One of the big keys to avoiding food spoiling is planning. First there’s planning what recipes you’d like to make, and therefore what ingredients you need. There’s also planning for when you arrive home with your groceries, to make sure there’s time to prepare the food. Block out an hour or two on the same day you shop, or the day after, to get organized in your kitchen at home. For example, you could do a lot of vegetable prep and cooking to then use in recipes throughout the week.
Of course there are times when we get carried away by the beauty of the fresh produce while shopping, or by the excitement of seeing a new ingredient, and end up with more than we might actually need. Here are some tips on how to handle those ingredients you need to find good uses for quickly.
Leafy Greens and Lettuce: For storage, make sure they are as dry as possible before you put them in your fridge. If you do end up with some greens that have wilted, try soaking them in a bowl of cold water to refresh them. A tip is to deal with greens as soon as you get them home. Then you’ll be more likely to use them, as they’ll be ready when you need them. Discard the tough stems and chop the leaves into pieces. Rinse well, and cook immediately, or dry thoroughly and store in the fridge. Stir prepped greens into soups and stir-fries, or add to a casserole or baked pasta.
Herbs: Make sure they are as dry as possible before storing. If you have herbs that are on their last legs, make a seasonal pesto and use on bruschetta, for sandwich spreads, in soups, or in vegetable gratins.
Apples, Pears, and Quince: Turn them into a sauce or purée. Stir into oatmeal or use in baked goods, or serve alongside roast meats.
Winter Squash and Sweet Potatoes: These tend to keep well. If you do have some you need to use, simply roast until very tender and then mash. Stir into oatmeal, baked goods, pasta dishes and sauces, or smoothies. Or, make a dip such as butternut or sweet potato hummus.
Mushrooms: These can spoil fast if not handled properly. It’s best to keep them in your crisper in a paper bag — this will protect them from airflow which can dry them out and the paper bag will prevent condensation moisture from forming on the mushroom’s surface. Like with berries, excessive moisture will cause mushrooms to spoil quicker. If you have mushrooms that need to be used, roast or sauté them. Then you’ll have cooked mushrooms ready to add to a frittata, quiche or sandwich; toss into a pasta dish; fold into a risotto; or combine with whole grains, fresh herbs, and other vegetables for a hearty dish.
Berries: Berry quality can be inconsistent in the winter and it’s best to get them out of the clamshell they came in as soon as you get them home — mainly to make sure they are not packed to tightly, but also to remove any bruised, leaky berries that could damage others. Moisture will also speed decay so you should always wait on washing them until you are just about to serve.
Bread: Sometimes it can be tricky to use a whole loaf before it goes stale. Don’t let good bread go to waste! Make croutons or breadcrumbs. Or, make toast the base of a few meals — top with scrambled or poached eggs, or dollop with ricotta and pile arugula on top, or spread with mustard and layer ham and Gruyère on top, then broil. Or, make a bread-based sauce such as a Romesco.
Looking for other ways to use up vegetables that may be a little past their prime? Think flexible and versatile dishes like frittatas, soups, and dips. Fold roasted vegetables into a frittata. Simmer chopped vegetables in a soup. Make your own dips and spreads by blending roasted vegetables with cooked beans. Try these recipes next time.
- Kate Rowe, culinary content editor for Whole Foods Market