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Prolific, versatile, delicious summer squash is packed full of healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will keep you vibrant, and the Missoula Farmers Market is the place to stock up on organic, non-GMO varieties as well as other locally grown and crafted goodies.

There are three main varieties of summer squash, including yellow crook-neck, patty pan and zucchini, and each one has distinctive assortments to choose from. It is important that you do not underestimate these little cuties and their ability to provide you with an abundance of recipes and ways to include them on your menu. They are consumed raw, steamed, breaded and fried, shredded, diced, sliced and made into savory foods or sweet treats.

Studies have shown that summer squash is a powerhouse when it comes to carotenoids. It is claimed by some as the main source for alpha and beta carotenoids and rates third in lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin. This means amazing health benefits for anyone who consumes them regularly in a healthy way.

Additionally, they contain a significant amount of inorganic sodium, copper, manganese, vitamin C, magnesium, dietary fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin K. Moreover, they are a good source of vitamin B1, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, vitamin B2, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, choline and protein.

Dr. Henry Bieler reportedly advised many of Hollywood’s famous people on the use of zucchini juice as a way to recuperate from fatigue and general weakness. According to him, it is the best application for a sodium-exhausted liver. With this in mind, it is certainly worth trying if you suffer from chronic fatigue or a feeling of weakness.

Summer squash being low on the glycemic index is not the only good news for type 2 diabetes sufferers. Experts have recently discovered a special component of summer squash called homogalacturonan – found in their high pectin levels – that has been linked in repeated studies to protection against diabetes and better regulation of insulin.

Though I enjoy yellow and patty pan squash, zucchini is my personal favorite because I have found so many ways to use it. It is the veggie that kids and adults alike try to avoid. I don’t remember eating much in my childhood years and, other than a small amount of it in a tossed salad, I did not acquire a taste for it until I was in my 30s. A friend told me years ago I should keep my car windows rolled up and my doors locked in the summer or I might find unwanted zucchini put there by desperate neighbors trying to rid themselves of this productive Cucurbita pepo. The more you pick it, the more it produces.

Zucchini’s unique shape and texture are great for many culinary applications. (A person can only eat so much zucchini bread.) The smaller ones are best for eating raw, while the midsize ones are tasty stuffed and both are great steamed or cooked.

The flavor seems a bit bland, but this is in your favor when incorporating into dishes. They are easy to make as “noodles” using a Spirooli or Veggetti to help cut down on carbs and calories while increasing fiber – plus this “pasta” can be eaten raw or lightly steamed. Grated, it makes a wonderful salad that can be dressed up any number of ways. If I happen to be without lettuce for a taco salad, grated zucchini can be used in its place. Sliced and steamed al dente with butter stirred in then seasoned with salt and dillweed makes an appetizing side dish. My vegan lasagna includes shredded zucchini along with a few other secret ingredients for a rich creamy texture.

I like to shred and freeze zucchini to have on hand in the winter, and frozen slices are good for juice in the cold months as well. Leaving the skins on is best for retaining highest nutritional values.

Did you ever wonder what to do with those really large zucchinis you somehow missed? Try using them for juicing or making relish. The following recipe for zucchini relish is a family favorite and a must-have in my “Tuna/Salmon-like” Carrot Spread recipe, which is a great way to use carrot pulp left after juicing. It is also yummy in quinoa, tofu and lentil spread, or in macaroni and potato salads. Happy spreading.

Zucchini Relish

12 cups ground zucchini

4 cups ground onion

2 green peppers, ground

1/3 cup pickling salt

2 red peppers, ground; or 2 large (4-ounce) jars of pimentos

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Use a meat grinder to grind into a large stainless steel mixing bowl. (I use an old-fashioned aluminum hand grinder.) Mix above ingredients well and refrigerate overnight. Rinse the mixture thoroughly with cold water in the morning. Place the mixture in a large pan – 5 quarts or bigger – then mix the following ingredients in a bowl:

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 cups lemon juice

1 teaspoon celery seed

4 1/2 cups organic sugar or honey

1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch

After mixing the liquid, add to the ground mixture and stir well. Then boil 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Place the relish mixture in hot half-pint or pint jars and process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 to 20 minutes.

Feeling hungry?

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