Buying and Storing Vegetables

Buying vegetables.

Maybe this is a dumb thing to include, since most people who do the cooking in any household will also help with the shopping list. I wanted to include it, though, because before a few years ago it was not something I thought very much about at all. I just bought the 4 or 5 vegetables my family might eat as a side dish and hoped for the best. I did not give a lot of consideration to what was in season or what kinds of vegetables would make a good main dish.  But when thinking beyond just side dishes, it becomes a little more challenging.

  • A simple way to choose vegetables is to think about the ways that they can best be cooked and plan for what fits best into your likes, time and ability.  Vegetables can be roasted, sauteed, stir-fried, steamed, or boiled. Start with the vegetables you and your family like, and build from there. Here are some choices of vegetables that can be made into main dishes based on cooking methods.
    • For roasting, boiling and mashing choose “hard” vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, and winter squash
    • For steaming and sauteing choose “soft” vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, kale and other leafy greens, peppers of all colors (chili too), frozen corn, green beans, tomatoes, peas, edamame.
    • Vegetables that can be added to either of the above are Brussels sprouts, celery, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Do your best to buy produce “in season” like in the old days (not so long ago) when you could only buy asparagus in April and blueberries in July. The prices are lower and the produces is fresher and better tasting.  But also consider the distance the food you purchase has traveled to get to the store. A typical American meal contains ingredients from five foreign countries, and even domestically grown produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before it is sold. There is a tremendous amount of energy expended and pollution generated from transporting, storing and refrigerating this food—that’s especially true for food that is imported by airplane, including perishables such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and asparagus.
  • For out of season fruit or veggies, buy frozen or canned, which are only slightly less nutritious than fresh. In the summer visit your local farmer’s markets or pick your own at local farms.
  • Investigate becoming part of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group where the produce will be in season, often organic and you support local farmers–who are your neighbors. Best of all you will pick up a bag of produce every week that you will need to eat before the next pick up. If you live alone or in a small household, consider going in on a share with friends or family.
  • There are some foods that do not grow in the US such as coffee, tea, bananas, or cocoa beans for chocolate. Be informed about the way some of these foods are grown that foster trafficking, unsafe working conditions, child labor, or other mistreatment. Fair Trade Certified™ products come from cooperatives, independent small farmers, and farm workers in 70 developing countries across Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean. Nearly 12,000 products bearing the black and green Fair Trade Certified label are sourced from these farming communities, and can be found in more than 100,000 retail locations across North America.   

Storing fresh vegetables.

One thing I have always hated is getting a nice bunch of fresh broccoli, not having time to use it for a week or so, and having it turn yellow. Or mushrooms that turn slimy when I waited too long to use them. To avoid that problem  I somehow stumbled on the idea of storing fresh produce in brown paper lunch bags. I think the conditions are drier than storing in plastic bags, but whatever the reason I find I can get several extra days or weeks out of my produce. This is especially true for leafy greens, mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and leafy herbs. I transfer them into bags within a day or so of bringing them home. I reuse the bags repeatedly until they fall apart. 

Consider the freezer, too. If your produce is getting old or you can’t use it all for a while, blanching is an easy way to keep vegetables in a fresh state. This is nice for buying in bulk for summer produce. Berries can be frozen on cookie sheets, then transferred to freezer safe zip lock bags. Peaches, pears and apples can be sliced and frozen on cookie sheets then transferred. For herbs like fresh parsley or basil, I sometimes finely chop them and freeze in an ice cube tray. When frozen, put the blocks into a freezer safe zip lock bag to use later.

I also use my freezer for many pantry items. I don’t know if you have noticed how seeds and nuts can get a rancid or stale taste, but freezing them has completely eliminated that problem. Also, we have had problems with “pantry moths” with flour and grains like rice, bulgur and other items that I would normally store in the pantry. Freezing those items has solved that problem too.

If you have a salad spinner or a strainer that fits into a larger bowl with a lid, it can be used to store fresh lettuce or cut up melon so it does not get waterlogged.

For more storage tips, see this page from Forks Over Knives.



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