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Have a Spring Produce Fling!

Make the best of the season's bounty with these tips and yummy recipes

From the WebMD Archives

It seems to me that springtime teases us with a handful of produce before the big bounty of summer kicks in. But the good news is that some of our all-time favorite fruits and veggies are in season in spring! So don't forget to enjoy them every chance you get.

When spring had barely started this year, my supermarket had beautiful strawberries on sale. So I decided to celebrate spring by making my very popular Three-Berry, Less-Sugar Jam (something I normally don't get to until early summer). I wasn't going to let the fact that the other two berries in the jam (raspberries and blackberries) weren't quite in season yet stop me. I just used frozen raspberries and blackberries, and it worked out great. And spring had officially begun!

Let's take a closer look at 11 springtime favorites, both fruits and vegetables. We'll review their nutritional attributes, discuss some fun and healthful ways to enjoy them -- and you'll find a few recipes to try.

1. AVOCADOS

Grown mainly in California, their peak season is March through August.

Avocados are very rich in monounsaturated fats, one of the preferred types of fat, which help lower the "bad" (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. One-fifth of an avocado contains 55 calories and 3 grams of fiber, and 4% of the Daily Value for vitamin C.

Tips to try:

  • If the avocado isn't ripe yet, keep it on the countertop. After it's ripe, though, keep refrigerated.
  • It's easy to add avocado to all sorts of salads.
  • Serve shrimp or chicken salad in the hollowed-out middle of an avocado half.

2. BLACKBERRIES

Grown in California; they're available in June and July.

A cup of blackberries has only 60 calories, but 6 grams fiber, 50% of the Daily Value for vitamin C, and 4% Daily Value for calcium.

Tips to try:

  • Top hot or cold breakfast cereal with blackberries.
  • Add fresh or frozen berries to smoothies.
  • Top waffles or pancakes with blackberries.

Continued

3. CHERRIES

They're harvested in June in California; in July in Oregon; and in June and July in Washington.

One cup has 90 calories, 3 grams fiber, and 15% Daily Value for vitamin C.

Tips to try:

  • Keep cherries refrigerated and be gentle with them; they bruise easily.
  • Cherries add color and texture to fruit salads and green salads.
  • You can add cherries to smoothies, too!

4. GRAPES

In the United States, grapes are grown in California, where peak season runs from June-November.

One-and-a-half cup of grapes have 90 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and 25% Daily Value for vitamin C.

Tips to try:

  • Keep grapes refrigerated and wash them just before serving.
  • Make fruit kabobs by stringing grapes and other fruits onto a skewers or bamboo sticks.

5. ORANGES

In California, the peak season runs from January through June.

One orange contains 70 calories, 7 grams fiber, 130% Daily Value for vitamin C, and 6% for calcium.

Tips to try:

  • Refrigerate ripe oranges for a refreshing, chilled snack.
  • Perk up green salads by adding orange segments

6. PAPAYAS

Grown in Hawaii; the peak season is March-July.

One-half papaya has 70 calories, 2 grams fiber, 150% Daily Value for vitamin C, 8% for vitamin A, and 10% for folate.

Tips to try:

  • Let papayas ripen on the countertop.
  • Papayas are ready to eat when their peel is about 75% yellow to yellow-orange in color.
  • Add papaya to smoothies, fruit salads, green salads, chicken salads, etc.

7. WATERMELON

California's peak watermelon season is May-October; Florida's is May-June; Georgia's is in July; and Texas' is in September.

Two cups of diced watermelon has 80 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 25% Daily Value for vitamin C, and 20% for vitamin A.

Tips to try:

  • Wash watermelons in water before cutting. Once you cut a watermelon, store it in the refrigerator.
  • One indicator of ripeness is a yellowish underside where the melon touched the ground when it grew.
  • Chilled, cut watermelon is a refreshing snack. Watermelon also adds crunch to fruit salads. You can even make a watermelon freeze with watermelon, crushed ice, and a blender.

Continued

8. ARTICHOKES

Grown in California, their peak season is April and May.

Each artichoke contains 25 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 10% Daily Value for vitamin C, and 10% Daily Value for folic acid.

Tips to try:

  • Keep them refrigerated. Cut stems to 1-inch or less and snip tips off petals.
  • They're easy to microwave. Just cut each artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the inedible, prickly inside part. Microwave with 1/4 cup water, cut side down, in a covered microwave-safe dish until tender.

