“We’ve got sunlight on the sand We’ve got moonlight on the sea We’ve got mangoes and bananas we can pick right off a tree” (Rogers and Hammerstein, “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from the musical South Pacific.
It’s always nice to sit down to a complete meal, but the truth is that most of us often need something quick and easy. Fortunately, plants provide a wealth of foods that require little or no preparation and are really at their best and most nutritious when eaten fresh from the tree, bush, or vine. Just wash and enjoy. Some, you can eat with the peeling. Some, like bananas and oranges, come in an easy-to-remove biodegradable wrapper. If you have just a bit of time, you can combine them in salads or fabulous dessert plates.
It’s a good idea to clean the surfaces carefully to eliminate bacteria that they might have picked up in the process of bringing it from the farm or orchard to your pantry. Here’s a quick guide to getting these natural fast foods ready to eat.
How to clean them
1. If you will eat the peeling, it’s a good idea to scrub it with a vegetable brush.
2. If you’re going to peel it, a good rinse, clean hands, and maybe a clean knife are all you need.
3. For porous foods like lettuce or strawberries, soak briefly (3 minutes or less) in a solution of water and vinegar (plain old cheap vinegar will do the trick)–about 1 part of vinegar to 3 parts of water.
Guava is a tropical fruit cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions. Psidium guajava is a small tree in the myrtle family, native to Mexico, Central America. Guavas are typical Myrtoideae, with tough dark leaves and white flowers with five petals and numerous stamens. The fruits are many-seeded berries. I was a newlywed and had just moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, when I tasted my first guayaba. I was hooked. When ripe, the guayaba, or guava, is very sweet and delicious, peeling, seeds and all. Just wash and eat it like an apple. They are also made into a popular candy called ate. (pronounced ah-tay). Guayabate is one of my favorite sweets. Among the claims for guavas are that they improve heart health; help lower blood sugar levels; relieve painful symptoms of menstruation; benefit the digestive system; are good for your skin; may aid weight loss; may have an anticancer effect; help boost immunity.
Zucchini, also known as courgette, is a summer squash in the Cucurbitaceae plant family, which includes melons, spaghetti squash, and cucumbers. It can grow to more than 3.2 feet (1 meter) in length but is usually harvested when still immature — typically measuring under 8 inches (20 cm). Although zucchini is often considered a vegetable, it is botanically classified as a fruit. It occurs in several varieties, which range in color from deep yellow to dark green. Zucchini is delicious raw or cooked. Since the skin of the plant contains high levels of antioxidants, it is best served unpeeled. Zucchini can be grated, sliced, or stuffed. It is delicious boiled, steamed, grilled, baked, broiled, or breaded and fried. It is a healthy ingredient in salads, soups, and breads, and a tasty addition to many favorite dishes. Zucchini contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Cooked zucchini is particularly high in vitamin A. It is rich in water and fiber, promoting healthy digestion. Zucchini’s fiber may increase insulin sensitivity and stabilize blood sugar levels, potentially reducing risk of type 2 diabetes. Zucchini may lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease. It contributes to healthy vision and may lower risk of age-related eye conditions.
The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by many species in the genus Rubus in the Rosaceae family. The taxonomy of the blackberries has historically been confused because of hybridization and apomixis, so that species have often been grouped together and called species aggregates. Blackberries are delicious just as they are with no more preparation than washing. They make a delicious and healthy addition to smoothies, fruit salads, or green salads. They are rich in fiber, manganese and Vitamins C and K. They are credited with improving brain and oral health. With a Glycemic Index (GI) of 25 and a Glycemic Load (GL) of 4, blackberries are an excellent food for weight loss and diabetes control. There is promising ongoing research that indicates blackberries fight cancer and help prevent heart disease. The leaves are rich in tannin and have antibacterial properties. They have been used medicinally since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. They are made into an astringent tea which is used to relieve sore throats, mouth ulcers, diarrhea and thrush.
The beetroot is the taproot portion of a beet plant, usually known in North America as the beet. It is one of several cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris grown for their edible taproots and leaves (called beet greens). Beets can be served raw or cooked in a variety of ways. The greens are edible too, and can be added to a salad or cooked and served as a side dish. They are low in calories and a source of many nutrients, including fiber, folate and vitamin C. They also contain nitrates and pigments that may help lower blood pressure and improve athletic performance.
The bay leaf comes from an evergreen tree of the Lauraceae family. The baby leaf is delicately fragrant with a bitter taste. It is most commonly used in the dried version of the whole leaf when cooking. The leaf should be removed from the dish before serving. Bay leaf is an ingredient in many favorite dishes around the world. It brings to mind the tantalizing smell of Italian food cooking. It is used in cooking for a distinctive, savory flavor for soups and stews. It is an ingredient in a cologne known as bay rum, and can also be found in cosmetics, soaps and detergents. Bay leaves or the essential oil derived from them have been shown to help prevent candida, heal wounds, potentially fight cancer and aid digestion. They are used for diabetics due to evidence they can help manage blood sugar and lower cholesterol. This herb is also antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, and while further research is needed to confirm the efficacy, it may help treat dandruff, muscle and joint pain, and skin infections.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinaryherb of the family Lamiaceae (mints). Basil is used in cuisines all over the world. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell. Basil is used as a fresh herb in recipes all over the world. It is an essential ingredient in many Italian dishes. Basil is also used to create perfumes, household cleaners and in dental-care products. Basil is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. It helps prevent diabetes. It is used to reduce pain and fever, combat stress, and boost the immune system. It fights cancer and protects blood vessels and liver.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare), a member of the grassfamily, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates all over the world. It was one of the first cultivated grains, going back as much as 10,000 years. Barley has been used as animal fodder, a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilledbeverages, and a component of various health foods. It is used in soups and stews, and in barley bread. Barley grains are commonly made into malt in a traditional and ancient method of preparation. Barley is a rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It improves digestion, and can help with weight loss and control of blood sugar levels. It lowers cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease and cancer.
A banana is an edible fruit–botanically a berry–produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called plantains, distinguishing them from dessert bananas. The fruit is variable in size, color, and firmness, but is usually elongated and curved, with soft flesh rich in starch covered with a rind, which may be green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe. The fruits grow in clusters hanging from the top of the plant. Among the claims for bananas are that they are high in fiber and antioxidants and relatively low in calories; they moderate blood sugar levels and improve digestive and kidney health. Bananas are good as they are–just peel and eat. They are a delicious addition to a smoothie, and very ripe bananas make exquisite banana bread. Cooking bananas, known as plantains, can be fried, baked, or sliced and added to a stew. In southern Mexico, tamales are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks.