NPR

Market-Fresh Breakfasts

Biting into my morning sandwich of perfectly toasted pita bread, yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, onion and cucumber, I knew spring had arrived.

As the season slowly flows into summer, winter greens and root vegetables give way to a bounty of fresh produce, expanding the options for lunch, dinner and, yes, even breakfast. Walk into a farmers market and find the multicolored array of white and purple splatter-painted eggplants, yellow blooming into red on bell peppers like the inside of a tulip, and heirloom tomatoes swirling with purples, greens and deep reds -- new colors and shapes revealed with every slice.

I fill my bag at the market but find it hard to leave anything behind. I pause, my hand wavering above a small basket of mushrooms, eyeing the purple asparagus standing tall beside it, tapping my foot, trying to decide. I finally tear myself away.

I start snacking on my produce on the walk home when it hits me: I don't have to wait until lunch to eat my vegetables.

Typical American breakfasts don't often include vegetables. Not so in other countries. I remember the shock of my first breakfast in Israel. Groggy-eyed and jet-lagged, I wandered into the hotel dining room to find a large bowl of tomato and cucumber salad, eggplant and chickpea dips, and a tomato stew with eggs known as shakshuka. Peering into the bowl of rose-red tomatoes and clear cucumber pieces, I thought, "Salad for breakfast? What are they thinking?"

Then I tasted it. The cool crunch of the cucumber woke my taste buds, and the tomatoes released a refreshing juice. I spooned baba ganoush and hummus onto my plate, swooping it into my mouth with the warm pita bread. Perfection.

Pickled vegetables are a breakfast staple in Japan, and morning meals across India incorporate a handful of different spices and vegetables including tomatoes, onions, peppers and peas. Ethiopia's traditional breakfast dish, ful -- variations of which are eaten all over North Africa -- is made with fava beans, tomatoes and onions. And a traditional Turkish breakfast buffet includes not only bread and cheese, but also tomatoes, cucumbers and olives.

So I decided it was acceptable for me to incorporate vegetables into my breakfast. I could bake an egg in a tomato shell instead of a ramekin, or top my bagel and cream cheese with roasted eggplant, onion and bell peppers or avocado and tomato. Oh, the possibilities.

Besides satisfying my possibly abnormal enthusiasm for fresh produce, eating vegetables early in the day provides vitamins and minerals. One cup of tomatoes has over half the recommended daily vitamin C, and bell peppers provide a day’s worth of vitamins A and C. One cup of broccoli has 5 grams of dietary fiber, while a medium artichoke has 10 grams of dietary fiber, 40 percent of the recommended daily allotment. As sources of antioxidants and dietary fiber, vegetables are a perfectly sensible way to start your day.

In most American restaurants, adding vegetables to breakfast means a vegetable omelet or substituting tomato slices for a side of hash browns (but who really wants to eat plain tomatoes instead of fried potatoes?). There are so many more interesting options.

I look forward to exploring the possibilities. When I go to my farmers markets each week and gaze at the selection before me -- the pink and white radishes or purple cauliflower -- I'll be tasting tomorrow's breakfast in my mind.

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