Sunday, July 30, 2006

Most nutritious fruits and vegetables

My most faithful reader, Katherine, asked me to investigate the most nutritious fruits and vegetables, recalling that she'd read an article on the subject years ago.

A simple Google search turns up multiple articles on the subject, but while sources agree, generally, that the most popular fruits and vegetables in the American diet (iceberg lettuce, potatoes, apples, bananas) aren't the most nutritionally dense, they don't agree on which specific fruits and vegetables are the very best.

That stands to reason, given that no fruit or vegetable is an island: they all provide part of the vitamins, nutrients, and fiber we require every day - and everyone has different standards as to what aspect of "nutritious" is most important. Most sources agreed that an easy way to get balanced nutrition from fruits and vegetables is to eat a variety of different colors, since color generally indicates what nutrient a certain fruit or vegetable contains.

However, most sources agree on the following:
dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, collards, kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.)
Brussels sprouts
sweet potatoes
red peppers
berries (all kinds)

While lots of lists include at least one tropical fruit, they're evenly split between papaya, guava, and mango. Since these lovelies have similar taste profiles, perhaps they are similar nutritionally. Similarly, several sources credit asparagus and artichokes as being "nutritional powerhouses," but there wasn't enough consensus for me to include them. And perhaps the biggest surprise for me is that avocadoes, while they made a few lists, weren't universally listed - I bet they're a victim of bias because they're so fatty and nobody wants to believe healthy vegetables can taste like butter and still be good for you.

Bananas and apples get harsh treatment here, since they're so common and not as nutritionally rich as the selections from this list - but apples are great for their fiber, and my muscles get all twitchy when I don't have my potassium-rich banana smoothie in the morning. So to avoid being overly diplomatic, I've got to say that I think a "most nutritious" list is unnecessary for folks who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, which is exactly what nutrition experts recommend. Though it would be easier if we could eat the same one or two plant foods every day and get the maximum possible nutrition, that's just not possible, and this type of list could lead folks to limit themselves.

Except spinach. I'm pretty sure spinach is the greatest food known to humanity.

What To Eat

I know I mentioned this book in a previous post, but I've since finished it, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in corporate marketing strategies, the politics of food, eating healthfully, organics, locally-grown produce, or anything in between. But instead of taking a hard-line "eat vegan" or "go organic" approach, author Marion Nestle simply outlines the facts, assesses the situation, and makes her recommendations, most of which are quite centrist. She explains, in detail, the facts about methylmercury/PCBs and fish, and the huge potential for harm, but recognizes that some fish consumption can still be safe.

And throughout the book Nestle articulates and decries the multi-billion-dollar food industry's often-successful attempts to shift responsibility for food safety and healthful eating onto the consumer. Yes, she realizes, we are ultimately responsible for what we eat, but we should have waterways clean enough that eating fish more than once a week isn't dangerous; food-labeling should be clear and concise, not nearly impossible to decipher amidst non-standard serving sizes, outlandish health claims on packaging, and difficult-to-understand daily requirements; and the production and transportation process for foods like eggs or beef should be clean and heavily monitored to avoid outbreaks of E. coli and other harmful bacteria (and she supports her claim that this is possible with lots of evidence), rather than focusing on consumer cooking practices.

Even the most skeptical food consumer will find this book eye-opening. The chapter on whole grains was especially edifying - the tales of how cereal manufacturers earned the right to put "heart healthy" on even the sugariest, most calorie-laden children's breakfast cereals are quite sordid. I realized that I've been trusting food labels subconsciously, even while professing skepticism; when it comes to claims about omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, I'm especially gullible. Also, the chapter on fats is as a handy reference for levels of nutrients and fatty acids in different cooking/salad oils - and now I understand why monounsaturated fats are the best, rather than just knowing that they are.

Most importantly, though, especially for summer readers - Nestle's style is conversational (but not condescending) and quite engaging, so it's a fun read, and the toughest concepts to grasp are outlined and explained with tables, as well as friendly analogy. The bad news is that it just came out, so it's still only available in hardcover.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ratatouille vs. succotash

I can't decide if this recipe is ratatouille because of the tomato and zucchini, or if the presence of corn makes it a succotash. Either way, we had this for dinner alongside tamales, and it was crazily good. The best part, though, was that I got to use the corncob-stripping gadget my friend Christina gave me, and it worked really well. It probably goes without saying that this wouldn't taste like anything without fresh ingredients - especially sweet, ripe, tomatoes.

