Affordable Organics?

Learning to Double Your Vegetable Dollars Is the Secret

“I’d like to buy organic vegetables, but they’re so expensive.”  Ever catch yourself dreaming of more affordable organics?  Try this on for size:   What if, every time you purchased an organic vegetable, you actually got not just one but two or three vegetables?  No doubt that would make the  economic equation a lot more attractive.

Red Wagon Beets, Golden and Red

Red Wagon Beets, Golden and Red  (Picture Courtesy of Red Wagon)

Here’s how to make that his kind of magic happen:  Waste Not.  For example, in last week’s Farmers’ Market Excursion class, we made beet relish, using a gorgeous bunch of organic red and golden beets from Red Wagon Farm.  The bunch cost $4.00, but

  • we made enough relish for two meals,
  • the next day, the beet greens were the centerpiece for another meal, and
  • the following day the beet stems went into a lentil soup.

In other words, that’s four meals’ worth of vegetables for $4.00, or $1.00 per meal for amazingly delicious, don’t-harm-the-environment, don’t-harm-me, super-nutritious vegetables.

Beets with luch, full beet greens

People in my classes always exclaim, “You really don’t waste anything!” In our food culture which routinely wastes tons and tons of food, I guess my actions do seem odd: Retrieving kale stems when class members mistake them for compost, saving the ends of grated ginger root for tea, stuffing onion ends and skins into a bag to make my own (very cheap) broths. But maybe it’s time for the new, less-wasteful food culture that Every Day Good Eating is bringing about.  (Picture Courtesy of Red Wagon)

Bear in mind, too, that this was no ordinary bunch of limp beets with scraggly tops.  They were firm and dense, the tops lush and huge and the stems plentiful.  Every part of the beet was rich with flavor–leaving the taste buds completely satisfied and providing plenty of vegetable nutrition.  Could anyone really argue that  $1.00 per meal is “too expensive” for this caliber of vegetable?

“You get what you pay for” is a universal law.  Pay little and you get little.  Happily, it works the other way, too, however.  Pay a fair price and you get a fair–often more than fair–product.

Now that you know the magic that makes organic affordable, begin learning how to use all parts of a vegetable.  Join us for our last class on beet relish at Isabelle Farm on Thursday, July 26.  Then check out the next blog for a quick way to use beet greens.  For the stems, just saute and toss them into your favorite lentil soup (which could be a canned variety, too.)

Recipe: Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin

Discover the Savory Side of Rhubarb

Rhubarb Gratin Picture

Accustomed to seeing rhubarb in fruit desserts, it may come as a surprise to learn that it is actually a vegetable.  This is good news, however, as it presents a whole raft of additional uses for this exotically red food that is so abundant in spring when the foodscape is dominated by simple leafy greens.  In this dish, for instance, rhubarb is lightly sauteed with breadcrumbs and a bit of agave nectar to make a crunchy, tart-sweet topping for tender beef and onions.

In spring, it’s always handy to have a stash of “betwixt and between” dishes for spring days that bounce between warm and cool.  This dish fills that bill, with the warmth and heartiness of a cool-weather stew combined with the  vibrant flavors of fresh herbs and lime, topped off with the unmistakably spring flavor of tart rhubarb.

In a further nod to seasonality, note that rhubarb, parsley and mint are all in their prime in the spring garden, as mentioned in the previous post on the joys of seasonal eating.

Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin

Step 1  Make Mushroom Broth (in the Morning)

  • 1/3 cup dried shitake mushrooms (or a combination of shitake and other wild mushrooms)
  • 2 cups water

Combine mushrooms and water in a small saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, while browning beef.  Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon (keep for another use), then use broth as directed below.

Step 2  Brown Beef and Slow Cook (in the Morning)

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. high quality, lean stew meat cut into small, 1” square cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed saute pan until hot but not smoking.  While oil heats, gently squeeze blood from beef cubes, if any, then spread cubes across a plate, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot, carefully lay beef cubes across pan in a single layer.  With heat on medium high, brown sides of cubes quickly, turning with a fork to brown two or three sides of each.  As soon as a cube is browned, drop into slow cooker, before it has a chance to cook much further than the surface level.
Use 1 ½ cups of mushroom broth to deglaze browning pan, then pour into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low 7 to 9 hours, until tender.

