PRODUCE

CHOOSING PRODUCE

Pick out the produce yourself, rather than have the vendor chose. Avoid produce that is wrapped in plastic. By fully seeing what you’re buying you’ll bring home less waste & can select the plumpest & freshest.  Some produce stands have a strict “No pick!” policy, enforced by beady-eyed vendors scowling like hovering hornets.  My policy is that I don’t buy fruit or vegetables that aren’t fresh, so I like to pick my own.  By selecting each piece of produce yourself (each cherry and green bean) you will quickly learn how to select the freshest, bruised- & blemish-free best, insuring maximum value.  Preparations begin with cleaned produce, and this is the section that details cleaning & cutting.

That said, it isn’t a bad idea to stock your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables, absent any added sugar, salt, additives, chemicals or preservatives (freezing is a food preservative, that’s the point of freezing.)  Buying frozen is an easy way to acquaint yourself with a variety of different vegetables.  You don’t have to clean or cut them.  Steaming frozen vegetables is quick on the stove or in the microwave; add your own butter, seasonings and spices accordingly.  Frozen vegetables are handy to keep at the workplace (if you have a freezer) for a quick addition to lunch.  Add them to prepared soups or salads.  Store in a grip-lock storage bag & cook only the amount needed.

APPLECrispen, Delicious, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Macintosh, Mitsu, Rome — the list is endless!
SHOP  Fall through winter
Look for apples that have a bit of shine on them, as well as lack of bruising.  A wrinkled skin means they’re way too old.

CLEAN & CUT
With small, sharp paring knife, cut apple in polar half, then each half into polar half.  Cut out center core from each quarter with a small, sharp paring knife. If the apple is fresh, the core will pop out nicely. Slice each quarter into polar slices.  Of course, apples don’t have to be cut to be eaten.  Great for an on-the-go snack.

STORE
Apples retain their crispness when cold; I keep mine in an open basket in the refrigerator crisper.

FREEZE
Apples are plentiful year round, no reason to freeze.

COOK
Saute, bake.

APRICOT, APRIUM, RED VELVET APRICOT
SHOP  Apricot – May through August; Aprium & Red Velvet Apricot – June
Skin has a soft, delicate, velvety texture.  Select fruit that is just beginning to soften.  Hard fruit indicates premature picking.
APRICOT  Look for deep yellow to orange color with a little blush & no signs of green.  Light yellow color means they’ve been picked prematurely.  Dark spots or wrinkles indicate age.
APRIUM, RED VELVET APRICOT  Look for a light red color with a gold highlights & no signs of green.

CLEAN & CUT
Do not clean until ready to eat.  Holding gently, run under spray of cold water.

STORE
Store in fruit bowl for up to 2 days.

ARTICHOKE – Globe

SHOP – May through October
Look for a dull green color, with minimal browning.  Artichokes are never brightly colored, but the amount of brown does indicate freshness, with the freshest produce having little or no brown.  Browning begins at the tip of the leaves and works its way down to the stem.

CLEAN & CUT  Do not clean until ready to use.  Rinse in running tap water, then turn upside down to remove water.  Cut the stem flush with the artichoke so it sits level on the plate.

STORE
Store in refrigerator crisper for up to a week, depending upon its freshness when purchased.

COOK
Steam.

ARUGULA (Fresh basil is similar in selecting, cleaning & storing, but not in flavor)
SHOP  Early spring
Select leaves that are moist & green with no yellowing.

CLEAN & CUT
Best cleaned just prior to use.  Arugula is grown in sandy soil, so unless you buy pre-washed, arugula will have a lot of sand clinging to the leaves.  The only way to remove all of the sand is to soak it out.  Argula is a delicate plant, and too much water can bruise it.  Bruises will look like dark green areas of the leaves.  Put leaves in a large light-colored bowl filled with cold tap water.  Let soak a minute.  You will see the sand begin to fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Lift out the leaves, dump the water and sand, and refill the bowl with water.  Repeat until you see no more sand fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Drain and dry before using in a wire basket or on paper towels.  Tear leaves for use in salads or sandwiches.

STORE
Store arugula, unwashed, in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.  Washed arugula will keep for a day; unwashed for less than a week.  If condensation forms in container, open & let dry; then cover & return to refrigerator.

