How to Tell When 7 Summer Vegetables Are At Their Tastiest
Last week, we shared some tips for helping you to always pick the freshest, most delicious summer fruit in the store or farmers' market. But in the spirit of ensuring that you also eat your veggies, we're turning our attention to vegetables.
You could peel down a piece of the husk for a peek at the kernels, but you risk the wrath of your fellow shoppers if you decide to put back an ear after it's been partially undressed. What can you check without semi-husking your corn in the produce aisle? Plenty! First, the husk should be vibrant green and wrapped tightly around the cob. Check closely for any tiny brown holes near the top of the husk as those are signs of worm holes—and the worms that make them. Don't get turned away by brown tassels sticking out the top—that's the color they should be. What you want to look out for are tassels that have turned black or gone from slightly sticky to all dried out, which indicates an ear that's less fresh. Finally, although you can't get a look at the kernels, give the ear a careful squeeze to get a sense for how plump and plentiful they are.
2. Bell Peppers
The first thing you'll notice about the peppers is likely to be their vibrant color, which comes into play when selecting the right one. While orange and yellow peppers are their own distinct and often sweeter varieties, the green and red peppers are the same species—the red ones are just more mature. Of course, you can still eat the green ones and, in fact, if you're not planning to use the peppers right away, consider that the less ripe green ones actually last a few days longer on the shelf. No matter the color, look for firm, shiny, unblemished peppers with wrinkle-free skin.
When it comes to greens, bigger leaves tend to be bitter leaves. For arugula, which is known for its peppery flavor, this might not be a problem—as long as you know what you're getting into. Smaller leaves are just as "ripe" and a better choice if you're looking for something a little bit more subtle in flavor. Things to avoid: holes or yellowing edges. And, if possible, seek out greens that come with their roots intact for greater shelf life.
If you're a stickler for freshness (and you are since you're reading this article, after all) seek out beets with the greens still attached—leaves show age more quickly than the bulbous roots. Not all grocery stores leave the leaves on, however, so if you're dealing with just the beets themselves, avoid any surface nicks or bruises and go for firm beets that are heavy for their size.
There are two types of cukes that sometimes overlap: Ones for eating and ones for pickling. The pickling process is forgiving of quality so we'll focus on those that are primarily for eating raw. As always, nix anything with obvious blemishes or spongey spots. Cucumbers should be firm and dark green. Be wary of a shiny skin as it means the outside has been rubbed with wax to help preserve it. This is fine if you plan to peel your cucumber, but if you prefer to eat the skin look for one that's a duller hue. And although the eat-fresh varieties tend to be larger than the pickling ones, anything too big will be full of large, tough seeds.
The best eggplants should feel heavy for their size, but not weigh over one and a half pounds. This is because the bigger an eggplant is, the more likely it is to taste bitter. In fact, smaller varieties like the Thai or Japanese eggplant will be even sweeter than the hulking purple ones you're used to. In addition to being the right size, ripe eggplants will be firm, with shiny and taut skin.
Bigger not meaning better applies to zucchini, too. The larger squashes will taste watery and flavorless, so don't go for anything bigger than an average flashlight. Yellow and even white zucchini can be just as ripe as green ones, as long as their skin is saturated and vibrant. If you're not planning on using it right away, look for ones with the stem still attached—the more stem that's left, the longer it'll keep.