Step 3  Saute Onions (at Dinnertime) 

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 med.  or 2 lrg. yellow onions, diced into large pieces, about 1” square
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

In a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add onions and saute about 10-15 minutes until browned and sweet tasting.   Add turmeric and saute another 2 minutes, stirring a couple times.  Add tomato paste and stewed meat from slow cooker, stirring until everything is well-combined.  Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing the rest of dish, stirring occasionally and allowing most of liquid to evaporate.

Step 4  Make Fresh Herb Sauce

  • 4 cups loosely packed fresh parsley
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Place parsley and mint in food processor, removing any very large stems.  Add lime and remaining ½ cup mushroom broth and process until fairly smooth but with some texture remaining.  Stir into onion-meat mixture, then cover pan and remove from heat.

Step 5  Make Rhubarb Gratin 

  • 2 cups rhubarb, cut in ¼ to ½” dice (about ½ to ¾ lb. stems)
  • ½ Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ cup whole grain (not plain white) breadcrumbs, preferably made from a crusty bread
  • 1 Tbsp. agave nectar (or 2 tsp. sugar)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 (F).  In a second, large, heavy-bottomed saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until quite warm.  Add rhubarb and saute just 2 to 4 minutes, until it softens slightly.  Stir in nutmeg, then breadcrumbs and saute another 1-2 minutes.  Stir in agave nectar, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over onion-beef mixture, then place in oven and bake about 10 minutes, until gratin begins to brown slightly.  Remove and allow to sit for 5 or 10 minutes, if possible, before serving.

Accompaniments:  For a light dinner, serve with just a simple salad of spring greens and carrots.  For a heartier meal, serve with brown rice –or buckwheat for something even more adventurous.

Time Saver:  Substitute ready made mushroom or beef broth for the homemade mushroom broth

No Ovenproof Saute Pan?  Pour the beef saute into an oiled casserole dish just before topping with gratin.

Why We Love Seasonal Eating

Mealtimes that are easier tastier and more fun

Rhubarb in the Early Summer Garden #1

Rhubarb is a lush addition to the Early Summer Garden . . .

Seasonal eating gets a lot of press these days.  Usually it’s in the context of eating locally, since the two go hand in hand.  Sometimes it’s in the context of saving money, since seasonal produce is  less expensive than produce grown in greenhouses or shipped from different climates.  Rarely is there mention of the best reasons to eat seasonally:  because it makes mealtimes easier and tastier as well as more interesting and fun.

This month’s Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin is a good case in point.   It is based on a recipe for Rhubarb Khoresh that I clipped from the newspaper years ago–long before seasonal eating became a common kitchen term.  Nevertheless, the recipe writer knew her seasons.  This became clear when I struck out into the rain last week to harvest the rhubarb from my garden, then the parsley, and then the mint called for by the recipe.  So there were the three main ingredients, all in their prime, in the garden, at the same time.  That’s seasonal sensibility.

More Rhubarb

. . . so gorgeous

The resulting dish was obviously local and economical, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover, once again, how well the season’s flavors melded together.   That’s where the easy and tasty part comes in.  It may seem splendid to have practically unlimited options in terms of grocery store produce and recipes; little do we realize how burdensome is the flip side of unlimited choice.  Somebody has to sift and think through hundreds of options to find just one thing for dinner!

With seasonal eating, however, only a dozen or so items are in their prime each month, which automatically narrows the options to a manageable range.  Better yet, what’s in season almost always tastes great with whatever else in in season, even with a pairing as odd as rhubarb, parsley and mint.  So it’s easy to come up with tasty meals.

More Rhubarb in the Early Summer Garden

. . . I had to include a couple more shots

Now for the fun and interesting part.  In late spring to early summer, rhubarb is everywhere.  That may seem like a sure recipe for boredom.  After all, what else is rhubarb good for besides strawberry rhubarb pie?  Just as necessity is the mother of invention, however, a commitment to seasonal eating is the mother of culinary innovation.  Who would have known rhubarb has a savory side?  Who would have used it to brighten up a beef and onion saute with springy, tangy sweetness after all the long months of winter?  Only someone dedicated to maximizing the bounty of the season, rather than being lured by the siren song of grocery store tomatoes, eggplant and peppers shipped in from warmer climates.  Their time will come in Colorado, and they’ll be filled with juicy goodness, but not now.  Now is the time for rhubarb’s springtime punch.  So be sure to try the stew right away, while there are still a few coolish days when a warming beef dish has appeal.

Looking for a Quick Lunch?

Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing

Think you can’t cook?  This recipe’s great flavor comes not from fancy cooking skills but simply from good ingredients.  Stellar ingredients make a cook’s life easy!  So be sure to read the Buying Notes for each ingredient to help you get the best.

Making the Strawberry Apricot Dressing

The combination of apricots and basil is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.

Step 1  Make the Dressing

If you can dump things into a blender and push a button, you can make this dressing:

  • 3/4 cup fresh apricot-strawberry puree (from about 3 apricots and 6-8 small strawberries)
  • 2 Tbsp. walnut oil (or high quality olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar (if you don’t have some, it’s worth stocking)
  • Double handful of fresh basil leaves (see picture)
  • Single handful of fresh parsley (see picture)
  • Just a small spoonful of fresh tarragon leaves (they are a lot stronger than basil and parsley)
  • Sea salt (start with 1/4 tsp.)
  • Freshly ground pepper (start with 1/8 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

Directions Combine everything in the cup of an

A double handful of basil

immersion blender (or food processor or blender) and process for just 20-30 seconds to combine.  Now comes the most critical step:  TASTE.  For ANY recipe, there is a 90% chance that the flavors need to be adjusted to suit your taste buds.  So pour the dressing into a small bowl, dip a piece of lettuce into it and taste.  Stir in more salt and pepper first, then more chopped basil, parsley or vinegar to find a taste that is good to you.  Always go slowly and taste after each addition.

Serve dressing at room temperature.  To my taste buds, fruits taste better when they aren’t chilled.

Buying Notes Flavor-less fruit = flavor-less dressing.  For fruit that taste like fruit not

A single handful of parsley

cardboard, head straight to the source:  the grower, usually an organic one.  Next, taste before buying very much.  If the grower doesn’t offer samples, buy just one piece and taste.  Once home, let stone fruits like apricots and peaches ripen.  Doing so in paper bags is often recommended.  Let the fruit get pretty soft, since that point, just before it goes overboard, yields flavor most reminiscent of heaven.  Keep a close eye on the fruit (especially if it’s hidden in paper bags!) and keep tasting each day, watching for optimal flavor.

Variations Could be equally good with whatever fruit is in season: sweet cherries and apricots, peaches and raspberries, or pears and raspberries.

A Double Handful of Basil

A small spoonful of tarragon leaves

Step 2   Make the Green Salad

  • 4-6 cups very fresh lettuce, washed and torn (or cut with a serrated knife if you’re in a hurry)
  • 1-2 med. carrots, grated finely

Directions Nothing too complicated about this step, although it does help to wash the lettuce in a good salad spinner, so you end up with crispy, not soggy lettuce.  Another trick:  Wash the lettuce the night before.  Place in salad storer, cover with a clean, folded tea towel, then seal and refrigerate until the next day.  The tea towel extracts excess water, leaving the lettuce crispy and light.

For the carrots, grate using the fine hole on your box grater for something different.

Buying Notes A salad is only as good as its greens.  They need to taste fairly good on their own, so the dressing is just enhancing flavor, not making up for an absence thereof.   Good lettuce is where local farmer’s markets shine, since lettuce is a crop that really tastes best when fresh picked–so good you barely even need dressing, if you can believe it.

In mid-summer, finding good lettuce can be tricky, since it’s is a cool weather crop.  I always taste a bit before investing in a bag to make sure it’s not bitter.  Also look for farmers who have taken steps to work around the heat issue, like Oxford Gardens at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, where owner Peter Volz sells a heat-tolerant variety that is quite good.  Abbondanza, also at the Boulder Market, seems to have perfected a technique for hot-weather lettuce growing as I’ve gotten great lettuce there even in July and August.

Step 3  Add Chicken to the Salad

  • 1-2 cups chicken, shredded or cut into small pieces

Buying Notes Again, this is another simple step with finding good chicken being the only tricky part , since not all store chickens are not created equally.  Again, it is usually local and/or organic birds that have more flavor.  This salad is a great way to use of leftover bits and pieces.  If you don’t have any however, then try canned chicken for a highly convenient option.  Before you blanch at the thought of canned bird, read the next blog entry on two, surprisingly taste brands I’ve recently discovered.

Want to learn more about the little tricks and tips that make everyday good meal making natural, stress-free and even a little creative?  Join Mary Collette in one of her Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making classes.

Frozen Veggies Can Be As (or More) Nutritious Than Fresh

Fresh Broccoli vs. Frozen

Think of frozen veggies as a convenient alternative to, not a straight substitute for fresh vegetables.