ASPARAGUS
SHOP  Early spring to early summer.
Look for narrow, green stalks and tips of a soft, faintly purple color.  The smaller the spears, the younger the plant.  Any presence of moisture or sliminess in the tip, or wrinkling of the stalk indicates advanced age.

CLEAN & CUT
Lay stalks in a shallow pan of water for a few minutes to dislodge sand from the tip.  Rinse.  Repeat until no sand is visible on the bottom of the pan.  Break off the large ends of each stalk.  It will naturally break where it becomes fibrous.  You shouldn’t have to peel the large stalk ends unless they are larger than 1/2″ in diameter.  Let air-dry before roasting.

STORE
Do not clean asparagus until ready to cook.  Store in a plastic grocery bag in the crisper of the refrigerator; use within 2 days.

COOK
Steam.

AVOCADO -Haas (bumpy skin) & Florida (smooth skin)
SHOP
Of the two types of avocados, I much prefer the Haas.  They are the ones with the bumpy, rather than smooth, skins.  While they are smaller, they are more flavorful and their ripening is more easily determined.  Most avocados arrive at the market with green-colored skins.  As they ripen, they darken to black.  Once they have turned black, their shelf life is very short.  Don’t buy a blackened avocado unless you’re going to eat it that day.  Ripe avocados are often cheaper than unripened, but if surface waviness is apparent, the fruit has already begun to rot inside and will already have begun to turn brown.  Avoid them; you’ll be disappointed at any price.  Avocados are ripe when black and you can detect a slight softening of the inside to gentle pressure.  Buy avocados with a tiny bit of stem at the narrow end; an easy way to tell if they are ripened is to press your thumb against the stem.  If it comes off easily with a very little bit of pressure, it is ready to eat.

CLEAN & CUT
Cut in polar half by easing a small, sharp paring knife around the large pit at the center.  Before removing knife, use it as a lever against one cut side to separate the fruit from the pit.  If you slice through the seed, it will be harder to remove.  Especially if the avocado is soft, slicing through the pit may squash against the soft pulp making a mess of it.  The whole pit will remain attached to the other half of the fruit.  Hold the avocado in one hand (as if you were squeezing a sponge) and jab the knife blade into the hard seed at an angle with your stronger hand.  Twist the knife and the seed will come out easily.  Pull the seed off the knife and discard the pit (or place in water to sprout; it actually makes a nice house plant!)  Peel the tough skin from the fruit using the knife or your fingers.  If it is perfectly ripened, the flesh will be just firm and the skin will pull easily away.  If fruit is soft you can scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  Acting as little bowls, the ripe avocado halves can be eaten right out of their skin cups.

STORE
Keep unripe avocados at room temperature.  If you are not ready to eat a ripened avocado, store it in the refrigerator but don’t forget about it!  It will keep for only a day or two.  If using only half of an avocado do not remove the pit.  Store the half with the pit intact; only exposed surfaces of the fruit will darken.  Drizzle a drop of lemon juice or vinegar over the entire cut surface and store in airtight container in the refrigerator.  Eat within a day or two, slicing off the cut edge which may have begun to brown slightly.

FREEZE
Don’t even think of freezing an avocado!

BANANA
SHOP
Buy bananas in their green state if you can wait a day or two for them to ripen.  Choose yellow peels with slightly green ends for eating.  Bananas are best eaten before developing any brown spots on the peel.  Don’t buy more bananas than you & your family can eat in a few days; the more you buy, the greener they should be.

CLEAN & CUT
No cleaning necessary, and never put bananas in the refrigerator.    They will almost immediately turn brown.

STORE
Store in the fruit bowl at room temperature.

BEAN SPROUTS
SHOP
Fresh looking sprouts are firm, crisp and white, with no traces of brown.  They should not smell.

CLEAN
Run under cold tap water & drain.

STORE
Store  in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

COOK
Add to wok, soups.

BEETS
SHOP  Winter
Select smooth but rugged-looking (even dirty-looking) beets with tops attached.

CLEAN & CUT
Cut tops close to the beet, leaving long root end attached.  Rinse well under running water, dislodging dirt.  They have been pulled from the earth!

STORE
Keep in loosely tied plastic grocery bag in vegetable crisper.

COOK
Boil.

