Thank goodness for clear shopping bags. They allow you to see to the very bottom of a day’s worth of market produce, from the protruding leafy greens on top to the very roots down below. Recently, I got a good look at an interesting cross-section of vegetables that were going to be used in some creative test recipes. What were the delicate little red and white French breakfast radishes going to be used for, I inquired.
The answer was … finger food. Something low calorie to munch on while some high calorie recipes were tested and tasted. I thought that was a great idea — to use some market produce as an antidote to other market produce.
So I began to look around for some finger food that I might enjoy for the week. Of course tender, fresh radishes are a perfect place to begin. Garden fresh radishes have more flavor than stored radishes, and a pleasant tender snap. Look for them in red, purple or white. They can be cut in half with the leaves intact for dipping and easy handling. Also on the warm and crunchy side are different varieties of onions — so tasty that they can be eaten raw. There are thin-skinned white Vidalia type onions that are famous for their sweetness, and sweet red onions as well. A hotter yellow or brown onion should be saved for cooking. Sweet onions can be cut in slices that produce rings and added to any raw vegetable platter.
Bell peppers are showing their full summer colors now that it is mid-July. There are green, orange, red, yellow and purple peppers to slice up and enjoy as a raw crunchy treat. Commercial bell peppers are one of the most highly treated vegetables grown, being subject to numerous applications of pesticides and fertilizers as well as a wax coating. Farmers’ market peppers provide crunch and flavor with virtually none of the commercially applied additives. While you are creating an array of pepper slices in either circles or strips, you can also get creative with the multiple kinds of cucumbers now available at the market. There are thin-skinned Persian and Japanese cucumbers that do not require peeling and which have smaller seeds than the thick-skinned variety. You can also find the long, ribbed European cucumber, which is usually encased in plastic wrap to prevent wilting. This is a more intensely flavored cucumber with a thin skin and smaller seed cavity. Then there is the round lemon cucumber, which is packed with seeds and has nice thick flesh. A new white cucumber is also delightfully crunchy.
Hot weather tends to reduce the sugar and tenderness of carrots, but there are some nice orange and red types that are being picked young enough to enjoy whole. Peeling is a matter of personal taste, but I prefer to leave the skin on to get the maximum nutritional benefit. Thin slices of fennel bulbs add a nice complement to the vegetable medley, and they can be supplemented with slices of celery, which come from the market with a concentrated earthy flavor.
Farmers are growing some new varieties of cherry tomatoes this year — small, bite-size heirloom tomatoes in purple, white, red, orange and green, just like their full-size counterparts. It is hard to beat the scrumptious Sun Gold orange cherry tomato for the perfect combination of sweetness and pure tomato flavor, but the new varieties beckon with their lovely shapes and colors.
If you feel like blanching just a bit, you can do wonders with beans. There are yellow wax beans, tender Blue Lake green beans and flat Romano beans. These can be plunged into boiling water for just a minute or two and cooled at room temperature, then added to the raw cut veggies you’ve been working on. While the beans are still warm, toss them in a light vinaigrette or basil pesto and enjoy eating them with a fork.
Asparagus also benefits from this treatment, and can be served upright in a cup with an inch of home made aioli (mayonnaise) for a wonderful walking salad. And don’t hold back on garnishing your vegetable medley with some tasty herbs. Mint, basil, watercress, mache and edible flowers provide a tasty and colorful counterpoint to your creation. The vegetables can be sliced up and stored for easy access and healthy snacking all summer long while you feel free to bake those cobblers and summer chowders. Try them instead of chips with salsa and dip and give your chip clips a rest for the summer.Upcoming Events: Wednesday, July 20: Enjoy summer madness with Melon Mania. 10 a.m. – 1p.m. Third Street & Arizona Ave. Taste all the in-season melon varieties and learn about what’s new in melons at the market.