Sick of throwing out fruits and veggies gone bad? Here’s how to make produce last longer
We start out with good intentions, filling our veggie bins with spinach and celery, carrots and grapes.
But by the end of the week, our lettuce is wilting, our carrots bend like Gumby and our potatoes are starting to sprout.
Darryl Mosher, assistant professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, says many estimates say we toss 30 percent of our food in the trash. And a good deal of that is produce—which isn’t cheap.
“Most produce is largely water, so unless it has a thick protective skin, it will lose moisture and degrade quickly,” he says. “Think wilted lettuce.”
The best way to ensure your produce is fresh and packed with nutrients is to avoid buying it in bulk over the weekend.
“Chefs buy today what they will use today; sort of the European model where you shop daily and buy the best,” he says.
But realistically, few have the luxury of being able to pop by a store every day. So the first step is to store your produce well.
If you find yourself wondering how to store something, think about where you find it in the grocery store, says Laura Laiben, owner of the Culinary Center of Kansas City.
Onions aren’t refrigerated, nor are tomatoes, bananas or avocados, all produce that prefers cool, but not cold, temperatures.
Laiben says she rarely wastes much produce at home.
“Even the ends of carrots, celery or onion skin goes into a food storage bag and into my freezer,” she says. “I pull them out and use them for stock.”
After straining the stock, the veggies have added nutritional value, and the onion skin a rich color, she adds.
Mosher and Laiben offer a few other tips for storing produce, and using the veggies and fruits that might have seen better days:
- Don’t wash lettuce before you store it. Damp lettuce will not last long.
- If you’ve harvested herbs for the season, they can be chopped and stored in ice cube containers. Freeze the herbs in water and pop a cube into soups, sauces and stews through the season.
- Pulse basil with a bit of oil in a food processor, then put dollops of the mixture on waxed paper on cookie sheets. When frozen, tuck them in food storage bags and you’ll have that fresh basil taste throughout the year.
- Roast peppers before they turn to mush, and put them in oil. They’ll last, refrigerated, for weeks.
- Cut off the bruised parts of fruit and toss them all in a juicer to make healthy drinks.
- If you have produce that has no obvious mold or decay, but it’s not at its peak, consider other uses for it. A limp carrot might work in a mirepoix, Mosher says, but not in a salad or as a side vegetable.
- When in doubt, consider making a soup out of veggies before they go bad.
The following recipe is from The Culinary Institute of America’s The New Book of Soups (2009, Lebhar-Friedman):
Chicken Vegetable Soup Azteca
Makes 8 servings
- 1 chayote squash
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 poblano chile
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced jalapeño
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander (preferably fresh ground)
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
- 1½ quarts chicken broth
- 5 canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1/3 cup small-dice carrot
- ½ cup small-dice celery
- 1 cup small-dice yellow squash
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the chayote with 1 teaspoon of the oil and place on baking sheet. Roast the chayote in the oven until the skin browns lightly and the flesh becomes barely tender, 25 to 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to scrape away the skin. Cut the chayote in half from the top to bottom and use a spoon to scoop out the edible seed, which you can either discard or eat as a snack. Dice the flesh and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, jalapeño pepper, and coriander. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Add the chayote, poblano, broth, tomatoes, onion, carrot, celery, and yellow squash. Bring to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the cilantro and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls.