Vegetable shopping: Vegetables should be firm and have a nice appearance. The color should be rich. Vegetables are like men, if they’re wilted and flabby, leave them in the store. Go for the young and firm. (This could be the reason that I’m back sitting on the shelf.)
Asparagus stems should be firm and thin, with deep green or purple closed tips.
Use asparagus within a day or two after purchasing for best flavor. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel, and be sure to place the asparagus in the back of the refrigerator away from any light. Wash under cold water and cut off the base before cooking.
IDEA – sauté asparagus with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and chicken.
IDEA – Toss freshly cooked pasta with asparagus, olive oil and thyme, tarragon and rosemary.
IDEA – Steam asparagus and serve with a light lemon vinaigrette.
TIP – If your recipe calls for cold asparagus, plunge the stalks into cold water immediately after cooking, then remove them quickly: letting them soak too long can cause them to become soggy.
If the beets still have the tops attached, you can tell from the appearance of the leaves if they are fresh. They should be firm and round with a slender tap root (the main root).
Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, either dark green, sage or purple-green, depending upon variety, and with no yellowing. In addition, they should not have any yellow flowers blossoming. The stalk and stems should be firm. Broccoli is very perishable and should be stored in open plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a week.
IDEA – Sprinkle lemon juice and sesame seeds over lightly steamed broccoli.
IDEA – Toss pasta with olive oil, pine nuts and broccoli florets. Add salt and pepper to taste.
They look like little bright green cabbages. Keep unwashed and untrimmed Brussels sprouts in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. Stored in a plastic bag, they can be kept for 10 days.
IDEA – Combine quartered cooked Brussels sprouts with sliced red onions, walnuts and your favorite mild tasting cheese such as a goat cheese or feta; toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
There are 3 main groups of cabbage: green smooth-leaved cabbage, crinkly-leaved green Savoy cabbage and red cabbage. The red cabbage looks really nice in coleslaw. The heads should be firm and heavy without too many loose outer leaves. Keeping cabbage cold will keep it fresh and help it retain its vitamin C content. Put the whole head in a plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. Red and green cabbage will keep this way for about 2 weeks while Savoy cabbage will keep for about 1 week.
IDEA – Combine shredded red and white cabbage with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and seasonings such as turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper to make coleslaw with an Indian twist.
They should be well formed, smooth, well colored and firm. If they have tops, they should not look wilted.
The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimize the amount of moisture they lose. To do this, make sure to store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which will reduce the amount of condensation that is able to form. They should be able to keep fresh for about two weeks. Carrots should also be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas since it will cause them to become bitter.
The white edible portion is called the “curd”. The outer green leaves are called the jacket leaves. The while portion should be compact and solid. Sometimes the white portion has a speckled look, this is not good.
IDEA – sauté cauliflower with garlic, minced ginger and tamari.
Look for crisp stalks. The stalks should have a solid feel and the leaflets should look fresh. Just in case, you bought the celery when it was fresh and somehow it got lost in the refrigerator; you can try putting the end of the celery (the part that is attached) in ice water. If it is not too far gone, that will freshen it. To store celery, place it in a sealed container or wrap it in a plastic bag or damp cloth and store it in the refrigerator.
IDEA – Add chopped celery to your favorite tuna fish or chicken salad recipe.
IDEA – Fill celery stalks with peanut butter or cream cheese.
Sweet corn is most plentiful from early May until mid-September. Yellow-kernel corn is the most popular, but some have white kernels.
Corn should be refrigerated immediately after being picked. Corn will retain fairly good quality for a number of days, if it has been kept cold and moist since harvesting. Therefore, it should be refrigerated as soon as possible and kept moist until used. Look for fresh green husks. The silk-ends should not be dried out.
Cucumbers should have a good green color and be firm over their whole length. Avoid cucumbers that have a dull color with shriveled ends.
Thinner cucumbers will generally have less seeds than those that are thicker.
Cucumbers should be stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days. If you do not use the entire cucumber during one meal, wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a sealed container so that it does not become dried out. For maximum quality, cucumber should be used within one or two days. Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long as this will cause them to wilt and become limp.
