Savoring Seasonal Produce

Welcome to the Wholefoods Diner. Summer is the easiest time of year to up your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whether you grow them at home or pick them up at the market, they are the stars of the season. There are so many easy ways to enjoy fresh produce, from simply eating fruit out of hand to lavish salads. But for many people the difficult part is selecting, storing and perhaps even preserving them for out-of-season enjoyment. And that is what you will conquer in this Wholefoods Diner.

FAST RECIPES FOR FRESH PRODUCE

 

Blender Salad Soup

Similar to a classic gazpacho, but with all the vegetables chopped in the blender right along with the tomato, making it much quicker to prepare.

4 medium-size ripe tomatoes
½ large green pepper
½ small onion
1 small cucumber
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ cup ice water
6 ice cubes

Quarter tomatoes; seed and slice cucumber; peel and slice onion and cucumber; peel garlic.

Place vegetables and remaining ingredients except ice in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for about 3 seconds, until vegetables are finely chopped but not reduced to a puree. (If equipment cannot handle this quantity, process in batches.)

Spoon soup into bowls and place an ice cube in each so it becomes very cold.

Yield: 6 servings

Quick Pickles

A crunchy pickle with a simple brine that can be replenished so there is always a supply of fresh pickles in the refrigerator.

2 unwaxed cucumbers
1 small onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill weed
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons cider vinegar

Slice each cucumber lengthwise into 8 sticks. Slice onion into rings. Alternate layers of cucumber and onion in a broad, nonmetal dish. Scatter garlic and dill on top.

Mix water with honey and salt to dissolve; add vinegar. Pour this brine over the cucumbers. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before eating.

Yield: 16 pickles

Note: When ready to replenish the pickle container, add 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 rounded teaspoon honey to the brine. Add more sliced cucumbers and onion as needed. Prepare a fresh solution after 2 or 3 batches have been made.

 Cream Corn Chowder

Takes less than 5 minutes to prepare.

2 cups corn kernels
4 cups soy milk or skim milk with ¼ cup nonfat dry milk powder added
2 slices whole wheat bread
1 thin slice onion
2 teaspoons salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender of food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process at high speed for 20 seconds. Warm gently over moderate heat.

Yield: 6 servings

All-In-One Breakfast Shake

1 cup yogurt or 1¼ cups soy milk
1 large ripe peach or ¾ cup seasonal berries
½ cup orange, apple or pineapple juice
¼ cup oats
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2-4 ice cubes
Cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Combine all but the cinnamon or nutmeg in a blender. If using yogurt, add 4 ice cubes. If using soy milk, add ice cubes if you want a frothier shake. Process at high speed about 1 minute, until ice is completed melted. Pour into servings glasses and sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired.

Yield: 2 12-ounce servings

Strawberry Maple Freeze

Blending YoChee with fruit you can produce a variety of flavorful frozen desserts. Using the formula below, try your hand with other fruits as well.

2 cups fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons fruit-juice-sweetened berry preserves
1 cup YoChee
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Combine the berries and preserves in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade and puree. Pour into a bowl and beat in the YoChee, vanilla and maple syrup until evening combined. The amount of sweetness needed will depend on the sweetness of the fruit and individual taste; begin with 1 tablespoon and taste and adjust if needed.

Transfer the mixture into a shallow metal pan or freezer container. Cover and freeze for 2 to 3 hours, until firm.

Break the mixture into chunks and return it to the food processor. Process until smooth. This may require a little stopping and scraping the sides until the frozen YoChee begins to soften. Continue until the mixture is the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.

At this point you can eat the frozen YoChee or return it to a freezer container and freeze solid. If frozen, let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to soften slightly.

Yield: 1 pint

FRUITS THAT CONTINUE TO RIPEN AFTER PICKING

Apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plantains, and plums continue to ripen at room temperature after they’re picked. If you want to speed up ripening, put them in a paper bag (plastic bags apparently don’t work for ripening).

Once fully ripened, these fruits can be stored in the refrigerator but are best eaten within a week. Although the outside skin of a refrigerated banana will turn dark brown, the inside will remain light-colored and good for eating.

FRUITS THAT SHOULD BE PICKED OR BOUGHT RIPE

Apples, blueberries, cherries, lemons, limes, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, and watermelon will not continue to ripen after picking. They should be allowed to fully mature first, at which point they are ready to eat.

Store in the “crisper” section of the refrigerator, bagged loosely to allow air circulation but prevent drying.

HOW TO KEEP CUT FRUIT FROM TURNING BROWN

Cut fruit as close to serving time as possible and cover. The easiest way to keep the cut edges of fruit from turning brown is by coating with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. If holding for more than two hours, refrigerate until ready to serve.

STORING TOMATOES

The ongoing debate is “should tomatoes be kept on the counter or in the refrigerator?”

Store them at room temperature (above 55 degrees F) until fully ripened. This will allow them to ripen properly and develop good flavor and aroma. Store out of direct sunlight; sunlight will cause uneven ripening. A ripe tomato is red or reddish orange, depending on the variety, and yields to slight pressure.

Tomatoes should be placed stem end up. Because the “shoulders” are the softest part; putting them stem-side down is likely to result in bruising.

If you must keep tomatoes once they are ready to eat, place in the refrigerator. However, serve at room temperature

WARNING SIGNS FOR AGING PRODUCE

As foods deteriorate they often give off warning signs.