BLUEBERRY
SHOP  Early to mid-summer
Larger berries tend to be sweeter.  Turn containers upside down and inspect for whole, dry berries.  Avoid buying tiny blueberries as they will be quite tart and hard.  Older blueberries have begun to weep and may have formed a white, fuzzy mold.

CLEAN & CUT
Put in a colander & rinse under spray of cold water.

STORE
Store in a small fruit bowl for up to 24 hours, or longer in refrigerator.

FREEZE
Blueberries can be frozen after rinsing & air drying.  Frozen blueberries can be added to a fruit salad prior to serving.  They will keep the other fruit a little cooler as they come to room temperature.

BROCCOLI
SHOP
Select firm stalks with deep bluish-green tops, or just the florets.  Age shows in a limp stalk and a yellowing of the tops.

CLEAN & CUT
Cut broccoli into two parts:  the stalk and the flowers.  The stalk can be peeled to remove the outer layer that may be tough, then sliced laterally into rounds less than ½” thick for cooking.  Separate the flowered tops into bite-sized florets for cooking or dipping raw as crudites.

STORE
Store chilled in airtight container.

COOK
Steam, stir-fry or use in soup.

CABBAGE Primo, Red, Chinese, Savoy, & BRUSSELS SPROUTS
SHOP  Winter
Look for tightly-wrapped compact heads with no wilting or brown edges.  Savoy and some Chinese cabbages can be found in smaller heads for a smaller quantity, or use Brussels sprouts.

CLEAN & CUT
Just rinse Brussels sprouts in water, and trim the stem end before cooking whole or cut in half.
For cabbage, peel off loose, outer leaves that may be brown or pulling away from head.   With a small, sharp paring knife, cut out core at an angle.  Slice in polar half, then chop each half into large squares, about 1” square.  For coleslaw, cut in polar half, then slice each half into thin slivers.

STORE
Store in refrigerator crisper drawer.  Cabbage & Brussels sprouts will keep about a week.

COOK
Steam, or sauté.

CARROT
SHOP  Winter
If you are tempted to purchase peeled carrots in cellophane bags, be aware that e-coli bacteria has been found to grow in packaged fresh vegetables.  If you simply must buy carrots in cellophane, make sure that they are dry coming out of the package.  Any wet, slimy feel indicates that bacteria has begun to form inside the air-tight environment.  Because vegetables are so quick and easy to clean and cook, it doesn’t really make much sense to pay a premium to have carrots peeled for you.

Select loose carrots, either with or without tops.  Surface should be relatively clean, free from splitting and dryness.  Eyes, like those of potatoes, are where shoots are sent out, so if you see any shoots those carrots are definitely too old.  I prefer larger carrots:  they are easier to grate (for salads) and make nice large, round slices (for raw snacking or dipping).

CLEAN & CUT
Peel carrots because the skin is a little on the bitter side.  Holding carrot in one hand, run vegetable peeler – away from you – along surface of carrot in the other hand.  Rotate carrot as you peel.  With sharp paring knife cut off large end.  Cut laterally into rounds, 1/4″ thick for raw snacking or dipping.  Cut smaller carrots into strips 2 to 3” long, then in half lengthwise if needed.  For cooking, carrots can be sliced into rounds or cut into strips, whichever looks best on the plate.  For use in soup or broth, slicing into rounds better enables capture by soup spoons.  A small bowl of carrot rounds is ideal for snacking while preparing meals.  Children love them, especially if  called ‘carrot candies’.
STORE
Cut off green tops and store airtight in refrigerator or in crisper drawer.

COOK
Steam.

CAULIFLOWER
SHOP  Winter
Select a head with white, tightly-packed, unblemished florets surrounded by firm green leaves.  Age shows in browning of the top of the florets and dryness on the cut area.

CLEAN & CUT
Remove the green leaves & discard. With a sharp paring knife at an angle, cut the core out of the bottom of the head.  Head can be cooked whole, or cut into florets for cooking or as crudites.  With the tip of the knife beginning at the bottom of the head, cut & separate large florets, then separate into bite-sized florets for cooking or dipping raw.

STORE
Will keep for 3 days stored refrigerated in airtight container or in crisper drawer.

COOK
Steam, stir-fry or add to soups & stews.