IDEA – Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette.
Eggplants may be either a dark purple or white. They should be firm and should not have any brown spots. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days.
IDEA – When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife as carbon steel will react with its phytonutrients and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends.
IDEA – Mix cubed baked eggplant with grilled peppers, lentils, onions and garlic and top with balsamic vinaigrette.
Purchase garlic that is plump and has unbroken skin. Gently squeeze the garlic bulb between your fingers to check that it feels firm and is not damp.
TIP – Store fresh garlic in either an uncovered or a loosely covered container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. This will help maintain its maximum freshness and help prevent sprouting, which reduces its flavor and causes excess waste. It is not necessary to refrigerate garlic.
Depending upon its age and variety, whole garlic bulbs will keep fresh from two weeks to two months. Inspect the bulb frequently and remove any cloves that appear to be dried out or moldy. Once you break the head of garlic, it greatly reduces its shelf life to just a few days.
TIP – Tips for Preparing Garlic:
The first step to using garlic (unless you are roasting the entire bulb) is to separate the individual cloves. An easy way to do this is to place the bulb on a cutting board or hard surface and gently, but firmly, apply pressure with the palm of your hand at an angle. This will cause the layers of skin that hold the bulb together to separate.
To separate the skin from the individual cloves, place a clove with the smooth side down on a cutting board and gently tap it with the flat side of a wide knife. You can then remove the skin either with your fingers or with a small knife. If there is a green sprout in the clove’s center, gently remove it since it is difficult to digest.
IDEA – Marinate pressed garlic in olive oil and use this flavored oil in dressings and marinades.
IDEA – Purée fresh garlic, canned garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice to make quick and easy hummus dip.
IDEA – Sauté steamed spinach, garlic, and fresh lemon juice.
IDEA – Add garlic to sauces and soups.
IDEA – Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes and olive oil together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste.
Purchase beans that have smooth feel and a good green color, and that are free from brown spots or bruises. They should have a firm texture and “snap” when broken.
Store unwashed fresh bean pods in a plastic bag kept in the refrigerator crisper. Whole beans stored this way should keep for about seven days.
IDEA – roast green beans, red peppers and garlic and combine with olive oil and seasonings to make a delicious salad.
There are a lot of different varieties. The most common is iceberg lettuce. The heads are large, round and solid with medium green outer leaves and lighter green inner leaves. The leaves should look fresh and crisp. Avoid heads with irregular shapes.
Butter-head lettuce (Big Boston and Bibb varieties) have a smaller head than iceberg lettuce. The leaves are softer and light green in color.
Romaine lettuce has crisp, dark-green leaves in a loosely folded head.
Leaf lettuce do not come in the form of a compact head. Leaves are broad, tender, smooth, and they vary in color according to variety.
Romaine and leaf lettuce should be washed and dried before storing in the refrigerator to remove their excess moisture, while Boston lettuce need not be washed before storing. A salad spinner can be very helpful in the drying of lettuce (and other salad ingredients as well). These lettuces should be either stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a damp cloth and stored in the refrigerator crisper.
To store arugula, watercress and other types of salad greens that are sold with their roots attached, wrap the roots in a damp paper towel and place the entire greens in a plastic bag.
Romaine lettuce will keep for five to seven days, Boston and leaf lettuce for two to three days, while fragile greens such as arugula and watercress ideally should be prepared the day of purchase. All types of lettuce should be stored away from ethylene-producing fruits, such as apples, bananas and pears, since they will cause the lettuce leaves to brown.
We usually describe mushrooms as having a cap (the wide portion on top), gills (the rows of paper-thin tissue seen underneath the cap when it opens), and a stem.
Look for young mushrooms that are small to medium in size. Caps should be either closed around the stem or moderately open with pink or light-tan gills. The surface of the cap should be white or creamy, or uniform light brown if of a brown type. Avoid mushrooms with wide open caps and dark gills underneath.
