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Crisper Whisperer

The Crisper Whisperer: Sweet and Savory -- 5 Summer Foods That Swing Both Ways

The Crisper Whisperer: Sweet <em>and</em> Savory -- 5 Summer Foods That Swing Both Ways

You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing the abundance of fruits and vegetables you might get from your CSA or the market. —The Mgmt.

[Photograph: Carolyn Cope]

Now that summer is here, we've officially lived through spring vegetable fever and made it out alive. With more and more fruits and veggies piled high at the farmers' markets, and CSA boxes bulking up, gone are the days of lustily caressing petite bunches of delicate greens and whispering sweet nothings to one or two fragile pints of supple, yielding strawberries. Been there, eaten that.

But with a few possible exceptions (anyone screening Swiss chard's calls yet?) we're still squarely situated in the honeymoon phase of the growing season, not yet jaded by the constant presence of our increasingly significant other. Our eyes still light up despite ourselves to see a table full of lush greens at the market. We coo a little over blueberries. In the kitchen, we make an effort, choosing recipes that highlight summer squash and leafy greens rather than hiding them in pasta sauce.

Still, in any relationship worth keeping, it pays to be mentally prepared for the long haul. It helps to have a few ground rules, like "For better, for worse, but never for lunch," although something tells me that's not the strongest example given the context. You want to have a few tricks up your sleeve for when the mood inevitably shifts toward familiarity and even a touch of complacency.

Back in March, when this all began, you may have felt more threatened than you would have cared to admit by a rumor you'd heard about a few of your new friends. If you noticed people talking about vegetables playing equally well with savory types as with sweet, you might have willfully maintained your innocence of such complicated matters. Back then, no one would have blamed you. But now is the time to embrace the charming versatility of these five foods, which will serve you well in the months to come.

1. Rhubarb

I love a good strawberry-rhubarb something-or-other as much as the next guy. But with strawberries headed out of season and rhubarb re-upping its lease month to month, don't forget that rhubarb has tremendous potential in savory dishes. It's a vegetable, after all, and when not doused with sugar, it lends a bright acidity to any number of quickly or not-so-quickly cooked meals. Try it with pork or duck, or sautéed with other vegetables in a grain salad. Find lots of inspiration here.

2. Summer Squash

Zucchini is the butt of many a gardener's joke, but CSA members know that it isn't the only summer squash that can't take a hint. Long-time readers of this column may remember the infamous (but quite delicious) Hairy Gourd Bread, which is nothing more than a stellar zucchini bread recipe with the moisture content tweaked. If you run out of savory uses for summer squash and neighbors to ding-dong-ditch, don't forget that just about any type of summer squash makes a tasty quickbread.

3. Avocado

After all your amazing suggestions, I can't get enough of avocados in sweets and desserts. Try an avocado-coconut milkshake and take it from there.

4. Carrots

Carrots are remarkably versatile in both sweet and savory preparations. For sweet uses, think beyond carrot cake and muffins. Like butter, carrots are such a kitchen workhorse that they're almost more of a tool than an ingredient. Got a sauce or soup that's a little too sharp or acidic? Want to add a little natural sweetness to, or smooth out the flavor of, just about anything? Yup, a carrot can handle that.

5. Mint

There aren't too many ingredients that work equally well in ice cream and salad, but mint can honestly claim that virtue. It's a good thing, too, because there's no such thing as growing just a little mint. If you're chopping other summer herbs for a flexible savory dish like pasta or veggies, consider tossing in a small sprig of mint as well. It will help your palate register a remarkable variety of other flavors in the dish.

And what about you? Do you have any hot tips on savory/sweet switch-ups? We'd love it if you shared them in the comments!

About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in New Jersey.

The Crisper Whisperer: Sweet and Savory -- 5 Summer Foods That Swing Both Ways

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