CELERY
SHOP  Spring
Select a bright light green head of celery, with no brown on stalks or leaves.  As celery ages, it will begin to go limp, but age is not always readily apparent until the head is cut opened and the inner stalks are seen to be turning brown.  Know your green market to avoid vendors selling old produce.

CLEAN & CUT
Cut off about 1” from the bottom end of the head, separate individual stalks and rinse away any dirt, rubbing if necessary.  Cut off any brown leaves or dried ends.  Leaves can be used in soups and stocks; small, tender shoots for crudités, salads & snacking; and larger stalks cut up for ingredients to dishes like curry and stuffing.

STORE
Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator or in crisper drawer.  Wilted stalks can be revived by spritzing & chilling.

CHIVES
SHOP
Fresh chives will be firm but delicate reeds of dark green with no hint of limpness.

CLEAN & CUT
Do not clean until ready to use.  Chives don’t usually need much cleaning, simply run briefly under cold water and shake off moisture.

STORE
Put in plastic grocery bag and store in refrigerator crisper.

CILANTRO
SHOP
Select healthy green leaves & stalks.  Yellowing is a sign of age.

CLEAN & CUT
Twist off root ends, rinse well under running water and drain until dry.  Tear off leaves and use whole ,or tear or chop into smaller bits, depending upon use.

STORE
Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator.  Wilted leaves can be revived by spritzing with water & chilling.

CLEMENTINE
SHOP  Winter
The clementine comes out just before the end-of year holidays and have a relatively short season.  This easy-to-peel citrus is like a tiny tangerine with a slightly tart flavor and (few or) no seeds.  They are often sold in small wooden crates or net bags, and make a colorful addition to any fruit bowl.  Select bright orange skins with a little sheen.  If dull and beginning to wrinkle with age, they will be difficult to peel.

CLEAN & CUT
No cleaning necessary, just peel, remove the few white threads & separate the sections.  Easy enough for a five-year-old.

STORE
The fruit bowl on the kitchen counter-top or the dining room table!  Clementines, in a bowl of pine cones, help cheer the winter solstice.

COCONUT
SHOP  Grown in hot, sunny, tropics, imported coconuts are available most of the year
Look for medium brown, dry, hairy coconut shell with no cracks. Shaken, if you cannot hear the coconut milk inside, the coconut is too old & dry. The presence of white mold also indicates advanced age.

CLEAN & CUT
No cleaning necessary. If you want, you can drain the milk inside by drving an icepick into two of the three ‘eyes’ wiht a hammer.  On a hard surface like a floor or patio or holding the coconut in one hand, use a hammer to tap on it’s equator, rotating around until it splits open, catching the undrained milk in a bowl.  You may have to tap around its circumference twice before it splits open.  Then, with a strong round-bladed knife that you don’t mind ruining, slide the blade in between the shell & the flesh & pop the meat from the shell.  If it does not cooperate, score the meat into squares & pry again. Coconut can be eaten as is, the thin brown skin attached to the white, white coconut meat is edible, so don’t waste your time trying to peel it away. Use coconut milk in smoothies or cooked recipes. Shred coconut meat with a grater or finely chop to use raw or cooked, added to recipes.

STORE
Store in large pieces in air-tight, rigid container in refrigerator (not a plastic bag) for up to 2 days, after which mold will begin to form.  Grate before ready to use.

CORN-ON-THE-COB
SHOP  Summer to early fall.
Look for large ears with the husk intact.

CLEAN & CUT
Corn doesn’t need to be cleaned.  Just prior to cooking, shuck each ear, removing the husk and the silky hairs.  Trim off the flat stump on one end so it fits in a deep skillet, or break the ears in half to fit into a smaller pot.

Store
Put unshucked ears in grocer’s plastic bag, leaving top open.  Will keep for a few days but, like all produce, the sooner cooked the better.

FREEZE
Easy!  Shuck corn of its light green natural outer husk, including the fine yellow hairs clinging to the ear.  Break each ear in half, for stability while cutting the kernels off the cob.  No need to wash off the corn; it should be dry before freezing so the kernels won’t stick together.  Stand each half ear – cut side down – on a cutting board and, with your large chef’s knife, slice down close to the cob, cutting off about four rows of corn with each cut.  Rotate cob and slice down another ‘side’.  Repeat until all corn is off the cob.  It should be easy to cut.  If the knife meets with great resistance, you are holding the knife too close to the cob.  Move it further away from the cob and slice at the base of the kernels.  Discard the cob.  Put the corn kernels into a zip lock bag, date and freeze.  You can take out just as much as you need for each serving.  Frozen corn is good to quickly heat and eat, or to add to soup, giving it added texture.

