The Ultimate Guide to Summer Vegetables (& 43 Ways to Use Them)

Broken down into three micro-seasons.

May 19, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

Summer is the CSA basket’s time to shine. That’s why Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons—a seasonal-cooking bible that made our list of the top five books for all things vegetable—considers summer to be three different micro-seasons rolled into one. In that vein, I present to you a guide to summer vegetable cooking (or no-cooking) that’s broken down into early, mid, and late, using the vegetables in McFadden’s iconic cookbook as examples. But by all means, take creative liberties and cook outside the micro-seasons, paying attention to your local climate (and farmers markets). After all, summer is a time for a more relaxed approach to cooking that involves less oven, more salad, and loads of color. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Early Summer: Beets (young), carrots (young), celery, fennel, new potatoes, turnips (young)

Midsummer: Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans, summer squash (including zucchini)

Late summer: Corn, eggplants, sweet peppers, tomatoes

P.S. Corn is a grain and tomato is a fruit, but I included them anyway. Don’t fight me on this.

Beets (young)

Beets may seem wintry, with that moody hue and all, but in early summer they are so fresh and sweet that in the case of young beets, per Joshua McFadden, you may not even need to cook them. We’ll leave the raw beet part to your own judgment (and farmers market haul quality), and for now we'll just nudge you in the direction of this chilled soup.

1. Chilled Beet & Mascarpone Soup with Balsamic

2. Beet Kvass

To preserve the sweet taste of an early summer beet, preserve it! Kvass, a fermented drink with Slavic and Baltic origins, takes 5 to 7 days to make and lasts for 3 months in the fridge. That's 3 months' worth of ways to enjoy it, from diluting it with sparkling water for a cooling drink to using it in place of vinegar in salad dressings.

3. Cherry & Beet Toasts With Ricotta

Pair a seasonal veg with a seasonal fruit on a bed of ricotta, on a bed frame of toast, and you get this open-faced delight. Our preferred method for preparing the beets here is steaming. (That oven needs a rest after a winter of sheet pan dinners!)

Carrots (Young)

Another misunderstood summer vegetable! Carrots, specifically young ones, are sweet, delicate, and snappy, with a slightly peppery quality; these aren't the thick ones you’d use for juicing. Look for ones with perky wigs of green leaves (the smaller the carrots, the more greens), which you can use the way you would fennel fronds, as a garnish that adds a bit of herbaceousness to any recipe.

4. Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto & Burrata

McFadden says baby carrots in plastic bags have nothing to do with the freshly dug kind you’ll find at the farmers market now; go for those when making this zero-waste dish.

5. Carrot Ice Cream

If you’re doubting carrots’ seasonality, then perhaps this bright, summery ice cream will convince you otherwise.

6. Grilled Young Carrots with Pickled Mustard Seed Dressing & Arugula

Carrot, meet grill. This is a great cookout recipe, as it’s gorgeous at room temperature.


If celery’s in a dish, it’ll probably be the first taste you recognize. Crunchy and bold—and so much more than a hummus broomstick—it works surprisingly well with other bold flavors (see below).

7. Celery & Za’atar Tabouli

A wonderful lunch salad, whether you’re back in the office or not—best enjoyed on a picturesque park bench.

8. Crunchy Celery, Radish & Turnip Salad-Slaw in Blue Cheese Sauce

Is it a salad? Is it a slaw? Does it matter? It does not, especially when young turnips and sweet, funky Gorgonzola dolce get involved.


Like celery, fennel is fibrous, vegetal—and not everyone’s cup of tea. But the sweet licorice taste is peppy and bright. McFadden notes that it’s excellent with seafood, which is how it’s often enjoyed in Mediterranean cuisine.

9. Cucumber-Fennel Fizz

With or without booze, enjoy fennel’s natural licorice notes in this hot-weather cooler.

10. Cucumber & Fennel Salad with a Chinese Vinaigrette

Unearth your mandoline for this refreshing salad, and remember to always use fennel fronds as garnish if you’re making a salad with fennel. They’re too pretty not to.

New Potatoes

Sweeter and more delicate than a baking spud, and much less starchy, new potatoes are excellent contenders for potato salad. They’re also great pan-roasted (reduced oven-time alert): Brown in a pan for up to 8 minutes, then roast until fork-tender (start checking after 12 minutes).

