Get cooking with the best veggies of the season

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A class on cooking with August vegetables will be Aug. 21 at the Valley West Medical Office Building.

A few of the August vegetables you can incorporate in your home cooking right away:

Beets

Cabbage

Collards

Corn

Eggplant

Kale

Leeks

Peppers

Tomatoes

Zucchini

It's August - the basil is bursting with aroma, the tomatoes are red and the peppers are ready for plucking. Next question: What do you do with the vegetables once they are in your kitchen?

Valley West Community Hospital has some ideas to share during its "August Vegetables: Using What's in Season," a cooking demonstration and tasting on Aug. 21.

"As Americans, we already know how to cook meat," said Cindy Johnston, RN, Community Wellness Supervisor at Valley West. "Now it's time to taste the vegetables and help show people they can prepare some wonderful dishes with them."

Healthy culinary instructor Jo Cessna, who leads the class, has been a home economics educator and professional caterer.

"We don't generally eat enough dark green vegetables, and that's because people just aren't sure what to do with them," Cessna said. "So many people tell me they have bought a 'new' vegetable or herb, only to have it wilt in the refrigerator because they didn't really have a plan for it."

In response, her demonstrations include lots of greens-depending on the season's bounty-perhaps collards or kale. "The dark greens have very absorbable calcium and lots of antioxidants. People are finding out that iceberg lettuce doesn't really cut it nutrition-wise," she said.

For example, beets have not been a traditionally popular veggie. But she hopes participants will give them a second look after her demonstration. "And don't throw out the tops--the green parts are packed with nutrition," she said.

Summer favorites that already have a good reputation, like sweet nectarines, also make it into her repertoire. "Fruits can be combined with just one or two other ingredients such as dates to make a relish to accompany all sorts of other foods."

Cessna works hard to make the foods and recipes accessible to home cooks. Her main takeaways from the program include building excitement for trying something new and the confidence to be more adventurous in the produce aisle. Participants receive recipes for the foods they are tasting, so they are ready to start cooking at home quickly.

"Once people see what we can do in 10 minutes, they have the confidence to say to themselves, 'Hey, I can do this,'" she said. "I hope the program gets people excited to use healthier ingredients."

Given the extreme heat we've been having this summer, Cessna said she also emphasizes alternatives to soda pop or plain water, which can get boring. For example, she may feature lavender and lemon water, which incorporates lavender (part of the mint family) grown for culinary uses and lemon juice to create a refreshing "essence" beverage that doesn't contain any sugar.

"The whole preparation takes about 10 minutes, and when people taste it, they just react with a 'Wow,'" Cessna said.

She said the program is limited to 30 participants so that home cooks can ask questions and get answers on the spot. "The point here is to share our wisdom, and to make cooking at home fun.''