from Fine Cooking, #118, pp. 28-29
Last July, while on a hike in upstate New York with my husband, Thom, I was hit with a seasonal food revelation. It was a hot day, and we'd worked up a sweat climbing a steep stretch of rock to get to a plateau at the top. When we finally made it, we were thrilled to discover dozens of blueberry bushes heavy with perfectly ripe fruit. We remarked on how the berries were the ideal refreshment-thirst-quenching and sweet, and just the replenishment we needed.
At that moment, I was struck by the extent to which locally grown in-season produce is in sync with our nutritional needs. Because it's eaten so soon after being picked, it tends to taste better and has a higher overall nutritional value than other produce. What's more, summer produce has an added benefit: It contains specific nutrients that replenish and protect us in the hottest, sunniest months.
|Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Feta|
Summer produce provides hydration. Just think about all the delicious fruits and vegetables available now-berries, of course, but also melon, peaches, plums, cucumbers, tomatoes, tender lettuces, and zucchini. All of these foods are at their juiciest in summer, bursting with water just when we need it most. We typically think about the importance of drinking to stay hydrated, but about 20 percent of our water intake comes from food, so eating these thirst-quenching foods can make a big difference in helping us get the fluids we need. Plus, all the water in these foods makes them less dense, providing fewer calories per cup than, say, a winter root vegetable-a quality that comes in handy as we're shedding our warm winter layers.
Antioxidants offer sun protection. On top of that, summer produce also happens to contain rich amounts of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and lycopene, antioxidants that have the unique ability to protect skin from the sun. These compounds basically neutralize damage to skin cells caused by the sun's ultraviolet rays. Of course, you still need to use sunscreen, but isn't it encouraging to know that the foods you eat are doing their part to protect you as well?
|Good to Know
Here are a few noteworthy nutrients that help protect us during the summertime, and some of their best fruit and vegetable sources.
|• Lycopene An antioxidant shown to protect skin against damage from the sun. Best summer sources include tomatoes, watermelon, and apricots.|
|• Vitamin C A nutrient that may protect against skin wrinkling often caused by sun damage. Best summer sources include berries, cantaloupe, and broccoli.|
|• Potassium An electrolyte excreted through sweat that is essential for maintaining fluid balance. Best summer sources include zucchini, radishes, and peaches|
|• Beta-carotene An antioxidant form of vitamin A that helps keep skin healthy. Best summer sources include carrots, spinach, and peaches|
My Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Feta highlights two of the most beneficial and enticing summer foods: watermelon and tomato. Both are top sources of skin-protective lycopene and positively plump with water. The sweet melon and savory, slightly acidic tomato pair perfectly in a delightfully surprising way. Tossed with cool, crunchy cucumber, peppery arugula, and a touch of creamy, salty feta, they make for a dish that truly provides the best of the season.