Fresh radishes (Thinkstock photos)
Today, stores stock their bins with produce not only from all parts of the country but also from other parts of the world, allowing consumers to enjoy fruits and vegetables throughout the year rather than just seasonally. But that doesn’t change the fact that all produce has a “best time” when it’s at its freshest and most flavorful. Read about the following five that cross all regions.
1 Asparagus peaks from March through June across the country and is at the top of my food list. Called the “food of kings” by Louis XIV of France, asparagus definitely has a royal nutritional profile. It’s low in fat and high in fiber, and the tender stalks are a good source of iron, B vitamins and vitamin C. There are three colors: green, the variety most familiar to us; white, a variation of the green variety that has not been exposed to sunlight; and purple, generally considered to be sweeter. Be sure to check the flat ends on your asparagus. If they bend rather than snap, the asparagus is probably past its prime. Once harvested, asparagus deteriorates rapidly, so place the spears in cool storage to retain freshness and nutrition.
2 Radishes are available year-round, but in temperate climates their natural season is spring and summer, and that’s when they’re at their sweetest and best. The radish gives you a burst of flavor with very few calories. It’s a root vegetable with a distinctive flavor that ranges from mild to sharp, depending on variety. One cup of sliced red radishes will give you 30 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement in fewer than 25 calories. To choose the best, pick radishes that are deep in color with solid roots. This root vegetable is a flavorful addition to soups, condiments and cooked dishes. You can also eat the green tops, which lend a peppery taste to salads.
3 Fresh peas — including sugar snap peas, snow peas and green peas — are at their peak from April through July. Our founding fathers had competitions on who could bring the first bowl of peas to the table. Like most legumes, peas are low in fat, high in fiber and are a good source of plant protein. Their nutritional profile differs depending on variety, with green peas providing more B vitamins and zinc, while snow and snap peas offer more vitamin C. Peas are perfect as crudités with dips, tossed in salads, and served as a side dish.
4 New potatoes are not a different type of potato but rather immature versions of the various types, harvested in spring and early summer. The skin is generally thinner and flakier than that found on older potatoes but is prone to sun damage. A sunburned potato has a green patch under its skin. This patch contains a poisonous chemical, so cooks should either discard the entire potato or cut out the discolored area entirely before using it. Because new potatoes are small in size, they are rarely peeled and are well-suited to boiling and roasting.
5Strawberries peak from April to June. These sweet, juicy berries are nutritional jewels with just one cup offering 3.5 grams of fiber and meeting 100 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. For the best flavor, buy strawberries grown close to home since they’re likely to be fresher and suffer less damage in transit. Strawberries should be plump, firm, well shaped and uniformly colored. A sweet addition to salads, dressings or a main meal, strawberries “take the cake” and save your waistline as a light dessert.
Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.