Vegetables and fruit. Fruit and veggies. Apples and oranges – or avocados and beets. Can two different genera find happiness on the same plate? I would say that’s a resounding “well, yeah” — given the abundant selection that is available now that summer fruit has arrived at the farmers’ market.
Today for example I was in a rush so I made a delicious lunch of apples, cabbage and toasted walnuts with a simple vinaigrette dressing. Fruits in my kitchen tend to reside on the countertops and vegetables live in the fridge. It is fun to get the two groups together in some interesting pairings.
Guacamole is a wonderful thing, what with the fruit (avocado and lemon or lime,) and vegetables (onions, tomatoes) that are its primary ingredients – but what else can a creamy fruit do with the hundreds of other vegetables that crowd farmers’ tables in summer time? Corn, anyone? Sweet white corn is available at the farmers’ market as early as Memorial Day — from farmers who manage to farm in distant Imperial County and make the long drive back and forth to bring this heat-loving vegetable to their customers in time for the first summer holiday of the year. White corn is so sweet and tender that it can be eaten raw, but for the grilling enthusiast, fire-roasted corn is even better. It can be shaved off the cob and added to a hearty refreshing salad of diced avocado, the irreplaceable onion and some herbs of your choice. A generous squeeze of lime is all the dressing this simple salad requires. Avocados’ buttery, rich texture is also an excellent addition to leafy salads of all descriptions; not simply as an adjunct but as a flavor partner. Think of adding some mild avocado to spicy arugula, crunchy kohlrabi and crispy cucumbers to complement their unique taste and texture.
Sweet onions can be added to summer fruit with fabulous effect. Tanaka Farm grows a huge sweet white onion that is the size of a softball. This tender, sweet specimen can be diced and added to the sweetest white peach or nectarine at the market for an absolutely delightful side salad or topping for grilled fish.
Oro Blanco grapefruit are a syrupy sweet variety that pair well with sweet onions and tender baby beet greens for a surprisingly good salad. Weiser Family Farms brings in dark red beet greens without the beet root, along with mild, rich Bloomsdale spinach. These two delicious greens can be briefly braised or simply wilted with their cooking water and tossed with grapefruit or tangerine sections and maybe some toasted walnuts and goat cheese for a main course dinner salad.
Let’s get grilling, shall we? It’s a well-known secret that halved peaches and nectarines do fabulously well on a grill, and to these you can add whole baby leeks, grown to perfection by Windrose Farm, which laboriously buries the growing leeks in hills of soil so the edible white part is a foot long. Grilled, caramelized fruit also nicely complements sweet grilled bell peppers. Later in the summer, the hot peppers will be at the market, so one can experiment with hot and sweet tastes from the fruit-vegetable combinations. Artichokes, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and even green beans perform wonderfully on the grill. To these tasty vegetables you can add some chopped dates and some mild goat cheese for a hot and savory side dish. The different tastes and textures will be sure to keep things interesting on the plate.
One of the most delicious dilemmas of the summer is to find a way to consume all the beautiful fresh fruit one is compelled to buy at the market. Fresh, firm peaches and nectarines can be chopped up and added to herbs and onions for toppings and chutney. They can also be cut up like tomatoes and added to salads.Summer fruit should be left out at room temperature and consumed within the week, not relegated to the storage area of the fridge. Be sure to make room for your fresh purchases each week, and make a resolution to consume everything you buy. When tasting fruit at the market, try something from different farmers each week. There are hundreds of varieties of stone fruit to choose from, and sometimes the farmers don’t have time to introduce each one to every customer. And meanwhile, mind your peas and carrots.