Ratatouille or succotash?
2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 large (or 2 small) zucchini, seeded
1 small shallot, minced
5-6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped into thin strips
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tbsp)
kernels from one ear of corn
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to tatste

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet (with lid) over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until soft and translucent, about five minutes. While shallot is cooking, quarter zucchini and chop into strips about 1/4" to 1/2" wide. When shallot has softened, add garlic, and saute until aromatic. Add zucchini and a dash of salt, mix well, and saute, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is just beginning to get tender. Remove zucchini from pan, season with black pepper, and set aside. Add corn kernels to pan and cover; steam for one minute. Uncover pan, add tomato and basil, and mix well. Return zucchini to pan and cook, stirring, until all ingredients are heated through. Salt to taste and serve.

She's like a rainbow

It was a colorful day at the greenmarket! I got yellow zucchini, yellow beans, and red carrots...and it seemed like everything, from tomatoes to radishes, was available in at least three colors. Radishes were regular red, pink, or white; tomatoes red, green, yellow, or multi-striped; carrots came in orange, red, purple, and white.

Anna and the amazing technicolor produce:
1 yellow zucchini
1 bunch red carrots
1 lb. yellow snap beans
1 bunch red radishes
1 lb. apricots
1.5 lbs. sweet cherries
1 pint strawberries
1/4 lb. salad greens
1 bunch shallots
1 head Rocambole garlic
4 ears bicolor corn
3 tomatoes
Total spent: $30 exactly

It's been so long since I've had fresh apricots that I had to call my mom to find out how to tell when they're ripe. (She said it's the same as for peaches.) We also talked about the radishes: I'm planning to find a recipe that includes them cooked, but the idea of cooking radishes is anathema to Mom. "Just cut off the stalk and eat them," she said, "or cut them up in salads." I think I'll try both.

Cherry season will be over in another week, and there were only two vendors that had any sweet cherries at all. I had to hunt and peck to find 1.5 lbs of relatively perfect ones...they're so sweet and delicious - I hate that they'll be gone so soon.

The corn I'm planning to pack for a picnic tomorrow, pre-cooked (it's sweet enough to be great without any condiments), I'll make a fresh tomato sauce this evening with the tomatoes and some of my long-suffering basil plant's leaves, and the zucchini and carrots I want to use in a multi-colored stirfy later in the week. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Quick thoughts

Shelling peas is a lot of work, but seems worth it. We had fresh peas and the remaining baby Yukon Gold potatoes in a Spanish omelet with saffron (recipe from A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen) - so delicious. And the leftovers were perfect cold for lunch the next day.

I don't think I "get" plums. My mom has always been a serious plum advocate, but I don't think they do it for me. The Shiro plums I bought were ripe, but the flesh was only slightly sweet and a little perfumey, with super-tart skin that forced my face into a comical pucker. To varying degrees, most of my plum memories are the same. Maybe they're just not for me. I'd rather have peaches.

Tricolor snap beans were just as delicious as I imagined, but like so many other veggies, the purple beans turned a disappointing dark green when cooked. I blanched them, then roasted them in a 375-degree oven with a little olive oil and salt for about 7 minutes. They still had some crunch - which is what I wanted, in order to highlight their freshness and sweetness. Despite the color change, they impressed my dinner guests last night. I hope they're available again!

We've been eating lots of spinach lately, and that coupled with my love for fresh green salads (rather than the bagged kind), makes me want to suck it up and invest in a salad spinner. They seem really dumb to me, but I might just need it. We'll see.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

8:30 a.m. - The Opposite Of Hallelujah

After forcing myself to wake up at 8:30 after being out 'til 2 at the Jens Lekman show, and 1.5 hours of travel time (due to multiple unexpected train changes), I arrived at the Union Square Greenmarket a bit sweaty and worse for wear. Luckily, I encountered strawberries and more compensations immediately, and couldn't regret the trip (or the sleep deprivation) one bit. Also, I would pretty much go to hell and back for Jens. (I think the coffee probably helped, too.)

The takings:
5 ears bicolor corn (for a barbecue tonight)
1 pint strawberries
1 lb. cherries
3/4 lb. tricolor snap beans
3/4 lb. tiny Yukon Gold potatoes
1/3 lb. salad mix
1 lb. shell peas
5 yellow peaches
3 Shiro plums
Total spent: $25-$30 (I stopped counting)

Forgive the photo background - my photo assistant was out of town. After photos and eating all the cherries and strawberries that didn't fit in my tupperware, I proceeded to make what will go down in history as the Greatest Lunch Ever, which was a bay shrimp-stuffed salmon fillet from Trader Joe's with oven-roasted green beans and Yukon Golds.

