I wasn’t raised in a family of gardeners, and the only reason we had tomatoes growing for a time in a corner of the backyard was because the gardener — charged with mowing the grass and trimming the azaleas — felt the town rabbi (my father), should have flavorful tomatoes for his salads rather than the pasty, mealy versions sold in our Long Island, New York, supermarket.
Yet I always had a yen for gardening, and for the fruits and vegetables that can be yielded from one’s patch of dirt. Fast forward thirty-some years later, and I have a blooming garden in which I grow herbs, peaches, and limes and other citrus fruit. But there are no tomatoes, not even one zucchini, the meager crop of lettuce gave up several years back, and the strawberry plant got overridden by ants.
No worries, however, as I live in the land of corner fruit-and-vegetable stands, of shuks brimming with fresh produce, and grocery stores that offer a very decent array of seasonal vegetables and fruits. Pini, my neighbor and owner of the produce stand just across Hebron Road from my house, likes to chat about the seasonal offerings, and we often do a recipe exchange based on his Moroccan ancestry and my American-Ashkenazi upbringing.
For this week, our selection of top five fruits and vegetables for mid-May:
1) They’re not around for long, but dark green zucchini, often fuller-flavored than their light-green and more common cousins, are in season right now and it’s worth stocking up on them, as they’ll keep for a while in the fridge. Earlier this week, I thinly sliced a few and sauteed them with sliced garlic and red pepper for a light pasta sauce. I’m also considering using them in this Epicurious salad recipe, substituting red pepper — again — for the eggplant, which is not a favorite in our family. I know, it seems a waste to live here and not eat eggplant. But you can’t have it all.
2) While tomatoes are pretty expensive right now, cherry tomatoes are relatively cheap, and a great, satisfying snack. I have a sister-in-law who regularly makes a cherry tomato salad, chopping them up, adding some minced parsley, garlic, olive oil and balsamic (or red wine) vinegar for a great side dish. Brit chef Jamie Oliver does several chicken-and-cherry tomato dishes, including this one, which is more stew-like, if you enjoy having meat fall off the bone, or a chicken breast option, which is handy if cooking for a smaller crowd.
3) I’m not a huge fan of the Ogen melon, the honeydew-like melons with the pale green interior that are often available, but right now is the time for eating Ambrosia melons, which are very similar to cantaloupe, but with a brighter orange hue. We eat them in chunk, blended with some orange juice and a squirt of honey and frozen as ice pops, or in this refreshing and fairly easy summer soup. It’s a good way to use a melon that isn’t as fresh or sweet, as the lime (or lemon) syrup adds some pleasantly sour flavor, and the mint leaves and sugar sweeten it up. Pour in some semi-sweet, sparkling white wine before serving.
4) I just spotted some apricots in the market, which portends the start of the short, but sweet, apricot season. They’re great to eat as a snack, but do get soft pretty easily, so I have two standby recipes when there’s a glut of softening apricots in the fruit drawer. The first is this very straightforward jam recipe that doesn’t require sterilizing jars or lids, and keeps for a while in the fridge. The other is homemade fruit leather, which is presumably for my kids, but I tend to eat it all before it even hits the Ziploc bags. Trust me, it’s easy and well worth the minor effort.
5) Lettuce is a standard in our house, whether we buy the hefty, leafy heads that require diligent cleaning of bugs and dirt (hard to miss that this once grew in the ground), or the overpriced plastic boxes of greens that make for an easy salad, but get soggy and wilted very quickly. Now, however, is the time for seeking out the slight, springy bunches of Boston Bibb or butter lettuce that easily stand on their own in a salad. I add a light dressing, and this food blogger recommends a mustard vinaigrette over a tossed mix of butter lettuce, parsley, chives and tarragon. I may just add some leaves of oregano and zaatar (hyssop in English), because I can say that those did come from my garden.