Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Take Care of Your Vegetables

The selection, preparation, and storage of fresh produce are skills which are challenging for those who have grown up in the age of convenience foods. Before the advent of mass produced, processed foods, most people were dependent on local suppliers of fresh produce or grew their own. Fresh fruits and vegetables were bought or harvested daily, and preserved for later use in the off- season. Before the age of refrigeration, perishable produce was used quickly, and trips to the local market were a part of daily life for most home cooks.

So, how to care for those vegetables languishing in the recesses of your refrigerator? Some leafy greens are more perishable than others. The thinner the leaves, the more quickly they may begin to break down. Fragile leafy greens won't retain their freshness for long. But proper handling and storage will lengthen the shelf life of most produce. Select greens which are very fresh, undamaged and not dripping wet. Many markets spray vegetable displays to keep them looking fresh; wet leaves crammed into a tightly closed plastic bag will rapidly become compost.

To store a head of leafy greens, first remove any damaged leaves. Then wrap a paper towel loosely around the base. Place in a dry plastic bag, and store in the fridge with the bag slightly open. Some greens are sold with rubber bands or paper/wire ties around the base of the stems. Remove these before storing the vegetables; they damage the stems and hasten decomposition. If you buy packages of baby greens like spinach or arugula, remove any damaged leaves. Many markets offer bulk mixed salad greens; buy these only if they look very fresh. Take care not to crush the greens by storing other items on top of them.

Check the vegetable drawer daily and plan meals based on the vegetables which need to be used. Wilted greens are still nutritious and can be used in soups or stir fried. With a bit of practice, managing your fresh produce will require little effort.