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updated: 7/5/2011 2:01 PM

Tips for cooking favorite summer veggies

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  • mauerdon_3sl051007bc Photo0607166 Cook Photo by Bob Chwedyk ///Food columnist Don Mauer.

    mauerdon_3sl051007bc Photo0607166 Cook Photo by Bob Chwedyk ///Food columnist Don Mauer.


What vegetable shouts summer?

Corn tops my list. I can't wait until Illinois corn shows up at local markets. I may not like the corn bits that stick between my teeth as I bite into a juicy ear, but it's always worth it.

Tomatoes come in at close second. A sun-warmed, perfectly ripe, juicy tomato slice seasoned with a touch of salt to enhance its sweetness and black pepper to give it a little bite completes every summer meal.

Determining my third place takes deeper consideration.

The first time I tasted a sweet green pepper, clipped from my own plant, briefly rinsed and sliced into strips was unforgettable. Up until that moment I never knew just how sweet (almost like candy, really!) a just-picked bell pepper could be. And my first taste of homegrown carrots, minutes out of the ground, had me wondering how anyone could consider a store-bought carrot its equal.

However, I guess when it comes down to it; green beans fill the No. 3 slot.

Some folks call them snap beans because, if you grew up like me, in the summer you got to sit on Grandma's porch and "snap" green beans into one-inch pieces for cooking.

Green beans are also pretty easy to grow. A full-grown bush green bean plant looks just like it's name: a small bush. Bush beans require no staking or strings and generate a bushel full of beans in a relatively small space. Yellow string beans, my favorite variety, also called "wax" beans, come in the bush variety, too.

Ever see purple string beans? If you do, try some, just note that they lose their curious hue and turn deep green when cooked. To me the flavor was green bean amplified; they needed just a whisper of olive oil sprayed over them.

Zucchini counts as another summer favorite, but as you know they take over the garden, often growing faster than they can be eaten. Pick them when they're young and small for the most sensational flavor.

My favorite way to prepare young zucchini is to trim the ends, split lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil, dust with salt, fresh-ground pepper and dried basil and grill on both sides just until grill marks appear. Yum.

I've had some luck as well growing hot peppers; specifically cayenne. The first year I put in three plants, with no thought about yield. When cayenne peppers start appearing they're green (they turn red when fully ripe). That first season I picked one of my first green cayenne peppers and took a bite; BIG mistake. The heat exploded on my tongue and I raced into the house for anything to quench the fire.

By season's end, those three plants produced a couple hundred bright-red cayenne peppers, forcing me to dry and then freeze them. For the next two years my peppers brought their heat on to different meats, some fish and many Asian stir-fry's. I also chopped them into store-bought, sugar-free pickles and relish. Lesson learned: One cayenne pepper plant will be plenty for a large family of hot pepper lovers.

Try this recipe: Got a mess of green or yellow beans you don't know what to do with? This refreshing, easy-to-make salad seasoned with mustard and lime makes the perfect summer accompaniment to outdoor dining. Don't be overly concerned with the 40-percent calories from fat, since a serving delivers less than 3 grams of fat.

I've been known to warm a few slices of French bread while the beans marinate and enjoy it with the beans as meatless a supper.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at