11. Grilled Potato & Green Bean Salad

This dish straddles both the mayo-based and vinegar-based potato salad camps. Don’t have a grill? Cook the potatoes and green beans for a bit longer in the pre-grill portion of the recipe, and it will still be fantastic.

12. New Potato Salad with Crispy Radishes, Fennel & Celery

A stunning, textural combination of a few early summer vegetables.

Turnips (Young)

In Six Seasons, McFadden writes that summer turnips are mostly Japanese varieties, so look for those specifically, or items labeled "salad turnips." They aren't mustardy, like winter turnips, which you’re more likely to find at the grocery store; these are waaay milder, higher in water content and lower in starch. Pickling or gentle cooking, if you're cooking them at all, is the way to go here (unless they are folded into other ingredients, like in the burger below).

13. Turnip Burgers

Writer Alexandra Stafford developed this recipe with the hakurei turnips she found in her May CSA basket. If your turnips are too, well, turnipy, like mature grocery store turnips can be, adding carrots or zucchini will mellow the bite.


The most recognizable brassica in town, earthy and slightly sulfurous broccoli (and the more bittersweet broccoli rabe) is so much more than the sum of its florets.

14. Shaved Broccoli Stalk Salad with Soft Feta & Golden Raisins

Don’t snooze on that broccoli stalk! Shave it thin and see how well it plays with the other ingredients in this salad.

15. Rapini & Sausage Pizza

Go all the way and make three different summer pizzas with a crème fraîche base, or stick to the midsummer version with rapini (broccoli rabe) and hot Italian sausage.

16. My Husband's Broccoli-Nut Salad

A Southern potluck staple, candied walnuts makes this salad sing.


Cauliflower is milder and more versatile than broccoli, and at the farmers market, you’ll see it in a bunch of different colors. Cauliflower is excellent at absorbing the flavors around it (without losing that distinct, almost mustardy flavor).

17. Fried Cauliflower Po'Boys With Olive “Remoulade”

A vegan po’boy that can stand up well to any classic version.

18. Roasted, Spiced, Almond-y Cauliflower

A distilled, minimalist take on Indian gobi that’s perfect on a bed of Greek yogurt.


Cucumber is a fruit, which is why it’s got a watery, melon-like texture and tastes so nice in sangrias and other cocktails. It’s the paragon of all things cool and refreshing, and summer is its time to shine.

19. It's Hot to Be Cool Thai-Inspired Cucumber Salad

Silken tofu and coconut milk form the dressing of this cucumber salad. Though author Amber Olson peels the cucumbers completely, I like Samin Nosrat’s tip to peel only half the skin off in stripes for all cucumber salads.

20. Dawn Perry's Soba Salad with Cucumbers, Soft Tofu & Quick Chile Oil

Don’t waste that cucumber juice! This recipe incorporates it back into the dish as part of the dressing.

Green Beans

Crisp and tender, green beans (or string beans, or snap beans) aren’t always green. At the farmers market you may find yellow ones, which you can use interchangeably in these recipes.

21. Michel Richard's Glazed & Glistening Haricots Verts

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as throwing every ingredient in a recipe straight into a pot, letting it do its thing for less than 10 minutes, then watching it emerge as a finished dish.

22. Colby Garrelts' Grilled Pork Loin with Green Bean Salad

Grilling is a summer thing to do, and green beans are especially good in the summer.

Summer Squash (Including Zucchini)

Squash in the summer is nothing short of a party. Farmers market stalls will have a lot of fun names for it, from eight ball to pattypan, and don’t just expect oblong shapes. They’re bland on their own, but pair them with bolder flavors and they come to life.

23. Summer Squash Sauce With Pasta

You have to love any recipe that starts with the words: "Invariably, someone you know will give you a baseball-bat-sized squash every summer." If you’re that lucky, make this pasta; but if not, make this pasta.

24. Canal House's Marinated Zucchini

I’ve spent hours—hours!—of my life wondering how on earth a dish so simple could be so good. Turns out I didn’t need to because it’s right there in the headnote: Browning the zucchini lets the marinade seep through properly.

25. Thai Summer Squash Curry

Sometimes you just want a curry, even if it’s hot-hot-hot out there. That’s when this dish, a finalist in our Best Recipe With Zucchini or Summer Squash contest, comes in handy.

26. Jim Lahey’s 5-Ingredient Summer Squash Pizza

Pizza dough is one of the ingredients here, and whether you make your own now, use one that’s been sitting in your freezer for months, or buy it in a store, this topping de-liv-ers.