The green beans were from last week, and turned out perfect: I left them whole, blanched them for about 30 seconds, then, after they were completely cooled by cold water, tossed them with a little olive oil and sea salt, and roasted them in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes, turning once. Similarly, the potatoes turned out divine - I cut the little guys in half, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted them along with my fish for 25 minutes. They were creamy and full of potato flavor, which is a weird thing to imagine until you taste it.

Very excited about the tricolor snap beans. The cute boy at the produce stand thrust a yellow bean into my hand, which I munched obediently - the beans are sweet enough to be delicious raw. I think a blanch and quick saute in some olive oil will take them to new heights. Meanwhile, I'm guessing produce boy has no trouble with the ladies.

The shell peas I bought for a recipe, but I've never had freshly shelled peas before, so I might prepare them simply - braised or sauteed in a little butter.

Strawberries felt like another miracle (especially given my rough morning). And unfortunately, I found out from a grower that the cherry season is on its way out, as well. There were certainly fewer cherry vendors this week than there have been for the last month or so, but I hope they'll last at least another week or two...I'm not ready to give up having fresh cherries whenever I want them!

Now reading: What To Eat by Marion Nestle. This was recommended by a friend, and is a clear, unromantic look at supermarket food offerings - from the health/political/environmental benefits of organic vs. locally-grown vs. conventional produce, to an explanation of what trans-fats actually are, to investigating the different sides of the health claims made for soy products, it's been quite educational thus far, and her writing style is compelling. Though her initial conclusion - that the best thing you can do for your health is eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise, and that successful weight loss/maintenance is based on calore consumption, are not revolutionary, they're certainly easily obscured by the marketing arms of the food industries she discusses.

Basil plant update: The remaining plant looks to be thriving, with lost of new little leaves, though an alarming yellowness is showing up near the roots of the plant. I've got to start cooking with basil pretty soon - there are some big leaves up top that need trimming.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chard/tofu stir fry with roasted carrots

The sauce for the stirfry needs some adjusting, but I'll share the roasted carrots recipe:

4-5 medium carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim carrots; peel if necessary; chop into pieces about the length and width of your index finger. Whisk together oil, soy sauce, and honey. Spread carrots out in one layer in a 13"x9" baking pan or casserole; pour sauce mixture over and toss carrots with hands until evenly coated. Bake 20-30 minutes or until carrots have reached desired doneness (at 20 minutes, they'll still have some crunch).

In other news, I ate the last of the strawberries this morning. That's all for this season, I'm afraid. And my corn-identifying skills have improved quite a bit: the two ears I chose (without husking!) from the farmer's market were excellent, with cobs full of sweet kernels.

Basil plant update: The one plant is thriving, though the second plant in the pot has gone the way of the first: it's a shriveled brown stick. Despite setbacks, I still refuse to buy basil at the greenmarket, even though its in huge bushels for $2 lately. Maybe I'll get some to make a pesto next week.

Sad but true...

Empire apples are kinda mealy [shudder].
Photos of Sunday night's meal forthcoming; the internet gave up on me last night when I tried to put them up.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

USG: The Brief-Yet-Triumphant Return of Strawberries

One farm had the very last delicious little dregs of this season's strawberry crop (thwarted by rain, as I gathered from overheard conversations). They're tiny, but still juicy and sweet/tart...wonderful berries. I think I'm a convert to Saturdays at the Greenmarket - there are just so many more options.

This week:
1 pint strawberries
1 pint sweet cherries
4 yellow peaches
2 Empire apples
2 Mutsu (Crispin) apples
1 bunch chard
2 ears bicolor corn
1 head garlic
1 1/4 lbs. string beans
total spent: about $25

The chard I'm planning to use for a stir-fry with tofu and a side of roasted carrots (with a honey/soy-sauce glaze).
Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, though I might look for an interesting recipe for some of the string beans...with fruit for dessert!

Basil plant update: Its health is flagging again; I think there were multiple plants and the one that's growing tall and strong is fighting the others...I used some leaves for a fresh tomato sauce over pasta, and it was quite mild. But despite all the delicious-smelling giant bunches of basil beckoning from every stand at the Greenmarket, I'm staying loyal to my little plant!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spinach and sorrel omelet

At a loss for what to do with the sorrel, I looked it up on Recipezaar, and found a recipe for "spinach, sorrel, and romaine omelet." I didn't actually read the recipe, but used the idea.