The best way to store loose button mushrooms is to keep them in the refrigerator either placed in a loosely closed paper bag, wrapped in a damp cloth or laid out in a glass dish that is covered with a moist cloth. These methods will help them to preserve their moisture without becoming soggy and will keep them fresh for several days. Mushrooms that are purchased prepackaged can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week in their original container.
TIP – Mushrooms are so porous that if they are exposed to too much water, they will quickly absorb it and become soggy. Therefore, the best way to clean mushrooms without sacrificing their texture and taste is to clean them using minimal, if any, water. To do this, simply wipe them with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth.
IDEA – Sautéed mushrooms and onions make a great side dish to meat dishes.
One of my favorite vegetables. They come in yellow, white and red.
The yellow onion is full flavored and can be used for cooking almost anything. When they are cooked they turn a rich dark brown color. If you are making French Onion soup, this is the onion to use. Choose onions that are clean, well shaped, have no opening at the neck and feature crisp, dry outer skins. Avoid those that are sprouting or have signs of mold.
Onions should be stored at room temperature, away from bright light, and in a manner where they are well ventilated. To do this, either place them in a wire hanging basket or a perforated bowl with a raised base so that air can circulate underneath. The length of storage varies with the type of onion. Those that are more pungent in flavor, such as yellow onions, can stay longer than those with a sweeter taste, such as white onions, since the compounds that confer their sharp taste help to preserve them. All onions should be stored away from potatoes, as they will absorb their moisture and ethylene gas, causing them to spoil more readily. The remainder of cut onions should be wrapped tightly in plastic or in a sealed container and should be used within a day or two.
Red onions are wonderful for fresh uses and for grilling. White onions are used in most Mexican dishes. When you sauté white onions they turn golden and have a sweet flavor. Avoid buying onions which have sprouted.
Green Onions – Look for bunches with crisp green tops. These are regular onions that are harvested very young.
When purchasing scallions, look for those that have green, fresh-looking tops that appear crisp, yet tender. The base should be whitish in color for two or three inches. Avoid those that have wilted or yellowed tops. Scallions should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for about one week.
IDEA – Combine chopped onions, tomatoes, avocado and jalapeno for an all-in-one guacamole salsa dip.
IDEA – To perk up plain rice, sprinkle some green onions, also known as scallions, and sesame seeds on top.
IDEA – Enjoy a classic Italian salad-sliced onions, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese drizzled with olive oil.
Look for fresh and crisp bright green leaves. If your parsley wilts, trim off the ends of the stems and place them in cold water. Avoid any bunches that are discolored or yellowing.
Fresh parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
TIP – Fresh parsley should be washed right before using since it is highly fragile. The best way to clean it is just like you would spinach. Place it in a bowl of cold water and swish it around with your hands.
TIP – If you have excess flat leaf parsley, you can easily dry it by laying it out in a single layer on a clean kitchen cloth. Once dried, it should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place.
TIP – Curly leaf parsley is best preserved by freezing, as opposed to drying. Although it will retain most of its flavor, it has a tendency to lose its crispness, so it is best used in recipes without first thawing.
TIP – Since it has a stronger flavor than the curly variety, Italian flat leaf parsley holds up better to cooking and therefore is usually the type preferred for hot dishes. Flat leaf parsley has a stronger flavor than the curly variety. It should be added towards the end of the cooking process so that it can best retain its taste, color and nutritional value.
IDEA – Add parsley to pesto sauce to add more texture to its green color.
IDEA – Combine chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest, and use it as a rub for chicken, lamb and beef.
When purchasing garden peas, look for ones whose pods are firm, velvety and smooth. Their color should be a medium green. Those whose green color is especially light or dark, or those that are yellow, whitish or are speckled with gray, should be avoided.
Unlike the rounded pods of garden peas, the pods of snow peas are flat. You should be able to see the shape of the peas through the pod. Choose smaller ones as they tend to be sweeter.
Unwashed, unshelled peas stored in the refrigerator in a bag or unsealed container will keep for several days. Before you remove the peas from the pod, rinse them briefly under running water. To easily shell them, snap off the top and bottom of the pod and then gently pull off the “thread” that lines the seam of most peapods.
