We have had warm weather and, in some areas, lots of rain, so the vegetables are growing — some growing out of control. This is a great time in your healthy eating plan to make the most of preparing and eating all the vegetables you can.

I encourage you to put on your creative “thinking hat” when it comes to vegetables. One of the biggest and fastest growers are summer squash, like green or yellow zucchini. Vegetables of all varieties are a real bonus in your healthy eating plan.

I think that we need to have a history of why we have the foods we do, so here is your squash history lesson. The Spanish are credited with introducing squash to Europe; they believed the squash to be melons. I understand this especially with summer squash as they contain a lot of water or squash juice. A thanks goes to the Italians for downsizing the huge gourds in the 18th century into the delicate green vegetables we know today as the zucchini. This dainty new vegetable, with its elegant flavor and tender flesh, was immediately popular in France as well as Italy. The English acquired the vegetable through the French and therefore called them courgittes, whereas Italian immigrants brought them to America, and we have always called them by their Italian name, zucchini.  

A common question is, “Is there a noticeable difference in flavor between the green and yellow?” Most people would say there is no difference as along as the vegetable is young and tender. The difference in flavor comes into play when both colors grow large; the skin becomes tougher and the vegetable takes on a stronger flavor.

A food trend for some time has been about local foods, which makes sense, especially spring through fall. When you are harvesting or buying, most people prefer straight, dark green zucchini. Consumers in Syria prefer a tapered, pale green zucchini to which the edible blossoms are still attached. When choosing most vegetables, including zucchini, select small ones. At the local farmers’ market, you will find green and yellow as well crookneck squash. Other varieties of summer squash that you might find are patty pan and scaloppini. They all should have a thin edible skin and soft, barely developed seeds. 

I know many of you think the way to eat zucchini is in breads and other baked goods and that you have made them healthier this way, but the truth is, not really. Zucchini are best for you when you eat them for the vegetables they are, and eaten while they are young and tender. They pair nicely with herbs, onions, mushrooms and tomato sauce. 

Zucchini adapts to many food preparation techniques and recipes. A couple of ways you might consider are grilling and stuffing. Grilled zucchini are excellent served hot as a side dish, as well as cold in salads. To grill zucchini, work with a medium-hot heat (you can determine this by holding your hand over the coals — if you can hold your hand over the coals for five seconds, it is ready for the zucchini). 

It is very important to brush the zucchini slices generously with oil, or I like Italian salad dressing. It can be a plain vegetable oil or you can season the oil. Plan on grilling the zucchini slices about five minutes on each side, and turn them only once. Grilled zucchini make a wonderful side dish with any meat that you have prepared and having spicy dipping sauce adds to the flavor.

Some other ideas for summer squash are to serve them sautéed, or steamed for use as a side dish. I have not written some of the unhealthy ways, as I know you know about them. They may be baked with seasoning, cheese and crumbs. When hollowed out, they can be refilled with a seasoned stuffing of meat or squash. Summer squash can also be puréed for soup or added to soups, or eaten raw in salads or with dips. The delicate squash blossoms can be stuffed, battered and deep fried.

Zucchini exist in a wide range of shapes, colors and sizes. I encourage you to eat squash for the squash, not for all the sugar, fat, and flour that is put with it in many recipes. A smart way to make the most of your food dollars and eat healthy is to include squash in your healthy eating plan.

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