Our tour of Lakeland establishments that offer healthy food choices continues with a visit to the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market, operating on Saturdays on Kentucky Avenue between the railroad tracks and Oak Street.

The weekly market is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for most of the year except June and July, when hours are 8 to 1, and August, when the market is closed.

Among the market’s local handcrafted items and plants, seven vegetable and fruit vendors sell fresh produce, mostly from Lakeland farms as well as nearby Plant City, Polk City, and Winter Haven.

Currently participating farms are:

In addition, look for seasonal farm vendors, such as Glassroots, which won’t be at the market this week but plans to return next week, and Hilltop Peaches, which ends its season at the market this weekend.

Mounds of vine-ripened tomatoes, eggplants, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupes, pineapples, and more, entice shoppers to stock up on the delicious health-boosters. Some vendors offer organic produce as well: Katerina Kales (pronounce kah-Less), sells several kinds of organic kale, young multi-colored carrots, red and white radishes with their edible stems and leaves still attached.

Interest in healthy eating has seen a dramatic surge in folks seeking simple cooking tips and recipes for affordable meals. Questions are often asked about what to do with a particular vegetable, the nutritional value of various foods, cooking methods, menu ideas, and so forth. So the following is some information to help you make the most of your fresh purchases at Lakeland’s Downtown Farmers Curb Market.

A display of vegetables and fruit always dazzles the eye with its beauty, however many people don’t realize that the color of produce is due to naturally occurring powerful and protective phytochemicals. Fresh produce is dense with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, fiber, and other nutrients vital to good health and disease prevention. Each color group presents its own health benefits in addition to those unique to individual vegetables or fruits.

Many of the beneficial compounds in fruit and veggies are easily destroyed or diminished by prolonged and/or intense heat or when not refrigerated. Canned or pre-cooked frozen vegetables and fruits are dead-on-arrival and offer little or no nutritional value. Their label often lists the nutrition profile in their natural state – before they were damaged by excessive cooking and other torture methods.

To get the most health benefits from vegetables and fruits, eat them raw, where appropriate, or briefly cooked. It is important to consume the widest variety possible of naturally colored produce. Notice the word “naturally.” We did not mean drenched-in-a-dye jelly beans or cotton candy.

Although fruits are nutrition-rich, they are also high in fructose (fruit sugar); so consuming them in moderation is recommended — a daily equivalent of approximately 2 medium apples.

Extremely versatile, vegetables and fruit can be eaten as snacks, in raw salads, relishes, cooked, in soups, stews, mixed into grain dishes, egg frittatas, and pastry. So stock your refrigerator with fresh veggies and fruit, and eat a rainbow every day to keep the doctor away.

Here are some easy recipes for you to try. They can be doubled or otherwise multiplied as needed.

2 servings

½ cucumber, peeled
4 large Romaine lettuce leaves, shredded
1-1/2 cups coarsely torn spinach
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced, including its white part
½ green bell pepper, seeded, cut into ½ inch strips
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves (from about 2 sprigs)
3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
4 black Kalamata olives

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoons dried oregano
Pepper to taste

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients.

2. Cut the cucumber half lengthwise. Place the two quarters flat-side-down side-by side on a cutting board and slice them at the same time.

3. Add the cucumber to the dressing.

4. Toss in the remaining vegetables (through mint). Divide the salad among 2 serving plates and top with the feta and olives.

2 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a colander, rinse the Brussels sprouts and trim their bottom ends. Steam the Brussels sprouts about 15 minutes, until the largest ones are tender-crisp.

2. Drain the Brussels sprouts and gently rinse them with cold water for 5 seconds to halt the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, mix all the dressing ingredients. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the dressing, then mix in the nuts.

Serve warm or cold.

2 servings

½ pound green beans, stem-ends trimmed, (do not chop them)

Ginger root
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Wash the green beans and steam 10 minutes until tender-crisp. Rinse under a gentle stream of cold water for 5 seconds to halt the cooking process. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, cut off a piece ginger root (about ¾ inch). With a paring knife, peel and finely grate ½ tablespoon-full of the root into a medium bowl.

3. Add all the other dressing ingredients to the bowl.

4. When the beans are done, combine them with the dressing.

Serve hot or cold.

Yield: 2-3/4 cups

1 tablespoon wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fresh jalapeno pepper
2 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
2 ripe peaches, pitted, finely chopped
1/2 cup, finely chopped sweet onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh cilantro leaves

1. In a medium bowl, mix the vinegar and oil and set aside.

2. TO CHOP THE JALAPENO: Wearing latex gloves, trim and discard the jalapeno stem end. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Cut each half into thin ribbons lengthwise, then finely chop all of them together crosswise.

3. Add the jalapeno to the dressing. Wash the gloved hands and cutting board with soap and water before removing the gloves.

4. Mix in all the other ingredients into the vinegar mixture. Refrigerate in an airtight container for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with fish, or meat.

4 servings

½ ripe cantaloupe
15 seedless grapes
½ cup orange juice

1. Cut the cantaloupe in half and refrigerate the leftover half in an airtight container, or on a plate, covered tightly with a plastic wrap.

2. Remove the seeds from the cantaloupe half you are using and cut into 4 – 5 slices. Now on one slice, make crosswise cuts, ¾-inch apart through the flesh all the way to the skin. Do not cut into the skin. With a sharp knife “shave” the cantaloupe segments off the skin. Repeat the procedure with the remaining slices.

3. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients and refrigerate in an airtight container for one hour before serving.

2 servings

½ small eggplant
1-1/2 cups water
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. TO CUBE THE EGGPLANT: Wash and dry the eggplant and trim its stem-end. Cut the eggplant into two crosswise. Refrigerate one of the two halves for another use.

2. Cut the eggplant half into ½-inch slices. Make parallel cuts ½-inch apart in one direction through 3 slices at a time. Carefully rotate the 3 cut slices 90 degrees, and again make parallel cuts, ½-inch apart, through all the layers to create small cubes.

3. Place the cubed eggplant and water in a medium saucepan. Cover; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook slowly 12 minutes, until the eggplant begins to turn translucent.

Judy E. Buss

4. Mix in the onion, garlic, tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook 12 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the oil and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from the stove and mix in the lemon juice.
Judy E. Buss is a syndicated food/health columnist, blogger for the American Holistic Health Association, nutritional cooking instructor, and speaker.


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