9. ASPARAGUS

They're grown in California, with the peak season from April to June. They are also grown in Washington, where they're available in May and June.

Five spears contain 25 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and 10% Daily Value for vitamin A, 15% for vitamin C, and 30% Daily Value for folic acid.

Tips to try:

  • Keep refrigerated. To help asparagus spears stay fresh longer, trim a little bit off the ends and stand the spears, cut end down, in an inch of water.
  • Add asparagus pieces to casseroles, egg dishes like frittata and quiche, pasta dishes, and salads.

10. EGGPLANT

Eggplant is grown in Florida, with the peak season in May and June. They're also grown in California, where peak season is September and October; and Georgia, where they're harvested in April/May and August/September.

One-fifteenth of an average eggplant has 25 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

Tips to try:

  • Store eggplant in the refrigerator.
  • Top pizza with eggplant strips, or add them to stir-fry dishes.
  • Make lower-fat Eggplant Parmesan: Coating eggplant slices in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, spray with canola cooking spray, and bake or broil until lightly browned.

11. KALE

Kale is grown in California, where peak season is April to July.

A cup of raw, chopped kale contains some 33 calories, 2 grams fiber, 75% Daily Value for vitamin A, 11% for folic acid, 134% vitamin C, 11% calcium, and 8% vitamin E.

Tips to try:

  • Keep kale refrigerated, and remove the stems from the leafy part (it's the leafy part that you want to cook).
  • Use kale in cooked recipes that call for spinach (such as quiche, casserole, and soups).

Now, on to those recipes.

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Blackberry Spinach Salad

Journal as: 1 cup side salad + 1/2 ounce regular cheese + 1/2 tablespoon nuts.

This salad has so much flavor that the only dressing you'll need is a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

4 cups baby spinach, rinsed and dried (comes in packages this way), packed measure

2 cups fresh blackberries (thawed blackberries can also be used)

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (or reduced-fat or regular feta cheese)

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (chopped ripe tomatoes can be substituted)

1 large or 2 small green onions, sliced

3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts or walnut pieces

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (add more to taste)

  • Add spinach, blackberries, cheese, cherry tomatoes, green onion, and walnuts to a large serving bowl. Toss to blend well.
  • Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve into 4 salad bowls.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 167 calories, 7 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (3.2 g saturated fat, 1.6 g monounsaturated fat, 1.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 129 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 37%.

Mango Papaya Salsa

Journal as: 1 piece of fruit.

This is a wonderful tropical salsa that goes well with chicken or fish. It even tastes great served on reduced-fat tortilla chips.

1 mango, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 papaya, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

1/2 cup sweet onion, peeled and finely diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium bowl, gently toss mango, papaya, and red bell pepper, avocado, sweet onion, cilantro, and balsamic vinegar.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve (it works well to chill for at least 30 minutes).
  • Serve with broiled or grilled fish or chicken breast (skinless) or reduced-fat tortilla chips.

Makes 8 servings

Per serving: 84 calories, 1 g protein, 12.6 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (0.7 g saturated fat, 2.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 5 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40%.

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Microwave Artichokes With Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce

Journal as: 1 cup vegetable without added fat + 1/2 teaspoon of mayonnaise or oil.

Microwave some artichokes for a quick and easy side dish. The light roasted garlic dipping sauce helps keep them light and low in calories.

1 garlic bulb; trim 1/4 inch off the top

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

2 tablespoons light mayonnaise (or substitute fat-free)

2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

Black pepper to taste

4 medium artichokes

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the garlic bulb on a piece of foil and drizzle the olive oil over the top (the cut side) of the bulb. Wrap foil around the garlic bulb, sealing it at the top. Place in oven for 30-40 minutes or until garlic is soft and roasted. Let cool about 15 minutes.
  • Squeeze all of the garlic cloves from their bulbs by pressing with your hands from the bottom of the bulbs to the top (cut side) -- into a custard cup. Add the mayonnaise and sour cream, and stir with fork to blend well. Add black pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  • Meanwhile, cut the artichokes lengthwise -- from the stem to the tip of the artichoke. Place artichoke halves in a large, microwave-safe container with 1/2 cup of water. Microwave on HIGH until tender (about 15 minutes). Carve out the inedible thistle part of the artichoke with a small spoon and discard.
  • Serve each artichoke half with a small dab of the roasted garlic dipping sauce in the center cavity.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 111 calories, 5.5 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 2.7 g fat (.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 177 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.

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