I used about 3:1 spinach to sorrel (probably about a pound total, though I only used half the cooked greens for the omelet), sauteing it with olive oil, three cloves of garlic, and a dash of salt, then draining the greens after they were totally wilted. I made an omelet for two with three whole eggs and three egg whites in a 12" nonstick skillet (with about a teaspoon of olive oil), and it came out just about perfect. The sorrel added a nicely lemony taste to the filling, without being overpowering or bitter like lemon juice can be. However, it did turn an alarming brown color when cooked, which stood out against the spinach's bright green.

And during my sorrel research, I discovered that sorrel is "sourgrass"...and tasting the raw sorrel made it obvious. I loved sourgrass as a kid - my neighbor would always pull out tons of it when she weeded her garden in the summer, and my friends and I would chew sourgrass stems 'til our teeth squeaked. Luckily, the leaves are more mild than those stems, and even more so when cooked.

For dessert: the rest of the (absolutely delicious) cherries, and two of the peaches, which were extremely juicy but quite bruised, having been comically dropped two times by two different people.

Basil plant update: Thriving - I'm going to use some of the leaves for fresh tomato sauce tomorrow evening. Lots of new growth!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Early to rise...

I didn't make it by 8, but I did get to the Greenmarket early this morning - around 9:30. It was already pretty crowded, but there were a lot more vendors with a lot more produce than on weekdays.

I went a little crazy:
2 heirloom tomatoes
3 yellow peaches
1 pint sweet cherries
1/3 lb. sorrel
2 ears bicolor corn
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
1 bunch carrots
1 head rocambole garlic (w/ stalk)
1 bunch catnip
total spent: about $25

The cherries look absolutely amazing, and I can't wait for the peaches to ripen. The carrots were the same price as the ones I usually get, but for a bigger bunch of bigger carrots...better for carrot sticks in lunches, and sharing.

Garlic-wise, I couldn't resist the way the Rocambole looked and smelled, but wasn't quite ready for garlic scapes, which seemed to be everywhere. Maybe next week - I'll do some reading. I have no idea how to cook the sorrel (which came from the same stand as the fancy garlic), but i wanted a leafy green, and decided to be adventurous - the "great lemon flavor" description piqued my interest...I'll look it up on Recipezaar, but will probably end up just treating it like spinach.

The catnip has caused all sorts of disharmony in our family already, but in a really entertaining way.

Friday, July 07, 2006


The TJ's corn was really, really sweet and delicious. And the sugar snap peas were really great, too. I boiled them for about a minute in some salted water, then drained them and immediately tossed in a pat of butter. There's something grainy/chalky about the raw ones that the quick boil eliminated, leaving only the sweetness.

No Greenmarket today

No Greenmarket trip today because I needed things from Trader Joe's I have a few veggies left over from last week - that's how little we've been eating at home because of houseguests and business dates!

However, tonight I'm finally going to cook the snow peas - probably boiled very briefly with a little butter, as recommended by Fannie Farmer (where all vegetable preparation instructions include butter) - and serve alongside some spinach and the corn I bought from Trader Joe's. It's only 39c an ear, and is reportedly very good (and usually they're out by the time I make it to the store) - we'll see. I also couldn't resist some frozen asparagus and I feel like a traitor. Usually I bypass TJ's veggies completely, especially now that I've been avoiding bagged salads, but their California elephant garlic is loads better than the stuff I usually get at the grocery.

I also planned tomorrow night's dinner: the rest of the bok choy stir-fried with a few carrots over noodles. That will be the end of last week's veggies...maybe if I'm feeling extremely ambitious, I'll go to the Greenmarket tomorrow when it opens, and still have time to make it to brunch. If so, there will be photos!

Basil plant update: Repotted and thriving, though of the three little plants, one died quite emphatically by shrivelling up into a brown wire. If this fellow stays solid for awhile, I might invest in some more herbs for my windowsill. Too bad I've been far too lazy to make tomato sauce lately.

Cat grass update: The cats couldn't care less. I watered it and trimmed it for awhile, but now I'm tired of caring for a 5" square patch of grass. Why won't they just eat it??? If I had a juicer I'd make wheatgrass shots, but alas no.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

cherries, and little else

Veggie consumption has been very low since Friday, because we've had a band staying with us, which makes everything extra-chaotic, and cuts down on time/space for food preparation. However, I did eat most of the rest of the cherries yesterday, and came to this conclusion: Sour cherries are really sour! I threw a handful into the sweet cherries when I bought them, just to test them out. I guess they're better used in recipes...I'll investigate. The tomatoes were consumed as per last week, and were even more perfect.