Enjoying Summer’s Bounty: Salads, Squash and Being Kind to Yourself

July 4th is past and we are deep into summer. Are you going to the beach? Getting upstate? Traveling? Catching all the rooftop movies and park cook-outs? Summer can often feel like a scramble to do all the fun outdoor things you don’t get to do the rest of the year. And there is inevitably the disappointment of not being able to do everything. I remember being crestfallen when I realized that adults still have to do their same job over the summer and don’t get a 3-month break to live a whole other, sunnier life. It’s hard not to let the “more and more” and “better and better” and “what’s next?” syndromes infect you. But it’s important to sit back and remember to actually enjoy the summer you are living right now. What can you appreciate about the summer right at this very moment in your life?

One thing that really helps me with this, perhaps surprisingly, is cooking (or picking out the recipes and having my husband cook as he’s the better chef!) There are so many delicious summer fruits and vegetables available right now and it’s easier and easier to get fresh, local, seasonal products–either at the farmers market, your local co-op, or even just your neighborhood grocery store. Eating seasonally reminds me of the amazing things I get to enjoy every day: a garlicky Kale salad from True Food Kitchen (a go-to at my house), a sweet and tangy corn salad, and an impossibly fresh and colorful radish salad. You can make a healthy, beautiful lunch or side dish, and remind yourself that you are taking full advantage of what summer has to offer you right at that moment. 

See below for some great seasonal fruits and vegetables I’ve been enjoying recently:

Summer Squash: There are actually dozens of varieties of summer squash. Summer squash is harvested when it’s still “immature,” so the rind is still soft and edible–even when raw! Why not try a thinly shaved costata romanesco zucchini with lots of herbs and feta? Or roasted eight ball zucchinis stuffed with mushrooms, nuts and quinoa? As a bonus, squash has pretty much all the vitamins and minerals you want: vitamins C, E, B, as well as magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, calcium and iron, and the yellow varieties contain manganese.

Zucchini Blossoms: With the arrival of summer squash come squash blossoms! These are so beautiful and versatile and quintessentially summer. They make a wonderful garnish on pasta or salads or even eggs. But they also lend themselves to heartier applications: stuff them with herbed goat cheese or ricotta with lots of lemon zest and bake them in the oven or lightly saute them. Berkeley Wellness recommends removing the green parts (sepals) around the buds before eating and shaking out any critters that may be inside: “To clean them, dip gently in room-temperature water and let them dry on their own or spin them dry in an herb spinner (again, gently). Store them in the refrigerator wrapped in a moist paper towel; they will keep for about two days.”

Garlic Scapes: You might not have even heard of these–but believe me, you’ll soon be waiting with bated breath for the slim window of time that they’re in season! Garlic scapes are the skinny flower stems that grow from the tops of hardback garlic. According to Cook’s Illustrated, “farmers have long known that removing them encourages the plant to direct its energy toward growing a plump underground bulb,” but they are also delicious in their own right, with “an assertive garlic flavor that’s less fiery and more grassy than that of raw cloves.” So what do you do with them? Make a pesto with scapes, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan. Or incorporate them into a mixed vegetable grill. Whatever way you want to make them, get to the store now! They’re usually only available in late spring/early summer, so their season is almost over!

Butter Lettuce: For a lettuce, this one is quite controversial. Well, okay, that’s an overstatement. But there is some confusion about which is Butter lettuce, which Bibb and which Boston. Butter Lettuce is actually the umbrella lettuce of which Bibb and Boston are varieties. How do you tell them apart? They have a fairly similar taste, but Boston’s leaves are wider and lighter green than Bibb’s. It is Bibb lettuce that has the beautiful rose and red-tinged varietals. Both Boston and Bibb have a subtle, sweet, and buttery (hence the name) flavor that lends itself to many pairings. I personally love the most simple one: a very French salad with Butter lettuce, sliced radish, chopped shallots, and a Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

Radishes: Just like squash, there are spring/summer radishes and winter radishes. Spring radishes actually go from seed to harvest in a span of just four weeks or less–super fast!–but they only keep for about a week in the fridge. Spring radishes are softer than winter ones and a great, perhaps under appreciated use for them is in sandwiches! They have such a sharp, peppery crunch that they can complement so many milder, fattier ingredients like avocado, hummus, and even soft cheeses. They are also super high in vitamin C and very low in calories: around 1 calorie per radish, if you can believe it! I love radishes raw and sprinkled with a little salt for a healthy summer snack.

While fresh and raw can be the most tempting and natural way to want to eat in the summer (and obviously, one of my favorites too in the summer!), eating warm foods is best for digestion, and I often recommend warm foods to my patients with sluggish digestion. In the summer, however, some colder dishes are a little more forgiving for some people–as long as they are enjoyed in moderation. Butter lettuce, summer squash–these are delicate and subtle and usually not too hard on the digestive tract. But while it may not be the first preparation you think of, consider lightly cooking any of the above vegetables: bibb lettuce and fresh green pea soup or a summer squash and garlic scape fricassee? What could be better?