27. Blackberry Farm's Zucchini Caesar Salad with Cheese Crisps

Caesar salad, but make it zucchini, because it’s the season. (It’s always the season for frico, also.)

28. Grilled Corn & Summer Squash Quesadillas

And now we transition to late summer with this bright, sunshine-yellow filling.


You know how corn tastes: Sweet, a bit crunchy, always getting stuck in your teeth when you eat it off the cob (and always worth it).

29. Corn-Husk-Smoked Salmon With Grilled Corn Salsa

Show corn all the love this summer by using its husk to smoke salmon on a grill.

30. Summer Corn Semifreddo with Rosemary Shortbread Crust & Blueberry Compote

Think of this as cornflakes that grew up to become an urbane socialite, never losing sight of its humble origins. Or just think of it as a sweeter way to enjoy corn.

31. Corn Ketchup

You wouldn’t think of tomato ketchup as seasonal. Corn ketchup, on the other hand…

32. Grilled Romaine With Corn & Creamy Anchovy Garlic Vinaigrette

If you have grilling impostor syndrome, then start with this recipe.

33. One-Pot Corn, Tomato & Quinoa Pilaf

A summer edition of one of the most popular recipes on our site (One-Pot Kale & Quinoa Pilaf).

34. Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

Did you know you can use fresh corn to make polenta? Now you do—and for a very quintessentially late summer spin, top it with an eggplant sauce from none other than Yotam Ottolenghi.


Best when cooked until tender and creamy, eggplants soak up whatever flavors you add to them. Pro tip: If slicing, salt the eggplant first to draw out some moisture and let it sit for some time before cooking.

35. Grace Young's Stir-Fried Garlic Eggplant With Pork

Once the prep is done, this dinner comes together in just 10 minutes—good news for when you'd rather be out enjoying the late-summer weather (when eggplant is at its peak).

36. Hemy's Israeli Eggplant

We gave you a corn-eggplant mash-up; now here’s an eggplant-tomato one that’s also great for late summer.

Sweet Peppers

Vegetal and crunchy, sweet peppers are wonderful raw, cooked, stuffed, blended into soup...they’re a versatile bunch.

37. Minted Pepper Salad

Broil or grill red peppers for this refreshing salad, which is a great accompaniment to anything else you eat in August.

38. Red Pepper Jam

As this recipe’s mastermind, Josh Cohen, says: "One ingredient that I get particularly excited for is peppers. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They also vary in terms of sweetness and spiciness. This red pepper jam recipe is a pleasure to make because it captures the sweet vegetal flavor of the peppers at the peak of their season. Use this condiment on sandwiches, cheese plates, muffins, or anything else that makes sense to you." Aye, aye.


Ah, tomatoes, the crown jewel of summer produce. From eating a sandwich piled high with them to forgoing the bread altogether and just eating them like an apple, there’s really no going wrong with tomatoes—but a million ways to make them more interesting, starting with the five recipes below.

39. Tomato & Plum Galette With Black Pepper–Parmesan Crust

Tomatoes and plums—two fruits, one beautifully savory late-summer galette.

40. Michel Guérard's Sauce Vierge

A no-cook tomato sauce/salsa you can add to pasta salads, roasted salmon, grilled anything.

41. Brown Butter Tomatoes

With an instruction like "dress the tomatoes with the butter as if you were pouring ganache over a cake," you'll want the best in-season tomatoes you can find to really do this one justice.

42. Crispy Farro & Tomato Salad

You have to do some broiling here, but that not-so-summery activity is offset by very summery tomatoes.

43. Watermelon Tomato Salad with Cumin & Fennel

Another instance of tomatoes playing well with other fruits (since, you know, it’s a fruit and all).

Is there a summer vegetable that you can't wait to cook with? Let us know in the comment

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • swagatgrocery
  • Smaug
Former Associate Editor at Food52; still enjoys + talks about food.


swagatgrocery June 5, 2021
Such a great article, this is very useful. In the current trend, people move to frozen food because it is easy to store and time-saving.
Smaug May 20, 2021
This schedule is probably accurate somewhere, certainly not where I live.
I wish people would stop with this "tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable" nonsense- "vegetable" in this sense is a purely culinary term, has nothing to do with botany. Eggplants, peppers, squashes, cucumbers. okra etc. are fruits too. Many others are seeds, roots, bulbs etc.