COOK
Steam.

CUCUMBER
SHOP
Select firm cucumbers that have a mildly waxy skin.  Avoid those with wrinkles or soft spots; bruises will not necessarily be discolored.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse in cold tap water.  Stripe skin with vegetable peeler or scorer; slice laterally 1/8” or thinner for salads or on sandwiches.

STORE
Store in airtight container in refrigerator.  Cut cucumbers do not last long once cut, so chose small ones.

DILL
SHOP
Look for bright green dill with soft fronds w/no brown, dry or mushy fronds.

CLEAN & CUT  Dill is quite delicate; do not clean until ready to use.  Run under cold water & shake water off of fronds.  Most preparations call for the soft fronds only; discard the stems.

STORE
Store dry in air-tight container in refrigerator for up to 4 days.  If condensation appears, open container for an hour, let dry’ then cover & return to refrigerator.

COOK
Use raw in dips, as garnish or add to small flower arrangements.  Use fresh in any number of fish & vegetable dishes and in pickling.

EDAMAME
SHOP
You can sometimes find fresh edamame at local green markets, and they have them frozen as well.  Look for light green pods and beans with no brown spots.

CLEAN & CUT
Shelled edamame are ready to cook; edamame in their pods need only be rinsed in cold tap water before steaming.

STORE
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Use quickly as they don’t keep for a long time in the refrigerator.

FREEZE
I always like to have edamame in the freezer.  It’s easy to take out the amount needed & thaw them quickly in hot water to use in salads, or cook & serve as a side dish.

COOK
Steam.

EGGPLANT
SHOP  Select eggplant that are deep purple with a smooth skin with a little shine to it.

CLEAN & CUT  Rinse under cold tap water.  Peel skin in stripes.  Cut depending upon preparation.

STORE  Will keep in the refrigerator crisper drawer, unwrapped for up to a week, or on counter-top for 2 days.

FIGPurple, green
SHOP  Summer
Look for firm figs with smooth skin – rich in purple color, or light green – that have just begun to soften, but not too much!  A wrinkled skin means they’re already too old. Fins are fully ripened when no longer firm to the touch.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse gently just before eating, and cut off the stem tip.  Cut into quarter wedges for fruit salads.  A serrated knife is best for slicing as the sawing action prevents the soft fruit from being crushed under pressure of the knife.  Or eat whole as a snack.

STORE
Store at room temperature in a fruit bowl. If you cannot eat a fig as soon as it has ripened, store in the refrigerator to halt its ripening, and eat a soon as possible after bringing it up to room temperature.

GARLIC
SHOP
Look for knobs of garlic with outsides that are not dry or turning brown.  The freshest will be the heaviest.

CLEAN & CUT
Slice off the stem area end & peel the papery peel.  Can be mashed with & a sharp rap of the fist on the blade of a cleaver or a garlic press, or just cut with a paring knife.

STORE
I keep mine, unwrapped, in the butter bin of the refrigerator.  Can also be stored on the counter-top in a clay jar, but will begin to sprout at room temperature.

COOK
Roast or sauté w/other foods.

GARLIC SCAPE
SHOP  The top of the garlic plant with a strong garlic flavor, it looks like a long carnation stem grown circular rather than straight.  Look for firm stalks of a soft green color.

CLEAN & CUT  Rinse in running tap water & chop large or small, or mince.

STORE  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

COOK
Sauté w/other foods.

GINGER ROOT
SHOP
Look for fresh-looking root with smooth, light brown skin that has a little sheen.  Dullness or wrinkles are signs of age, as well as pronounced dryness of the ends.

CLEAN & CUT
Peel the tough skin with a peeler or sharp knife & slice thinly, chop or mince as needed.

STORE
Keep in the butter compartment of the refrigerator door.  Buy small quantities as a little goes a long way & it will not keep for longer than two weeks before drying out and beginning to lose its flavor.

