As the temperature warms up, and we sweat to stay cool, we also start to crave foods with higher water content to replenish our supply of fluids. Some great summer foods and their water content include: lettuce and cucumbers (96 percent), daikon (95), zucchini, radish and celery (95), tomatoes (94), green cabbage (93), cauliflower, eggplant, red cabbage, peppers and spinach (92), watermelon (92), peaches (88), apples and pears (84).
All of these cooling fruits and vegetables are grown in New Mexico and can be found at your local growers’ markets, but many won’t be available until July or August. This is only June, you say?
While June is considered early summer for most crops here, there are plenty of tasty foods at your local growers’ market right now, especially when you know what to
expect. Some of the best early summer fruits and vegetables likely to be available now include radishes, turnips, spring onions, carrots, baby bok choy, leeks, sprouts, microgreens, strawberries (when available), apricots (if they survived frost and hail), and LOTS of greens.
You probably already know that eating salad and cooked greens are good for you.
The easiest rule of thumb when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and even protein contained in greens is that the darker the color, the better the nutritional punch. If you prefer lighter color salad greens, try adding a mix of some darker ones into your bowl. It’s also worth remembering that two cups of raw leafy greens is equal to one serving of vegetables if you’re trying to hit or exceed your “Five-a-Day” goal.
Once you get home, be sure to put your greens straight into the refrigerator. The four basic factors that affect its nutrient composition are exposure to air, light, heat, and length of time in storage. Experts say that vitamin C, vitamin B6 and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients that are highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is likely to be slowed down through refrigeration. Do not wash greens before storing as this will cause them to become limp.
Beet and turnip greens (and carrot tops) should be trimmed off before storing in a separate plastic bag where the greens should keep for about four days. Greens left on will pull moisture away from the beets, turnips and carrots.
Kale should be stored in the refrigerator crisper wrapped in a damp paper towel or placed in a perforated plastic bag. Kale can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, although it is best when eaten within one to two days since the longer it is stored, the more bitter its flavor will become. Cooked kale will keep for two days refrigerated.
Spinach should be stored loosely in a plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator crisper where it will remain fresh and retain its nutrient content for about four days.
All salad greens should be washed prior to eating. Dry your lettuce by spinning or rolling in a dish towel and allowing to air dry. Gently tear the leaves for a salad, or if you are making a chopped salad where all your ingredients end up the same size, chop with a chef’s knife.
Chard: Remove the large red or white stem in the middle of the leaf as it is tough. Simply fold the big leaf in half and cut out the big stem.
Beet greens: If they are still attached to the root, cut leaves off at the stem where the leafy portion ends. (The portion of the stem between the leaf and the root is too tough to enjoy.) Rinse the leaves under cold running water and cut into ½-inch slices. Do not soak the leaves in water as water-soluble nutrients will leach into the water.
Warning: once you get hooked on locally grown greens, there’s little comparison in terms of selection, flavor and value. To find a farmers’ market near you, and get Five Reasons to Buy Local Salad Greens, visit farmersmarketsnm.org.
Denise Miller is executive director of the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association.
QUICK BOIL FOR BEET GREENS AND SPINACH
Bringing out a sweeter taste from these greens by doing a “quick boil.” This will free up oxalic acids and allow them to leach into the boiling water. Discard the boiling water after cooking; do not drink it or use it for stock because of its acid content.
1) Use a large pot (3 quart) with lots of water and bring to a rapid boil.
2) Add greens to the boiling water and boil for one minute. Begin timing as soon as you place the beet greens in the pot if you are using one pound or less of beet greens. (If you are cooking larger quantities of beet greens bring the water back to a boil before beginning timing the one minute.) Do not cover the pot when cooking beet greens. Leaving the pot uncovered helps to release more of the acids with the rising steam.
3) Remove greens from pot, press out liquid with a fork, place in a bowl, toss with Mediterranean Dressing and top with your favorite optional ingredients.
• Spinach should be tender, brightly colored, and not mushy when it’s done.
• For best flavor, use a knife and fork to cut the cooked spinach crosswise several times until it is in very small pieces. The more finely you cut spinach the more exposed surface area you create. This allows more flavors of the dressing to pass into the spinach and will create tenderness.
• Consider adding to cooked spinach: chopped tomato, kalamata olives, cashews or goat cheese.
SPICY MEDITERRANEAN DRESSING
This tasty dressing can be used on a variety of salads or cooked greens. It is also a healthy alternative to pre-made bottled dressings that are often high in untested fats, salts, sugars, fake flavors and colors.
4 small cloves garlic
1 de-seeded jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 anchovies (optional)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a blender, combine garlic, jalapeño pepper, Dijon mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and anchovies (optional).
Blend at high speed for 20 seconds, leave blender running and slowly pour in olive oil.
Toss with lettuce or greens of your choice.
BEETS WITH CREAMY RED CHILE DRESSING
When you buy beets from your local farmer, you get two foods for the price of one: the nutritious bulb and the tasty greens! This warm salad makes use of both the beet bulb and the greens. It can be served in larger portions alongside rice, or as an accompaniment to roast chicken or pork. And you might love the dressing so much that you serve it with other foods!
Makes 2 to 4 servings
1 bunch of beets, with greens attached (about 3 to 4 medium beets)
1 tablespoon olive oil (you can also use other oils, such as canola)
¼ to ½ cup water
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Scrub the beets and wash the greens. Cut the greens from the beets and set aside.
Cut the beets into wedges and toss in 1 tablespoon of oil. Lay the beets out in a single layer on a baking sheet or oven-safe skillet and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.
Bake, covered, until fork-tender (about 35 to 45 minutes, depending upon the size of your beet wedges).
Remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes more. When nicely browned, remove from the oven and set aside.
While the beets are baking, wash your greens and remove the stems. Chop the greens roughly and set aside to drain.
As the greens drain prepare the dressing (below).
After you make the dressing, use the skillet and add the washed, chopped beet greens. Add ¼ to ½ cup water and cover, steaming the greens over medium heat until cooked and wilted.
Remove the cover and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.
To serve, lay the cooked beet greens on your plates, top with baked beets, and drizzle the dressing over the top.
CREAMY RED CHILE DRESSING
¾ cup olive oil (you can also use other oils, such as canola)
¼ cup red vinegar
2 to 4 dried red chiles, or to taste (try any local red chile)
2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
5 ounces of goat cheese (we like The Old Windmill Dairy)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour oil in a skillet and sauté the garlic on medium-low heat. (Make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.)
Cut the stems off your chiles, slice them open, and remove the seeds. Add them to the hot oil along with the garlic. Sauté for one to two minutes along with the garlic.
Turn the heat off your garlic and chiles, and let them cool for several minutes. Carefully pour everything – the cooled oil, garlic, and chiles – into a blender or food processor. Add vinegar, goat cheese, sugar and salt to taste. Blend until smooth. (If the dressing seems too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time to thin it out.)