After one of my Easy Everyday Cooking Classes, one participant wrote an alarmed message on her evaluation form:  “Why did you use frozen vegetables for the Cauliflower Tomato Curry?  I never eat anything but fresh!”

My bad.  Not for using frozen veggies, but for failing to clarify the reasoning.  While the word is getting out about frozen vegetables, let me repeat the key points in case you’ve missed anything:

1.  Fresh vegetables are better, if they’re really fresh, When nutrition experts rhapsodize over fresh vegetables, the vegetables they have in mind are those picked that morning then stored properly until dinner time.   Sadly, however, the “fresh” vegetables in your grocery store aren’t generally far from this kind of fresh.  Even though they look fresh, they may well be two, three or four days old, depending upon how long it took to transport them from the field (often in a distant part of the country), through warehouses and distribution points and onto your store’s shelves, where they may sit for another day or two before being purchased.  Then they may sit another day (or week) in your frig before making it onto the dinner plate.

2.   Vegetables begin the slow slide into compost the minute they are picked. And they begin to deteriorate nutritionally as well as physically.  While proper storage can minimize nutrient loss, consumers are often lax in this regard.  Produce isn’t bagged properly, it sits in hot cars too long, is forgotten about on counters and is denied the optimal humidity in the frig.

3.  Meanwhile, produce destined for the freezer case is flash frozen shortly after picking, at its nutritional peak. That nutritional high point can then be maintained for six months at least.

4.  So while the translation from fresh to frozen undoubtedly results in nutrient loss, it’s surely no worse than that suffered by “fresh” produce that has survived three (or maybe 13) days in trucks, warehouses, grocery shelf bins and crisper drawers.  And nutritional studies have confirmed this fact.

Despite the evidence, it not uncommon to still feel uneasy about using frozen vegetables.  For so long, the “eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables” prescription has been drilled into us to the point where, at a visceral level, it just feels wrong to eat frozen veggies.  And let’s not forget about taste.  Without a doubt, fresh vegetables (even if a few days old), generally taste a whole lot better than frozen.

On the other hand, frozen veggies have a lot to offer over fresh:

  • They won’t rot in the crisper if you forget them for a week, buy too many veggies or experience schedule changes that make mincemeat of your dinner plans.
  • They are enormously convenient:  No peeling, paring, dicing or slicing.  Just cut open the bag and dump into a pan.
  • They are reasonably priced, especially considering that there is not wastage.
  • While their taste is not as good as fresh, the last few years have seen a huge improvement in the quality of frozen vegetables.

My bottom line:  I view frozen veggies not as a straight substitution for fresh veggies, but as a convenient alternative.  In other words, where taste is critical, I stick with fresh (and strive my best to use really fresh vegetables.)  However, where convenience and speed are the more critical drivers, I have no problem drawing on my freezer pantry for veggies.   As an example, I don’t microwave frozen broccoli for a free-standing vegetable to serve alongside chicken parmesan.  But in my quest to get more vegetables into my life, I don’t hesitate to add frozen broccoli into a scramble so I can enjoy a vegetable-rich  breakfast in a hurry.

I also don’t hesitate to use frozen veggies when suffering from a case of “vegetable exhaustion,” as advised in yesterday’s post.  Today’s recipe for Creamy Ginger Peas and White Fish is a perfect example of using frozen to give myself a rest in the kitchen while still enjoying a vegetable-rich meal.  See the next post with “5 Quick Vegetable Boosts with Frozen Veggies,” and “10 Top Frozen Vegetables to Stock in Your Freezer Pantry.”

Using Frozen Veggies: Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish

Yesterday’s post offered advice for dealing with “vegetable exhaustion:”  Take a break every now and then by using frozen vegetables, which require little to no prep time.  Here’s a great, “take-a-break” one dish meal, made easy with not only frozen peas, but also a convenient frozen fish fillet.

Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish

  • 2 10-oz. pkgs. Columbia River Organic Peas and Pearl Onions

Place peas in medium-sized saute pan with a lid.  Turn heat to medium, cover and cook about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peas and onions are thoroughly cooked and moisture has evaporated.

  • 2 Tbsp. freshly sqeezed lime juice, divided
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 6-oz. frozen Mahi Mahi filet, thawed and cut into roughly ¾” cubes

While peas cook, combine half of lime juice and all of soy sauce in a soup bowl.  Gently squeeze fish cubes to eliminate excess moisture, then place in lime juice mixture and toss to coat.  Reserve.