GRAPEFRUIT
SHOP  Winter
Chose those with a bright yellow skin. Avoid soft spots or bruises & those with a lumpy skin.

CLEAN & CUT
Peel skin & pull off the bulk of the white strings around the segments and in the center. Separate sections & peel membrane away from individual sections as this is somewhat bitter.

STORE  Keep in fruit bowl at room temperature.

GRAPES – Green, red, purple seedless
SHOP
Seedless grapes are smaller than those with seeds, and more oval in shape.  Globe grapes tend to have seeds, so avoid them if you have small children.  Look for deep color of red or black grapes; all should cling to their vine.  If they are falling off, they are past their prime  If moisture is present in cellophane bag, if grapes are wrinkled or look slightly dusry, or if you can smell them they are well past their prime.

CLEAN & CUT
Put into colander and rinse under cold tap water.  Cut vine with kitchen scissors into bunches that are handful-size.

STORE
Store in fruit bowl at room temperature.

FREEZE
Grapes can be frozen and then put into cocktails as little ice cubes, but eating thawed grapes as a fruit isn’t so great.


GREEN BEANS
SHOP
Look for large, fat beans with no black spots or dried ends.  If beans have begun to go limp, they are well past their prime.  Break an end off; if it snaps off without bending, they’re fresh.  Select individual beans from the bin to avoid those that have bad spots or are less fresh.  It will take a little longer, but worth because it  allows you to select the largest, freshest ones in the pile.

CLEAN & CUT
Place in colander and rinse under cold tap water.  Pinch or cut off ends.  Beans can be cooked long or sliced into shorter strips.  I prefer long, but if serving children, cut 1” long.  Shorter beans will take a little less time to cook than longer ones, but not by much.

STORE
Store in closed plastic bag in the refrigerator.  If condensation begins to form, open bag.  Will keep for 3 days before beginning to go limp or turning brown.

COOK
Steam, stir-fry, add to soups & stews.

GREEN ONION/SCALLION
SHOP  Early spring
Selecting small green onions will allow you to use a whole one when making smaller portions, rather than using just part of a larger one.  Choose healthy, moist looking stalks that are white at one end and green at the other, with no wilted or dryed areas.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse in clear water & drain.  Trim ends & slice laterally.

STORE
Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator.

HONEY TANGERINE or MURCOTT
SHOP Winter through early spring
Honey tangerine is the new name for what used to be murcotts.  They have a smoother skin than tangerines and are a bright yellow orange color.  Avoid soft or brown spots.  Random green areas are okay, but don’t buy those that are mostly green.  Citrus keeps a relatively long time – a week or more.  If the fruit itself has begun to dry out, it is edible, but well past prime.  The skin will become dull, wrinkled & thin, & more difficult to peel.

CLEAN & CUT
No cleaning necessary.  Peel skin; murcotts don’t have as many white strings around the segments and in the center as do tangerines, and they are sweeter.  Sections separate easily.

STORE
Keep in fruit bowl at room temperature.

KALE
SHOP
Curly or flat with hearty stems, kale is a dusty green color with an almost purple tinge.  Avoid any leaves turning yellow or dark or dry spots or edges.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse in cold running water.  Trim off stem ends, as they can be bitter.

STORE
Cleaned kale will keep up to 3 days in closed plastic grocery bag in refrigerator crisper.  If storing longer, put in airtight container; will keep for 4 to 5 days.

COOK
Oven-crisp.

KIWI
SHOP
Select fruit that is somewhat firm, but does not offer thumb resistance.  Ripeness can some quickly, and when the fruit begins to feel soft, but before the skin  becomes wrinkled.

CLEAN & CUT
This somewhat hairy-looking fruit’s secret is in knowing how to best peel & slice it.  Cut out the stem area in a ‘V’ with the tip of a sharp paring knife (like you do a tomato), then slice off the opposite end.  Peel like you would an onion, slipping the knife under the skin & pulling the skin with your thumb against the knife.  Peeling the skin off, rather than slicing it off, will maintain the roundness of the fruit.  If the skin doesn’t peel, it isn’t quite ripened.  To slice, use an egg slicer because a ripe kiwi is very soft and even slicing with a knife can cause it to smoosh.  A side benefit is consistent slices.  A very ripe kiwi can be refrigerated to make it easier to slice.

