the rainbow chard into thin slices the same size as the cabbage. Add salt, pepper, sugar, balsamic vinegar and infused olive oil and toss together.
Sprinkle with radish greens. This salad tastes best if it is marinated overnight in the refrigerator. Serve on top of a bed of your favorite greens.
Snap peas with caramelized onions and red pepper
8 ounces snap peas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 large red onion, sliced thin
1 large red pepper, sliced in strips
Thoroughly wash all vegetables, then cut as described. Caramelize the red onion and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat stirring constantly, set aside. Blanch the snap peas in boiling water for one minute, drain and run under cold water until cool to touch. Saute the snap peas in olive oil over medium heat just before serving, adding the red pepper and onion to heat thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.
Buying local produce, dairy and meat products really makes a difference in quality and nutritional value.
We really do believe that "fresh is best" and buying locally produced, high quality food is almost always the best, freshest choice.
In next month's column we will discuss this topic in more detail as we answer the question of which cuts of meat are best to grill and how to prepare them.