The Foodie

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What’s Fresh in Mid-August: Watermelon, Napa Cabbage and Green Beans

August 19, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
As summer starts to wind down, hold on to the last vestiges of the season by stocking up on these fruits and vegetables at your local market. Watermelon, Napa cabbage and green beans make for light, healthy dishes with bright flavors and crunchy textures.

Watermelon

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Long ago, watermelon was cultivated in the Nile Valley to provide people living in the arid climate with a source of water. During the Civil War, soldiers boiled it down to create sugar and molasses. Today, the juicy red fruit is a summer staple and Americans happily consume about three billion pounds of it annually. However, according to Produce Oasis, watermelon is actually a vegetable, “cousin to the cucumber and kin to the gourd.”

Watermelon, an indulgence as sweet as ice cream, is definitely the wiser choice when selecting a summertime treat. It contains heart-healthy vitamins A, B6 and C, and none of the fat found in a coneful of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Despite having a high water content, it also packs in more lycopene per serving than any other fruit or vegetable, including tomatoes. The National Watermelon Promotion Board explains the lycopene is an antioxidant, protecting your cells from hazardous free radicals. Recent studies indicate that watermelon may also be the next Viagra.

Halloumi, a salty, firm cheese made from sheep  and goat milk, pairs beautifully with juicy watermelon. Simply grill a thick slice of halloumi until the skin blisters, toss with diced watermelon and fresh mint, and serve. The cheese, which tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella, softens but maintains its firmness when warmed, so it won’t melt through grill racks. Serious Eats calls the salad “cool and warm, sweet and salty, spicy and minty.”

Napa Cabbage

Napa, or “Chinese,” cabbage closely resembles a head of Romaine lettuce, with leaves that are frilly, white in the center and sweeter than those of green cabbage. The Worldwide Gourmet explains how the vegetable is used in different parts of the world; often sautéed with oyster sauce in China, it serves as the base for sweet coleslaws in the United States.

Napa/Chinese cabbage contains 265 mg vitamin A, which is 200 times the amount contained in green cabbage. The Hanlin Academy offers a holistic take on Chinese cabbage’s health benefits, stating that it “cleanses the heat in the body, promotes the metabolism and urination, activates the work of the brain and the kidneys, [and] reinforces the Yin energy in the body.” Not your typical nutritional analysis, but it probably can’t hurt to strengthen your chi …

Need something sweet and crunchy to bring to that cookout? Throw together a bright bowl of Napa Cabbage Picnic Salad. By combining the cabbage with slivered almonds, soy sauce, cilantro and ginger, a humdrum old standby, coleslaw, is transformed into a zesty side dish. Toss in sliced, grilled chicken and you’ve got a meal.

Green Beans

Also known as string or snap beans, green beans are piled high this time of year in markets around the country. Stephanie Witt Sedgwick of The Washington Post recommends buying the beans seasonally and locally: “[they have] a sweet taste, without the bitterness of beans grown elsewhere and shipped here.” She adds that they cook faster, have a better texture and cost less in late summer. Sedgwick even solves the mystery of the grayish color common to overcooked green beans. To prevent murky-looking veggies in your kitchen, cook beans in salted water for no more than seven minutes and avoid adding vinegar or lemon juice, as their acidity causes discoloration.
Low in calories, but high in vitamins, green beans are a great way to help your body while still satisfying your taste buds. Green beans contain high levels of vitamin K, to keep bones strong, and are an excellent source of iron, which is essential for energy production. Green beans would be a good choice for anyone diagnosed with anemia, as the condition is often linked to iron deficiencies. The World’s Healthiest Foods provides a detailed report on the vegetable’s health benefits, detailing how it can help your heart and support your immune system.

Sure, green bean casserole has become an institution on the Thanksgiving table, but who really wants to dig through a swamp of sodium-laden canned soup and fried “onions” to find a pile of limp, soggy green beans? Go simpler (and tastier) by trying out the Smitten Kitchen’s Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad, adapted from locavore chef Alice Waters’s recipe at Chez Panisse. Light, herby vinaigrette gently coats tender green beans tossed with plump, bite-sized tomatoes.
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