  • 2 tsp. canola oil
  • 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4  to 1/3 cup coconut milk, to taste

Once peas are done, reduce heat to medium low and push to sides of pan.  Into center of pan, pour oil and allow to warm for 10-15 seconds.  Stir ginger into oil and cook about 30-45 seconds.  Dump reserved fish over ginger and spread into a single layer.  Cook a minute or two to lightly brown one side, then pour in broth and coconut milk.  DEGLAZE pan, then reduce heat to low, cover and allow fish to cook another minute or two, stirring a couple times, just until fish is cooked through.  Avoid overcooking fish.  Immediately remove pan from heat.

  • 1-2 tsp. fish sauce, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked Forbidden Rice, brown basmati or other whole grain brown rice or quinoa.

Sprinkle with fish sauce and remaining lime juice, to taste, then serve stew nestled into a bed of rice that has been warmed in microwave.

Notes and Options

Snap or Snow Pea Option: Try substituting fresh snap or snow peas for the frozen peas, when in season.  Slice them about ¾ to 1” thick and SIMMER-STEAM in about ½ cup broth, just until crisp-tender and still bright green.

Fish Options: Cod, snapper and talapia make good substitutes if Mahi Mahi is not available.

Brands: Columbia River peas are called for because they are so sweet and flavorful.  Another brand can be substituted, however.

Vegetable Exhaustion? Take a Break with Frozen or Pre-Cut Veggies

With Summer’s Harvest at Its Peak, Odd but Good Advice

Even the best among us need a break sometimes.

Allison, for instance, has enthusiastically embraced a diet focused on all the best foods:  lively vegetables and fruits, wholesome whole grains, lean proteins, healthful fats and satisfying beans and nuts.  In fact, she’s journeyed long enough that root beer, her former nemesis, is no longer even a credible temptation.  In other words, her taste buds have been transformed into allies, exactly as described in an earlier post.

Sounds picture perfect–except for one thing:  vegetable exhaustion.  At our last Whole Kitchen class, she confessed that she’d hit a vegetable chopping wall the night before.

I knew exactly what she meant!  About every 10th day I hit the same wall.  The lesson I’ve

Frozen Onions

Frozen vegetables, like these chopped onions, lighten the load on nights when you're facing vegetable exhaustion.

learned?  Don’t beat yourself up just because you occasionally want a healthful meal with minimal effort.  Give yourself a break instead, with frozen vegetables from your freezer pantry or with pre-cut veggies from a salad bar.

Don’t worry that utilizing a few healthful modern conveniences will lure you onto the slippery slope back down to a fast food diet.   Quite the opposite is true.  Refreshed after a break, you’ll be anxious to once again create colorful, flavor-full, meals with fresh vegetables–which is an especially good thing right now, at the peak of the summer harvest.  Don’t let vegetable exhaustion keep you from the season’s gorgeous produce any longer than need be.

Need a good, take-a-break recipe?  Check out the next post for “Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish,” an easy but tasty meal-in-one dish.

Also see this post on dealing with Vegetable Exhaustion.

Nurture Your Vegetables . . . So They Can Nurture You

Yesterday’s post reviewed the basics of vegetable storage.  Make sense of those rules by understanding how vegetables continue breathing, even after they’re cut or plucked from the earth.

We hear a lot about how vegetables nurture us.  But did you know that it works the other way, too?  Nurture vegetables and they can do a better job of nurturing and nourishing us.

Baby Spinach from Farmers Market

Baby Spinach from Farmers Market Don't let it from cannibalize itself!

This discovery came while researching how to store spinach.  It seemed like a pretty cut and dried topic until I ran across this statement, buried in some technical research document:  “Despite having been detached from the plant, fruits and vegetables remain as living organs after harvest.”

That statement took a minute to wrap my head around.  Subconsciously I’d always lumped vegetables with all the other inanimate objects in my shopping cart.  Being severed from the ground seemed like pretty good evidence that they were dead.  What’s more, in any megamarket vegetables are lined up for sale under bright fluorescent lights right alongside aisles of kid toys, lawn chairs, socks and razors.  So who would think of produce being in a class of its own, one of living organisms as opposed to inanimate objects?

Seeing vegetables in the light of the living put a whole new spin on the topic of storage.  All of a sudden, it didn’t seem quite right to just throw them in my shopping basket and then throw them in the frig at home.  My veggies deserve more.