IDEA – Mix green peas with chicken, diced onions and almonds to make a chicken salad.
Peppers should be firm and have a deep color, green, yellow or red. They should also be slightly heavy. Avoid peppers that appear flabby. Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for up to one week. Before coring and/or cutting the pepper, wash it under running water. If the pepper has been waxed, you should also scrub it well.
IDEA – Add finely chopped bell peppers to tuna or chicken salad.
IDEA – Bell peppers are one of the best vegetables to serve in a crudités platter (vegetables and dip) since not only do they add a brilliant splash of color, but their texture is also the perfect crunchy complement for dips.
TIP – Use a paring knife to cut around the stem and remove it. Peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes. To easily chop, dice or cut the peppers into strips, first cut the pepper in half lengthwise, clean out the core and seeds, and then, after placing the skin side down on the cutting surface, cut into the desired size and shape. Peppers can also be cut horizontally into rings.
Look for potatoes that are firm and have no green on them. The green produces a bitter flavor. Potatoes can be used for all types of recipes. “New potatoes” are not fully mature. They are best used for boiling or creaming. “General purpose potatoes” are best for boiling and frying. There are also special potatoes grown for baking., for example, Russet Burbank.
TIP – Potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, as their starch content will turn to sugar giving them an undesirable taste. In addition, do not store potatoes near onions, as the gases that they each emit will cause the degradation of one another. Wherever you store them, they should be kept in a burlap or paper bag. Mature potatoes stored properly can keep up to two months.
TIP – Potatoes should be cleaned and cut right before cooking in order to avoid the discoloration that occurs with exposure to air. If you cannot cook them immediately after cutting, place them in a bowl of cold water to which you have added a little bit of lemon juice.
IDEA – Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes and olive oil together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste.
IDEA – Salad Nicoise – cooked new potatoes with chunks of tuna fish and steamed green beans dressed lightly with oil and vinegar.
IDEA – Toss steamed, diced potato with olive oil and fresh herbs of your choice.
Look for medium size radishes (3/4 to 1 inch in diameter). They should be plump, round and firm. Radishes are either red or white. Avoid large radishes: they usually have a pithy center.
Look for fresh, firm rhubarb stems with a bright, glossy appearance. Stems should have a large amount of pink or red color, although many good-quality stems will be predominantly light green. Be sure that the stem is tender and not fibrous.
Choose spinach that has deep green leaves and stems with no signs of yellowing. The leaves should look fresh and tender, and not be wilted or bruised. Store fresh spinach loosely packed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep fresh for about five days. Do not wash it before storing as the moisture will cause it to spoil.
IDEA – Add layers of steamed spinach to your next lasagna recipe.
IDEA – Toss steamed spinach with pressed garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese.
IDEA – Pine nuts are a great addition to cooked spinach.
IDEA – Spinach makes great salads.
Summer – When purchasing summer squash, look for ones that are heavy for their size and have shiny, unblemished rinds. Summer squash is very fragile and should be handled with care as small punctures will lead to decay. It should be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about seven days.
IDEA – Add zucchini or other summer squash to your favorite muffin or bread recipe; decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe by about one-third to compensate for the moisture present in the squash.
Winter – Winter squash is easily prone to decay, so it is important to carefully inspect it before purchase. Choose ones that are firm, heavy for their size and have dull, not glossy, rinds. Winter squash has a much longer storage life than summer squash. Depending upon the variety, it can be kept for between one week to six months.
Sweet Potatoes and Yam
Look for firm smooth sweet potatoes with uniformly colored skins. Yams are moist, sweet and have orange-colored flesh. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are dry and have pale-colored flesh. Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place, where they will keep fresh for up to ten days. They should be stored loose and not kept in a plastic bag. Keep them away from exposure to sunlight.
The tomatoes with the best taste come from locally grown farms. They ripen completely before they are picked. Most tomatoes that you find in the grocery are picked when they start to turn pink. If your tomatoes need to ripen more, place them in a warn place out of direct sunlight. Do not put your tomatoes in the refrigerator unless they are fully ripe.