Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini are at their best during the summer. This handy guide offers information on picking the best summer vegetables and the nutritional benefits of each.
Nothing says "summer" like eating quickly boiled or grilled corn on the cob. Even though corn is available year-round, fresh-from-the-field corn is a must-have in the summer.
• What You Get: Although classified as a vegetable by the USDA, corn is actually a grain. Like other whole grains it is high in complex carbohydrates. One cup of fresh sweet corn kernels has 3 grams of fiber, plus it provides lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that may help keep your eyes healthy as you age.
• Shopping Tips: The best way to buy corn is in the husk, which protects the kernels from dry air and also tells you how fresh the corn is. Look for moist green husks with a golden-brown tassel.
• Storage Tips: The sooner you can eat corn after purchase, the sweeter it will be, as the sugar in corn begins converting into starch as soon as it’s picked. If you can’t eat your corn right away, refrigerate it (with the husks left on) in a plastic bag, and cook within 2 days.
Cucumbers are available in many varieties. Try them in different ways—diced or sliced, for varying amounts of crunch—or try using a vegetable peeler to make long, fancy-looking strips.
• What You Get: While the cucumber isn’t known as a nutrition powerhouse, it does provide a small amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins—particularly vitamin C. Refreshment is perhaps the cucumber’s most important nutritional contribution: at 95 percent water content, a cup of cucumber slices is nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water. (There’s a reason we call someone “cool as a cucumber.”)
• Shopping Tips: Whichever variety you choose, be sure to select firm cucumbers that feel heavy for their size. Avoid those that have any yellow on them or have soft or wrinkled spots at the ends, a sign of improper storage.
• Storage Tip: Store cucumbers in a ventilated plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator.
There’s nothing quite like a summer-ripe tomato with its heady, sweet smell and intoxicating, succulent flavor. Known as a “love-apple” in its early history, the summer tomato is worthy of the name. Bursting with nutrients, loaded with flavor—what’s not to love?
• What You Get: A terrific source of vitamin C, with a touch of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, tomatoes don’t just taste great, they’re good for you too. They’re also rich in lycopene, an antioxidant linked with reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers.
• Shopping Tips: Bite-size cherry and grape tomatoes are delicious in salads or for snacking. Roma, or plum, tomatoes have fewer seeds than other varieties and are good for making sauces and other cooked dishes. Plain “supermarket reds” are versatile for cooking and for using raw. Heirloom tomatoes—grown from older seed varieties—are cultivated for their flavor and texture. Unlike mass-market varieties—bred for consistent looks and durability—heirlooms come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Buy tomatoes as close to home as possible. Look for those that are plump and shiny and give slightly when pressed; smell the stem end for that distinctive, sweetly acidic aroma.
• Storage Tip: Refrigeration destroys the flavor of tomatoes; free them from any packaging and store at cool room temperature, away from sunlight.
Whether you’re growing your own or buying them at the store, zucchini are plentiful in the summer. Small-to-medium zucchini are most tender—use those for sautéing, grilling or eating raw. The big ones are starchier—save those to make stuffed zucchini.
• What You Get: Zucchini has just 27 calories per cup. It offers lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that may help promote good vision. Additional nutrients include potassium, magnesium, manganese, folate, fiber and vitamins C and A.
• Shopping Tips: Look for shiny, dark green zucchini (the freshest ones will have slightly prickly skin) with moist stem ends at least 1 inch in length. The zucchini should be firm to the touch and heavy in your hand. Avoid zucchini with breaks, gashes or soft spots.
• Storage Tips: Store zucchini in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. If there’s just too much zucchini for you to use, don’t let it go to waste—you can freeze it for several months. Slice, grate or chop the zucchini, blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water, then chill in ice water; pack in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container, leaving an inch of space at the top, and freeze.