So back to my technical article I went.  “Like all living tissues,” it continued, “harvested produce continues to respire throughout its postharvest life.”  So quite unlike all the other packaged, bottled and canned food in my shopping basket, the fresh vegetables are still breathing.

In the simplest of terms, vegetable breathing is a process where “oxygen is consumed and water, carbon dioxide, and energy are released.”  The point of this process is to break down carbohydrates into “their constituent parts to produce energy to run cellular processes.”

Here’s the kicker, though:  When we’re talking about harvested produce, the carbohydrates being broken down to run a plant’s cellular processes are its own carbohydrates! You could say that a harvested vegetable is essentially cannibalizing itself in a valiant attempt to remain as alive as it can be.   Hour by hour, day by day, with each breath, “compounds that affect plant flavor, sweetness, weight, turgor (water content), and nutritional value are lost.”

What does all this mean for ordinary vegetable shoppers? It means that to reap the amazing flavor and essential nutrients that vegetables offer, we must handle them as depleting assets.  In other words, our job as vegetable purchasers is one of emergency triage:  What can we do to staunch the flood of flavor, sweetness, water content and nutrients streaming from our carefully selected produce?

Buying at Farmers Markets is a good first step.  It automatically puts you ahead in the depleting assets game, since produce is generally harvested either the night before or morning of the market.  (Many thanks to the farmers who are up picking at 4:00 a.m. to get us the freshest produce possible.)  This means you have at least a two to three day flavor advantage over produce picked a thousand miles away, shipped to a warehouse, delivered to the grocery store, then displayed for a while in the produce aisle.

This kind of flavor and nutrition advantage is not something you want to squander:

  1. Get your produce home as quickly as possible (skip the temptation to run errands on the way home, especially as the weather turns hot.)
  2. On hot days, bring a cooler and icepack so your veggies can ride home in air conditioned comfort.  If you forget, buy something frozen (e.g., meat)  to pack with your most delicate greens and keep them in the shadiest part of the car.  Scrounge up a cardboard box and you’ll even get a little insulative benefit.
  3. Finally, once home,  get your veggies into plastic bags, close loosely and pop into the frig immediately.

How can such simple steps be so important?  Each helps slow the respiration process, either by chilling or limiting exposure to air, so your veggies don’t expire any more of their flavor and nutrition than they have to.  It’s easy to take our incredible produce for granted, but it deserves better!

Find out more about how to reap delicious delight from vegetables with Vegetable a Month online magazine.

Don’t Blame the Vegetables!

They’re Not at Fault for Rotting in the Frig

‘Tis the season of vegetable abundance, and with it comes worry about refrigerator rot as we begin loading up  (and over-loading ) on the fabulous produce coming to market.  As some people joke, don’t let your produce become expensive compost.

Anytime I talk about buying and eating more vegetables, the subject of refrigerator rot surfaces.  Seems there are a lot of dollars going down the garbage disposal, right along with the vegetables they bought.

While people always ask for tips on how to prevent this, one participant at a recent Whole Kitchen class worded the question in a way that got me stirred up.  “How do I keep vegetables from going bad in my frig?” she asked.

Do your vegetables end up as expensive compost?

The good side of me acknowledged this as a completely reasonable question and gave a considered response about the fundamentals of vegetable storage.  Meanwhile,  however, my devilish side was jockeying for a chance to mouth off:  “What?  Are vegetables supposed to last forever?” it fumed.  ” They’re called ‘fresh’ for a reason!  Maybe the problem isn’t that vegetables don’t last long enough.  Maybe the problem is that people don’t eat them up fast enough!”

While I kept that inconsiderate imp in check at the time, I had to admit there was something to its rants.  People faced with a case of vegetable rot are often taken aback.  In a world where most foods have shelf lives measured in half-lives, it can seem surprising if not rude that vegetables would go bad on us.   Surely there must be something wrong with the vegetables or the way they are packaged, right?

No, there is nothing wrong with the vegetables.  They are living, breathing life forms, not processed and packaged products from factories.  As life forms, they experience both a beginning and an end of life, and on the way to the end, they undergo a transformation from vibrant to rotted, just like all living things, including those on the top of the food chain.  (More on this in tomorrow’s post.)

Which brings me back to the snippy conclusion reached by my devilish side :  What if the problem isn’t with vegetables, but with vegetable buyers who neglect their veggies?”

