Summer bounty: 5 seasonal stars for mouthwatering meals

When you think summer meals, cookout staples such as burgers, hot dogs and the inescapable corn on the cob tend to steal the spotlight. But you might not realize that summer is the season when many delicious, healthy and versatile fruits and vegetables come to market. Here are five of the best: 

1. Zucchini

Peak season: June to August

Health benefits: This superfood is bursting with vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, which can help strengthen your teeth.

Ways to enjoy: For outdoor summer meals, zucchini does great on the grill — it’s the perfect component for rich casseroles, healthy chicken or salmon kabobs and, with a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil, does just fine on its own. If you’re trying to cut down on tooth-damaging carbs, try making zucchini noodles. And for bakers, zucchini bread is a surprising treat that even picky eaters will love, and a great alternative to sugary cakes and pies.

2. Cherries

Peak season: May to August

Health benefits: While oranges get most of the attention, cherries are also loaded with vitamin C, which can protect against gum disease. Cherries are also surprisingly low in calories and packed with antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and protect your heart.

Ways to enjoy: Varying in color from yellow to almost black and in flavor from tart to sweet, the flexible cherry can accent many different dishes. Add them to salads, breakfast bowls and smoothies. A reduction of cherries, red wine and stock makes a sumptuous sauce for pork or beef. And of course, you can just eat them plain. Just remember to remove the pits and check carefully to make sure that no pieces remain. Otherwise, a trip to the dentist might be in your future.

3. Eggplant

Peak season: July to October

Health benefits: Eggplant is a winner: high in fiber, low in calories and brimming with calcium and potassium, among the most important nutrients for healthy teeth and bones.

Ways to enjoy: The question to ask yourself with eggplant isn’t what you can do with it, but what you can’t do with it. Among nature’s most adaptable foods, eggplant does equally well grilled, roasted, baked or sautéed as part of one of dozens of Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern recipes. You can even puree it into baba ghanoush, a delicious, healthy dip made with olive oil, garlic, sesame tahini, lemon juice and spices.

4. Plums

Peak season: July to August

Health benefits: Like cherries, plums are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C, along with vitamin A, which helps your immune system and organs work properly.

Ways to enjoy: Plums are almost too delicious; you might have trouble resisting eating them all by themselves. If you can exercise some self-control, though, they can be used in some surprising and delicious ways. Sliced on salads, reduced with some garlic, ginger and vinegar to make a delicious sauce for chicken or duck, or baked into a succulent tart or pudding, plums never disappoint.

5. Lima beans

Peak season: June to September

Health benefits: Lima beans have more minerals than a quarry. Calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus — you name it, these large legumes are a great way to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Ways to enjoy: Striking fear into the hearts of children for generations, lima beans have gotten an unfair reputation over the years for being, well, yucky. In fact, lima beans have a rich, creamy flavor and a smooth, buttery texture — they don’t call them butter beans for nothing. They’re great in soups and stews, made into a zesty salad with lemon and garlic, or baked into gigantes plaki, a delicious Greek casserole made with tomatoes, onions and parsley.