Produce at its Peak


It’s citrus and citrus and citrus these days - the Produce department virtually glows orange. The varieties change so quickly it’s hard to keep track, but they are, in general, superlatively good. An unusual item that is worth a try before they are gone is Mandarinquats (pictured). Two bites full of juice and rind that combine an intense citrus flavor with sweet, bitter and tang, they are best out of hand as a snack.

Kent Mangos. When I lived in Ecuador, I bought them fifteen for a dollar in a long plastic bag, and gorged on them. That was in January, February and into March, when they really were ripe, lushly soft and gloriously messy. Everyone ate them all the time everywhere. You could tell because the streets were littered with discarded pits. But I find that mangos can be so disappointing here in the States. Here’s why: farmers want to get the best price, so they harvest them before they are truly ready and rush them to market, hoping to take advantage of low supply and high demand. Plus it’s easier to ship a green mango than an even slightly soft one. The way to pick a good mango is to find one that is truly soft, like a ripe peach. Handle it delicately and enjoy it the same day you buy it, ideally. A mango that is shriveled and has only a little give to it is likely to be pale colored and rubbery inside-edible if sprinkled with chili and lime like in Mexico, but probably not what you were after. Variety is also important - Tommy Atkins tend to leave you with fibrous bits between your teeth, but Kents are usually not so stringy.

Avocados. Here are some tips for selecting a good avocado: Find one that is heavy and full figured. Check around the stem end with your thumb. Are there hollow spots below the skin in evidence? Don’t buy that one. Pick one that still feels a little firm. Is the little nub of stem still there? Pry it out gently to see the state of the flesh beneath. Is it green? The avo is probably good.

It’s hard to avoid a little bruising with such a tender fruit. Even just sitting in a box, the avo’s own weight can cause a small indentation on the side that meets the surface of the box. Generally, this does not adversely affect the flavor of the avocado. The simplest, most delicious way to enjoy an avocado is this: Warm up a couple of corn tortillas (I recommend the Sonoma homestyle corn ones), fill with slices of avocado, cilantro sprigs, and chopped green onion. Finish with a spritz of lime, a sprinkle of coarse salt and write your name in sriracha on top.

There are still a few items out there from local farms. It doesn’t seem that exciting, but green cabbage is a real workhorse of a vegetable. Since it doesn’t respire as quickly as other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, it maintains its nutrient levels for a much longer time. My favorite way to prepare it is roasted. Simply cut the cabbage in wedges, a rough eighth of a cabbage each, and rub the cut side with oil. Roast it at 450 degrees until it is toasty on one side, and then flip it and let it go until that side is similarly browned. Likely this will take 15 minutes to a side, but I recommend checking at ten minutes in on each side, because while carmelized cabbage is a many layered and tender confection, charred cabbage is not even for the birds. You can eat this with a vinagrette and call it a warm salad.