Try using seasonal vegetables when planning your daily meals

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Have you ever sat down and planned what meals you were going to cook that week without considering what vegetables were in season? I know I have!
I get this craving for a certain meal that I want to have without even considering if certain foods or veggies are even available at that time of year. When I can’t find what I want, I sometimes end up creating a completely different dish than what I had planned. Sometimes this is a good thing.
Food is most affordable when purchased in season. Not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables are also at their most flavorful and freshest when they are in season. Consider using such seasonal foods as butter beans, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, eggplant, cucumber, green beans, leafy greens, okra, summer squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Growing your own produce means less time spent driving to the store and having fresh ingredients on hand at all times.
When it comes to seasonal eating, I prefer fresh produce, but sometimes it’s just not possible. In those cases, a good alternative is the frozen food section of your local food market. Stock up on frozen spinach, greens, cauliflower and broccoli, in addition to the basic dried or canned beans and canned tomatoes.
For the most part, out-of-season fruits and vegetables are usually less expensive when they are canned or frozen and are virtually identical to its fresh counterparts in terms of nutrition.

Fresh Spinach and Asparagus Salad
With a combination of olive oil, fennel, cumin and citrus, this salad takes on a Moroccan-like flavor
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed, de-stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and bias-sliced into 2-inch lengths
4 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seed
1/2 tsp. crushed cumin seed
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup fresh chopped mixed herbs (parsley, oregano, sage, mint, etc.)
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 Tbsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Bring a medium saucepan of cold, salted water to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus spears and boil about two minutes, or until it is still slightly crisp. Plunge the briefly cooked asparagus into a ready bowl of ice water.
In a large salad bowl, combine the olive oil, fennel, cumin, paprika, herb mix, and lemon juice. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Add the sliced scallions and the cooled and drained asparagus. Salad can be refrigerated up to 4 hours before serving.
Toss in the spinach just prior to serving. Serve with Tandoori naan or pita bread. Makes 4 servings.

Lemon-Thyme Chicken with Butter Beans and Arugula
This is a quick and easy recipe for two.
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
3 sprigs thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz. butter beans (lima), shelled and rinsed
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 handfuls of arugula, rinsed
In a medium bowl, mix the lemon juice, thyme, garlic and olive oil to make a dressing. Salt and pepper to taste.
Butterfly the chicken breasts (sliced in half horizontally then opened up and flattened). Toss the chicken in two tablespoons of the dressing and leave for 5 minutes. Grill or saute in pan on the stove for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through.
Meanwhile, heat the butter beans in a little water, then drain well and mix with the rest of the dressing, red onion and arugula. Pile onto plates with the chicken. Makes 2 servings.

Polish Halushki
This is one of my favorite dishes and takes about 2 hours to prepare but is well worth the time. I prefer using the Amish extra-thick kluski noodle, available locally at Holden Brothers Produce.
2 large cabbage heads, chopped
1 lb. pepper bacon, diced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 pkg. (16 oz.) kluski noodles
Salt to taste
Cook the kluski noodles as directed, drain and set aside.
In a large, deep pot, fry up the bacon pieces until almost crisp; do not burn. Remove the bacon and set aside. In that same large pot, add the onions and cabbage to the bacon grease and cook at medium heat, a little at a time, stirring to blend.
Cook about 30-40 minutes, turning the cabbage over as it is beginning to brown, making sure to scrape down the sides of the pot (you may have to add additional bacon grease). Once cabbage is nicely browned, add the noodles and half of the cooked bacon; mix well and season with salt as needed.
Top each serving of this steamy dish with remaining bacon bits and serve with potato-stuffed pierogi and some grilled kielbasa.

Sautéed Squash, Bell Peppers and Tomatoes
Zucchini and summer squash are sautéed with bell peppers, fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil and served with melted cheddar cheese.
2 lbs. squash and/or zucchini, sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1 small white onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz. pkg. shredded jack or cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, add a couple tablespoons olive oil. Add onion, garlic, squash and bell pepper. Heat on high to brown vegetables slightly to develop flavor. Sprinkle chopped fresh basil on the vegetables. Once vegetables are slightly browned, remove from heat, add the shredded cheese and cover the pan.
In a separate non-stick fry pan, cook the tomatoes on medium-high for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow some of the juice from the tomatoes to evaporate. After 5 minutes, add the tomatoes to the rest of the vegetables and toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.