Michele Atkins

To many, nothing says summer like the first local ripe strawberries of the season. Like other fresh fruits and vegetables, strawberries are an important part of a healthy diet.

Strawberries are one of the most popular spring fruits. They are sweet, delicious and packed with what our bodies need to be healthy. They can be added to many recipes or eaten alone as a great anytime snack. Strawberries can be added to your morning oatmeal or salad at lunch, or they can even be the “sweet” after your supper. Use the following tips and recipes to help you and your family enjoy strawberries.

The Romans prized wild strawberries for their medicinal properties. Ounce for ounce, strawberries have more Vitamin C than citrus fruit. According to the American Cancer Society, foods rich in Vitamin C may lower the risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Strawberries are also high in potassium, iodine and calcium and have many other nutrients.

According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of raw strawberries contains about 32 calories. This makes them a low-calorie food. One cup of strawberries provides 3 g of fiber and 12 g of carbohydrates.

When buying strawberries at the grocery store, look for bright red berries with fresh green caps on. When you remove the caps, you tear cells in the berries, activating ascorbic acid oxidase, an enzyme that destroys vitamin C. Visually check each package, making sure there are no signs of mold growth. If one berry is molded, mold spores will have traveled throughout the entire package.

Do not wash berries until ready to use. They are highly perishable and should be eaten in a couple of days. You can refrigerate them for a week, or freeze them for up to six months.

To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to set in water as they will lose color and flavor.

A lot of recipes call for strawberries measured in different forms. One pound of strawberries is equal to 4 cups whole, 3 cups sliced and 1-3/4 cup mashed.

FUN STRAWBERRY IDEAS

• Balsamic and berries. Reduce balsamic in a sauce pan by bringing to a boil then simmering over low heat until it has a syrup consistency. Top low-fat frozen yogurt with fresh strawberries and finish with a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

• A light dessert. Top angel food cake with sliced berries and low-fat vanilla ice cream.

• Sweet and sophisticated. Make a parfait with low-fat frozen yogurt and sliced strawberries. Alternate in a tall glass and top with a strawberry.

• Banana-berry pancakes: Top waffles or pancakes with sliced strawberries and bananas for a fresh alternative to traditional syrup.

• Refreshing smoothie. Freeze whole strawberries, grapes and bananas. Blend with 100% orange juice, adding just enough to make a frozen purée. Garnish with a mint leaf and serve. Refreshing!

• Strawberry chef’s salad: Incorporate strawberries into a salad along with other fresh fruit, turkey and a mustard dressing.

• Strawberry shrimp ceviche: Dice fresh strawberries and add them to a shrimp ceviche with fresh vegetables, citrus juices and cilantro for a refreshing and light appetizer.

• Berries and chocolate. Dip fresh berries in melted dark chocolate for a special treat.

Strawberry Balsamic Mozzarella Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 pint fresh strawberries, stems removed, chopped

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed

2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil

Aged balsamic or balsamic glaze, to taste

Combine Italian seasoning, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper in a small bowl. Stir to combine.

Drizzle the chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle with the seasoning blend. Flip the chicken over, then oil and season the other side.

Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Place chicken breasts on the grill, cook 5-6 minutes per side (or until internal temperature reads 165°F).

In a small bowl, combine strawberries, mozzarella and basil. Arrange chicken breasts on a platter or individual plates. Top each chicken breast with the strawberry mixture. Just before serving, drizzle with balsamic.

Strawberry Breakfast Smoothie

1 cup 1% milk

1/2 cup frozen strawberries

1/4 cup non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Fabulous Strawberry Muffins

Firm fresh strawberries work best in this recipe, but when the season is over substitute blueberries, cherries or chopped peaches.

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped

Additional sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line muffin cups with paper cupcake liners.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir well until all ingredients are well blended.

In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour liquid mixture in and pour in the strawberries.

Using a large spoon, gently fold ingredients just until moist, do not over-mix. Spoon batter evenly into 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1/2 teaspoon sugar, if desired. Bake 20-25 minutes.

Strawberry and Spinach Salad

This spring salad is teeming with vitamins A and C. The bright green of the spinach and contrasting red of the strawberries is beautiful and the flavors are excellent together.

1 pint fresh strawberries

2 bunches fresh spinach

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons minced green onion

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup balsamic or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Wash strawberries under cool running water. Remove caps and set aside to drain. Wash spinach and remove large tough stems.

Tear large leaves into small pieces. Drain.

In a medium bowl combine remaining ingredients and whisk together. Slice strawberries into halves or quarters and place in a large bowl. Add dry spinach. Pour dressing over all and toss.

MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is matkins1@utk.edu.

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