Eating fruit and veggies that are in season doesn’t just taste better – it often costs less and it’s healthier, too (produce loses nutrients as it makes its way over long distances).
Here’s what’s fresh from the fields right now, and how to make the most of it.
Green vegetables are at their peak this time of year. They’re fresh, tender and most of them taste just as great raw as they do cooked.
Tender, crunchy asparagus is one of those veggies that tastes great on its own, it doesn’t need a lot of dressing up. Cooking it is a breeze: steam it, pan-fry it or throw it on the BBQ.
Buy: Choose firm, crisp stalks with bright green tips. To ensure even cooking, select a bunch of similar-sized stalks.
Store: To keep asparagus crisp, wrap it in a damp cloth or paper towel, then seal in a perforated plastic bag. Use within three or four days.
Try: Steam and toss with a little butter and balsamic vinegar, or brush with your favourite vinaigrette and lightly char it on the barbie. For something out of the ordinary, try our Asparagus bruschetta.
Cool, crunchy cukes will make a summer salad taste even better. Their cool mellow flavour tempers the stickiest summer day – and they’re great for a quick home facial, too.
Buy: It’s tempting to choose the biggest one you can find, but buy medium-sized cucumbers instead – they’re more flavourful and tend to be less bitter. Look for cucumbers that feel firm when gently squeezed and don’t have any yellowing of the skin.
Store: Cucumbers keep well refrigerated for three to four days. If you’ve already cut it up, wrap it to prevent it from picking up other aromas in the fridge.
Try: Add slices to your favourite sandwich – I love cucumber and hummus on crusty French stick. For a refreshing cold soup, whirl cucumber pieces with a bit of sour cream in the food processor. For a classic picnic salad with a tangy crunch, try our Crispy Cucumber Salad.
I always think of these as the lazy-man’s pea – no shelling required! I love to eat tender, sweet snow peas raw this time of year.
Buy: Fresh snow peas should be bright green. As they lose freshness, they tend to curl up or twist, so look for ones that are shiny and flat. For the sweetest snow peas, look for pods that have tiny peas that are barely visible through the pod.
Store: Snow peas will keep for up to five days refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag.
Try: Steam snow peas, then pan-fry with mushrooms and lemon peel for a colourful side dish. Or thinly slice raw snow peas into long threads to add crunch and colour to our Succulent scallops in saffron sauce.
Fresh peas in the pod are a summer staple. Buy them shelled or in the pod.
Buy: Pick medium-sized pods, not the jumbo ones. Peas should be shiny, bright green and relatively smooth, so don’t pick any that are puffy, dull, yellowed or dark-spotted.
Store: Refrigerate as soon as possible to preserve texture and nutrients. Otherwise, the sugar content in peas quickly turns to starch, resulting in less flavourful, mealy peas. Store in a perforated plastic bag up to five days.
Try: Boil peas and toss with a little butter and chopped fresh tarragon. Add to your favourite pasta or add a handful to our simple Lemony-chicken stir-fry.
Radishes are often overlooked due to their unique flavour, but don’t miss out on one of nature’s most interesting root veggies.
Buy: Red-skinned radishes can range from mild to eye-watering sharp. The older it is, the stronger the flavour. For a milder flavour, look for delicate purple, pink and candy-striped radishes. For something bolder, select larger radishes, which tend to taste wonderfully sharp. Fresh radishes are often sold with their leaves intact – and if you cook them up as you would spinach, they’re delicious.
Store: Refrigerate unwashed radishes in a perforated plastic bag up to a week.
Try: Thinly slice radishes and add to green salads, egg salad or tuna sandwiches. Liven up our East-West slaw with a few fiery radishes.
Leafy green spinach is at its peak and always ends up in my grocery basket this time of year.
Buy: If you plan on cooking spinach, buy more than you think you’ll need – it shrinks a lot. One bunch will yield one or two servings. Look for deep green, healthy leaves – test them out by bending a leaf. The texture should be firm, but pliable, and the smell sweet, not musty.
Store: Spinach can be quite sandy, but prevent sogginess by washing it just before using. Wrap spinach in a damp dishcloth and seal in a perforated plastic bag up to five days.
Try: Spinach tastes great raw, or make a big salad with fresh mushrooms and grated hard-cooked eggs. Boost the health quotient of frozen pizza with a handful of cooked spinach, or roll up a bunch in our Sesame beef wraps for a quick, healthy meal.
The summer fruit season is just beginning, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for flashy berries and juicy stone fruit. Now’s the time to enjoy tangy rhubarb and sweet little strawberries.
The real deal pulled from the earth is much tastier than the hothouse variety.
Buy: Look for deep red or pale pink stalks, topped with crisp, unblemished green leaves.
Store: Rhubarb wilts quickly, so wrap it in a damp paper towel and seal in a perforated plastic bag for up to five days.
Try: Pies and muffins are obvious (and always tasty). If you’re a baker, try our Glazed-orange rhubarb loaf. Rhubarb is also great stewed with orange juice and a little sugar and spooned over ice, cream or waffles.
When it comes to strawberries, size matters. Field berries are far sweeter and juicier than their imported cousins.
Buy: Look for plump, well-shaped and uniformly coloured berries. They should be firm and bright red (dull berries are usually overripe). Check the bottom of the container for crushed strawberries. They bruise easily and when one starts to rot, the rest soon follow.
Store: Take berries out of the carton and chuck out the bad ones. Wash and hull just before you’re ready to eat them. Berries will last up to three days in the refrigerator. To prevent bruising, arrange them in a single layer in a container.
Try: I love to eat strawberries out of the carton, or dipped in sour cream and rolled in brown sugar. Slice them into cereal or ice cream, or bake into a pie or tart. For something different, grill them on the BBQ.