by Jennifer Webster
In New England, Memorial Day was planting weekend, but here in North Carolina, plenty of fresh foods are already ripening.
Beets are colorful and long-lasting, a hearty foil to more delicate springtime fare. A beet contains betalains, antioxidant nutrients that can reduce inflammation and help detoxify the body. Beets are also a good source of fiber, as well as the minerals manganese, potassium and copper.
If you boil a beet until the color fades, you’ve lost many of the nutrients. Instead, roast beets as you would potatoes— slice, toss with olive oil and herbs, and oven-roast for 35 to 45 minutes. In fact, you might pan-roast beets and potatoes together— you’ll find ripe new potatoes in June, too.
Fresh greens come as no surprise in June; after all, they’re called “spring greens.” But North Carolina has a surprising array of different leaves to nibble. There’s Swiss chard, fennel, arugula, cress, sorrel, spinach, lettuce, kale, cabbage—all the way to sturdy turnip greens.
Greens can be delicate as a feathery wisp of fennel on your soup, fresh as a tender spinach salad, or robust as a pot of greens seasoned with bacon. Most greens are high in vitamins A, C or K; in general, the greener the leaf, the more nutrients it contains.
Onions also begin to ripen in June. Onions contain flavonoids thought to lower oxidative stress; eating onions may also reduce your risk for certain kinds of cancers. The stronger the onion, the more potent it is against disease, so if you like pungent onions, you’re in luck. The outer slices contain the most flavonoids, so try to preserve these layers when peeling an onion.
Sliced onions can adorn anything from a hamburger to Cobb salad. If you prefer cooked onions, a famous onion tart recipe (shared by writers Katherine Ann Porter and Eudora Welty) can be found by searching “eudorawelty.org onion pie.” It’s rich—but delicious.
Strawberries have been ripe since May or even earlier. What’s the best part about strawberries? You can find them anywhere. Farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, your local grocery store—you don’t have to search for a good strawberry.
Strawberries are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that also boosts the immune system and helps wounds heal. Strawberries may help regulate blood sugar. Since pesticides tend to linger on strawberries, choose the homegrown or organic variety (or wash them well).
With a good strawberry, you don’t have to add sugar to have a tasty breakfast, side dish or dessert. Slice strawberries onto granola or yogurt first thing in the morning. Add them to a spinach salad, perhaps with sliced grilled chicken. For dessert, forget the sponge cake—strawberries alone make a perfect bed for a dollop of meringue or whipped cream.
Plenty more tasty fruits and vegetables ripen in North Carolina in June. To find a pick-your-own farm or farmers market near you, visit North Carolina Farm Fresh at www.ncfarmfresh.com.