Truth? Just because I’m a dietitian, does not mean I enjoy prepping fruits and vegetables when cooking. Believe me, prepping these delicious morsels of nutrition can be my barrier to whipping up creative recipes just like anyone else.
Luckily, there are ways to get the most out of your fruit and vegetable purchases. Help make your produce more inviting to work with and last longer while cutting prep time with these tips!
Culinary Pro Tip #1: Choose Wisely
To ensure your fruits and vegetables last long enough, they need to be in shape from the start when coming home with you. Look for produce without blemishes such as bruises, bug holes, mold and wilting.
Culinary Pro Tip #2: Conscious Crisping
Did you know the little vents you can adjust on your crisper drawers in the refrigerator are for two different kinds of fruits and vegetables? Some produce releases a gas called ethylene (think: ripening items like avocados and pears) that you want to hold in the drawer with a closed vent and other produce items are ethylene-sensitive that keep best with an open vent (think: leafy greens, broccoli, cucumbers, citrus and berries).
Culinary Pro Tip #3: Store Smartly
There is not one single best way to store produce. For example, fresh asparagus is best stored standing up with their ends (after snipped about an inch) soaking in water in a container like a glass food storage jar and their tips covered with a plastic bag. Same goes for fresh herbs.
Wrap leafy greens in a dry paper towel and place in an open plastic bag so they don’t become wet, wilted and turn into mush before you have a chance to eat them all. Have root vegetables like beets? Cut the greens off from the top and store that portion as any other leafy green and the remaining bulbs separate.
Ripening produce, such as avocados, mangos, pears and stone fruit like plums, peaches and nectarines, should stay at room temperature until they’re ready to consume. Extend the shelf-life of ripening produce and store in the crisper drawer with the vent closed once they’re ready to consume from ripening on the counter top.
For unique items like berries and whole melons, the solutions are simple- keep them as is until enjoying. This means berries should be stored unwashed in their original container in the open vent crisper drawer in the refrigerator. Whole melons such as honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon can be stored, uncut, at room temperature or in a cool, dark place (i.e.: watermelon).
Culinary Pro Tip #4: Save Prep Time
If you dread fruit and vegetable preparation for recipes like this girl, then you’ll want to plan accordingly.
- Have celery? Rinse, trim the ends and cut into smaller-sized stalks for munching in hummus and nut butter. Store in a water bath to keep that crunch you’re craving.
- Heads of lettuce and leafy greens can get overlooked when considering the need to be well-rinsed before using to remove any remaining soil from harvest. Rinse leafy greens in 2-3 cold water baths until the water runs clear. Dry leaves in a salad spinner and then store with a dry paper towel in an open plastic bag for easy use in recipes like salads, kale chips, morning eggs and soups.
- Store remaining, unused avocado in the refrigerator still in its peel (if possible) with the seed placed back in the center. Place avocado halves back together and wrap tight in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. If you only have one half left, rub olive oil on the exposed green flesh, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and then foil.
- Herbs will oxidize, or turn brown, quickly after cutting. Save time and chop herbs for the next day with minimal contact to air. My favorite trick is to place herbs in a glass or aluminum ramekin and cover with a damp paper towel pushed all the way down over the herbs so there is no space between the herbs and top of the bowl. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and aluminum foil for extra barriers.
- In lieu of throwing excess fruits and vegetables away, freeze them.
- Vegetables like carrots, green beans and broccoli should be blanched prior to freezing. To blanch, place whole or cut up vegetables in rapidly boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and then quickly bring their temperature down by adding immediately to an ice-water bath. Dry blanched vegetables well before freezing.
- Fruits such as bananas and berries are great to grab and throw into yogurt, smoothies and salad dressings. Berries fare best when rinsed, dried completely and frozen on a cookie sheet before storing in a container. Bananas work best peeled, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper and then aluminum foil for minimizing freezer burn.
Culinary Pro Tip #5: Rinse Safely
When it comes time to be creative in the kitchen with fruits and vegetables, do so safely. Always rinse fresh produce (including herbs!) before prepping. Good ‘ol traditional running water is all you need. Stay clear of using dish detergent and commercial produce washes. Not only could you become sick from lingering detergent, the efficacy of their use remains to be seen.