* Pale color in produce is a sign of age and loss of flavor and nutrients

* Soft spots or rust on fresh produce indicate rot. Cut them out and use what remains at once.

* Slime on the surface of produce is a sign of deterioration. While it may make food unattractive, it is not dangerous. Wash it off, pat the food dry and if it doesn’t appear otherwise affected, use at once.

* Mold on produce is visible and while it shouldn’t be eaten, it can be removed if only on the surface. Just the same, it is a sign that the food is well beyond its prime and whatever you manage to salvage should be consumed soon.

* A fermented smell in fruit is your clue that yeast is growing. While not generally harmful, it usually renders it unpalatable (unless you are making vinegar).

SAFE HANDLING OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

After purchase, put any produce that needs refrigeration away promptly. Wait to wash until just before use, rather than when first picked or purchased. If coming from the garden and covered with surface dirt, wipe clean with a damp towel before storing. Greens (lettuce, cooking greens) can be washed before hand, spun thoroughly dry, and stored in a covered lettuce crisper.

If buying fresh, pre-cut produce, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

Always wash raw fruits and vegetables under cold running water before eating them. To remove surface dirt and bacteria, thoroughly in cold rinse. Do not use soap, detergents or bleach solutions.

If necessary, scrub firm produce, such as melons, potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers with a clean produce brush to remove surface dirt.

Cut away damaged or bruised areas as bacteria can thrive in these places.

Bacteria on the outside of produce can be transferred to the inside during peeling or cutting. To prevent this, thoroughly rinse first. This applies to all fruits and vegetables that will be peeled or cut, including melons, lemons, limes and other citrus, mangoes, papayas, avocados, and the like. Peel bananas before cutting to avoid transfer of surface contamination.

Refrigerate all fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Use a clean cutting board, knives and other utensils when handling fruits and vegetables. Do not cross contaminate with any implements that have been in contact with raw animal products. This is always a priority in the kitchen, but particularly when it comes to foods like fruits and vegetables that may be eaten raw.

EASY FREEZING FOR THE FUTURE

While many foods require blanching (quick boiling and cooling) before freezing to destroy natural enzymes that cause deterioration, there are some that can be frozen with no pre-treatment.

Avocados can be pureed and frozen for use later in guacamole, soup, salad dressing, and such. After peeling, mash pulp. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice per quart to preserve color. Pack into containers, pressing down into corners to eliminate air pockets. Seal and freeze.

Bananas can actually be frozen for short-term preservation with nothing but their skins for protection. Use within 3 months for baking or pureed desserts, or just unzip the peel and eat out-of-hand for a novel snack. Note: protect your hands when peeling to avoid freezer burn. Pureed bananas can also be frozen following the directions above for avocados, substituting orange juice for the lemon juice.

Berries freeze well without any fuss. They are best for later use in cooked dishes, fruit spreads and smoothies. Wash, remove any damaged or decaying specimens, gently pat dry and let air dry before freezing. To make it easier to remove only the amount needed at one time, spread in a single layer on a shallow metal pan or cookie sheet with sides. Place uncovered in the freezer. When frozen, transfer to a container or freezer bag, excluding as much air as possible. This technique can be used with sliced or diced raw peppers, as well.

Corn is worth freezing when available fresh-picked and locally grown. Without detaching the husks, ease them open and remove the silky fibers. Replace the husks around the ears; if very bulky, remove some of the outer layers. Place in freezer bags excluding as much air as possible. Cook without defrosting.

Peppers (both sweet and hot) can be used later in either uncooked or cooked foods. For large peppers, wash, cut in half and remove stems and seeds. If desired, cut into strips or rings. Package into bags or containers leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze. Small hot peppers can be frozen whole. Simply wash, pack in airtight freezer bags, seal and freeze.

Pineapple, when you get a sweet one, is worth preserving. Remove skin, eyes and core. Slice, dice, crush or cut as desired. Pack tightly into container so the pineapple’s juice fills the air spaces. Leave ½-inch headspace in pints, 1-inch in quarts. Seal and freeze.

Tomatoes can also be frozen raw. Frozen tomatoes are best used in cooked foods such as soups, sauces and stews, since they turn soft on thawing. The easiest method is also the most space consuming – packing whole into freezer-proof bags and removing all surrounding air. They can later be used whole or cut up. If you want them peeled, just run the frozen whole tomato under very hot tap water for a few seconds. The skins will crack to ease peeling. If space is a concern, wash, and if peeling is desired, dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins first. This step is not necessary if you don’t mind pieces of skin later on. Cut in chunks. Pack into containers, pressing to eliminate air pockets as for pineapple. Leave ½-inch headspace in pints, 1-inch in quarts. Seal and freeze.

TIP: When removing skins, dip only a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water or the water temperature may be lowered too much to remove the skins without overheating the tomatoes. Transfer hot tomatoes to a colander and rinse under cold water to make them easier to handle.

STORAGE TIME FOR FROZEN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

To maximize the time frozen foods maintain good quality, pack in material intended for freezing. Be sure to keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or colder. Unless otherwise advised, it is generally recommended that frozen vegetables and fruits be eaten within eight months for best quality.

Recipes from the Nikki & David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine, Eat Well the YoChee Way and The Healthiest Diet in the World. ©