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Summer Salads

Local Bounty – Making the Most of Farmers Markets

Colorful produce of all sizes, shapes and textures, fresh air, and friendly farmers — what better way to spend a summer morning than at your local Farmer's Market?

Here you'll find the most nutritious produce for you and your family (and, if you're lucky, some freshly baked breads, cheeses, and other artisinal foods, too). At the same time, by shopping at the Farmers Market, you'll actively support your community as well as the environment (most supermarket food travels an average of 1,500 miles to the shelves!). And if you use your bounty to prepare home-cooked meals in lieu of eating out, you can even whittle your budget. (Read more about how to Cook at Home and Save.)

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Here are a few tips for your foray to the Farmers Market:

  • Post your local Farmers Market schedule on your calendar so you won't miss an opportunity!
  • salad dressingPrepare your kitchen for your bounty before you head to the market. Clean out the refrigerator and stock up on ingredients to complement your produce, such as quality organic spices and seasonings, dips and dressings. Simply Organic dip and dressing mixes are convenient and won't take up much cupboard space. They can do double duty as seasonings, too! Creamy Dill Dip is perfect for broccoli and cauliflower florets, but you can also use it to make Baked Dill Potatoes, for example. Read more about thinking outside the salad bowl with Double-Duty Dressings. For salads, you'll want to stock a basic Italian Dressing, Classic Caesar Dressing, and Ranch Dressing, of course. But be sure to try the Garlic Vinaigrette, too.
  • Shop without a grocery list. Instead, let yourself be enticed by what's available. Otherwise you might miss the chance to try that slender orange heirloom pepper or that irresistibly beautiful blue/black, shiny eggplant. Okay, bring a list if you must — but be sure to base it on what's in season and be flexible. This is one place where impulse purchases are allowed; it would be a shame to pass on those luscious limas because you've scheduled peas for your side dish tomorrow!
  • shopping bagsBring bags or a basket for your purchases (pack the heavier items on the bottom). Also bring cash (small bills are best) and a cooler, if you're driving.
  • Arrive early in the day for the freshest produce and the best selection. It's true that you'll probably score your best deals later in the day, when farmers are eager to unload rather than pack up, but keep in mind that, in general, the sooner you get your food after harvest the closer it'll be to its peak nutritionally. Besides, that little bit of extra cash supports your local farmer.
  • Stroll through the entire market before making a purchase; this can help you select the best of what's available. It can also help you stick to your food budget. (It's hard to resist just-picked cherries, even if you've already bought all the fruit you need for the week.)
  • Try at least one new item each trip. Never had okra? Best time is when it's in season! Do you normally stick with Red Delicious Apples? Why not enrich your life with an heirloom variety this week?
  • summer squashChat with the growers. Which pear variety does he recommend for a cobbler, and which potatoes will hold up nicely in a salad? What's her favorite way to season fresh tomatoes? Are there new suggestions for using that notoriously abundant zucchini? The growers will know the best way to store and prepare their produce and will likely have good recipes to share. Ask specifics about their growing methods, too, especially if you're interested in organics and/or sustainability.
  • Once home, make good use of your bounty. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables, use them as side dishes, and develop main courses that highlight them. Learn which spices and seasonings go with which fruits and vegetables. Plan meals so you don't let anything go to waste.

fresh foodIf you have the time, create your own new recipes featuring your Farmers Market purchases. Or search for recipes highlighting the particular produce.

For quick snack and meal solutions, use organic mixes to highlight your Farmers Market purchases. Here are a few examples:

- Pair some Caramel Dip with fresh fruit for instant dessert.

- Season diced potatoes with Guacamole Dip Mix for a quick side of Potatoes Rancheros.

- Broil tasty Roasted Peppers by coating the peppers with  Ranch Dip Mix before broiling.

- Feature green beans in a Fresh Bean Stir Fry with the help of Lemon Pepper Marinade Mix.

* If you really got carried away at the market (so easy to do!), share your produce with friends. Or consider putting up some of your own food. One of the joys of buying bulk at the Farmers Market is that you can freeze, can, or pickle food as if you had your own garden!

Shopping at the Farmers Market is one of the highlights of summer — and fall, in many areas. Visiting often and serving your bounty to friends and family is a healthful way to enrich the season.

Check your local paper or food co-op for information about local markets. Or go to the USDA website and simply enter your city and state for a list of locations and hours of Farmers Markets near you.

Go back to Cooking Articles & Tips.

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