Statistically, only one in ten of us come close to achieving the daily produce recommendations, and that’s only because potatoes are counted as a vegetable!  So it’s not hard to imagine vegetables rotting in vegetable drawers due to simple neglect.  That’s why my vegetable rot prevention advice begins here:  Plan ahead.

  1. Plan Grab a piece of paper, sketch a rough weekly plan and then plop one (or two or three!) vegetables on each day.  At a minimum, simply steam or saute them as side dishes.  For more fun, weave them into pasta dishes, soups, salads or entrees.  Either way, planning makes it 85% more likely that those vegetables will actually make their way out of the frig and onto your plate.
  2. Store Right With that said, we can move on to storage, which is also important.  As a general rule, leave vegetables unwashed, place in loosely closed plastic bags and get them into the frig as soon as possible.  For different vegetables, there are variations on this general rule which can be found in Vegetable a Month online magazine.
  3. Don’t Cave in to Throw Away Mentality After a few days in the frig, you might assume a vegetable is no longer fresh and must be pitched.  Not so fast.  It’s easy to get sucked into our “throw away” mentality, but vegetables last a lot longer than you’d think, especially when purchased very fresh (an automatic advantage of buying local.)  Even though I routinely overbuy vegetables, I rarely pitch anything since they generally last a week to ten days.*  With just a little planning, that’s plenty of time to use them all up.
  4. Stage Usage from Less to More Sturdy Improve your chances of success even more by planning to use the less sturdy  vegetables in your crisper drawers (e.g., spinach, lettuce, zucchini, green beans and eggplant) before the sturdier ones (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers.)
  5. Dig Deep for Vegetable Beauty Finally, even if a vegetable escapes notice until past its prime, no need to pitch it.  Simply cut off any bad spots or pull away any wilted leaves and wash well.  Taste to make sure the vegetable hasn’t gone bitter before adding to a dish.  Cooking thoroughly can generally eliminate any possible contamination, but if you have any concern, go ahead and pitch a vegetable.  Health and safety  always trump vegetable conservation.

But what do I make with all those vegetables? Lack of vegetable comfort may be the real culprit to blame for refrigerator rot.  We tend to lack the basic vegetable knowledge that will have us reaching into the vegetable drawer each day with confidence.  That’s where Vegetable A Month comes in.  Each month, learn about a different, seasonal vegetable so you can weave it seamlessly into your everyday life–with all the good energy and wellness that comes with a vegetable rich diet.

Tomorrow:  More on vegetable storage. . .

Pity Poor Pea Soup

Is it time to grow up?  Poor pea soup keeps getting ignored just because its color has squeamish connotations that date back to childhood.  How I got the courage to dive in and discover a dish that’s really quite delicious.

Some foods have a hard lot in life.  Pea soup is one of them.

It’s sad, because pea soup is just as good as any other of the creamy vegetable soups like corn, broccoli and tomato.  But I doubt there are many among us who are so evolved from our 10-year old roots that we can ignore the resemblance between pea soup and you-know-what.

I was surprised at the effort it took just to buy box of pea soup.  A bright red flag on Imagine’s Creamy Pea Soup boasted “New Look! Same Great Taste.”  But the box was still a distinctively suspicious green color, and the bowl of soup on the front was still a matching hue of green, a fact that couldn’t be hidden even by the sweet garnishes arranged on top.

Imagine Pea Soup with Roasted Red and Yellow PeppersNevertheless, being an open-minded foodie, I magnanimously set aside my prejudices and bought a box. (Didn’t hurt that it was on sale!)  And just last week I plucked it from cupboard for lunch. (Didn’t hurt that I was starved after a workout and the frig was uncharacteristically void of any leftovers.)  It took conscious effort to quash the giggles and automatic “eeew” response, but once past the first bite, the going got easy, quickly.  The soup was quite tasty.

I found it helped to add roasted yellow and red peppers (frozen from last year’s farmers market), not only for color but also texture.  I imagine that baked and diced potatoes or sweet potatoes, roasted carrots or thin strips of sun-dried tomatoes could be similarly helpful.

So happy pea soup as we head into the season of spring peas!  I might actually try to make a batch now.

P.S.  One more reason to get past your green soup hangups:  one cup of soup contains a whole serving of vegetables.  So the bowl of soup I had for lunch delivered a total of 3 vegetable servings:  2 servings of peas (in 2 cups of soup) + 1 serving of peppers.

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