STORE
In the fruit bowl at room temperature.

KUMQUAT
SHOP  Winter.
Select firm orange fruits with as little green as possible.  Avoid any brown spots or evidence of wrinkling.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse under cold tap water & remove stem before eating whole, unpeeled.  Discard seeds.

STORE
At room temperature in the fruit bowl.

LEEKS
SHOP
Look for white bulbs and healthy, green tops with no yellowing or browning.

CLEAN & CUT
Do not clean until ready to use.  To use in preparations, cut in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise.  Place in colander and run under cold water.  It is important to remove the dirt lodged between the layers.  If you want to use lateral slices, soak in cold water.  Rings may have to be separated to fully clean.

STORE
Put in plastic grocery bag and store in refrigerator crisper.

LEMON
SHOP
Heavy lemons have the most juice.  Select heavy lemons with thin skin; the smoother the skin, the thinner the skin and the easier it is to extract the juice.  Look  for bright yellow color with no brown spots.

CLEAN & CUT
Slice with a serrated stainless steel knife.  Do not use carbon steel knives because the citric acid will dull the blade.  The sawing motion of the serrated edge does a better job of cutting easily through the skin.  Cut lemon laterally in half to extract juice by either squeezing or using a juicer.  For smaller wedges, cut in half laterally, then polar slice into wedges.  To decorate with round slices, slice laterally.  ZEST:  With a citrus zester or fine grater, lightly scrape off the outermost yellow layer of peel from the lemon, not grating into the white pulp.

STORE
Store uncut lemons for a day or two in a fruit bowl at room temperature.  To store for longer, keep in basket in refrigerator.  Store cut lemon in a glass refrigerator jar, cut side down.

LETTUCE

  • CRISPHEAD ICEBERG  The least nutrient-dense of all the lettuces and often the least flavorful; will also last the longest in captivity.  Characterized by its crisp crunch of all parts of the leaves, it grows in tight heads.
  • ROMAINE COS, RED, GREEN  Grows in long, upright leaves rather than heads, leaves are crisp, and get darker toward the leaf tips.  About half of the leaf is firm and stem-like.  Red romaine tends to be more tender than green.
  • LOOSELEAF GREEN or RED LEAF, the soft maroon color growing deeper the further it gets from the stem.  Leaf lettuce is sweet and soft, growing in short or long leaves rather than heads, and is very flavorful.
  • BUTTERHEAD BOSTON, BUTTER & BIBB  The head lettuce with buttery softness is also the most fragile.  So named because of the light butter color of the inner leaves or the sweet, buttery flavor.  This lettuce has almost no crunch, but rather a delicate softness.  Use with light salad dressings of more delicate flavors.
  • FIELD GREEN MESCULN, SPRING MIX  A mix of many young salad greens, usually dandelion leaves, tat soi, mustard greens, oakleaf, mizuma, etc.
  • BITTER GREENS
    • BELGIAN ENDIVE  Tightly-packed, pointed leaves of yellow and white; crisp in texture.
    • ENDIGIA, RED ENDIVE (French) Tightly-packed, pointed leaves of deep purple and white; crisp in texture.
    • CURLY ENDIVE, FRISÉE  Lacy, loose leaf lettuce is green, bitter outer and more mild inner leaves
    • CHICORY,   Loose green leaves that are hairy-looking and bitter, but add interesting texture and flavor when combined with sweeter greens.
    • ESCAROLE  Loose green leaves, broad and not as lacy or bitter as chicory.
    • RADDICCHIO (Italian)  Tightly-packed heads of deep purple leaves going to white towards the center.  Bitter, it serves as a color and taste variety when mixed with other greens.  Most raddicchio is imported.

SHOP
Buy smaller heads if you’re preparing one or two servings per meal.  Select lettuce that looks young and tender; firm, unblemished heads with plenty of moisture & no browning.  Discard tougher outer leaves that serve as natural packaging.  Over-matured lettuce will be woody in texture.  Avoid dark green leaf edges beginning to decompose (slime).  Avoid buying lettuce in pre-packaged bags because of the risk of bacterial growth.  Fresh greens contain lots of moisture, and when condensation forms inside a plastic bag it is a breeding ground for living organisms.  Sunlight and air are the best disinfectants, and the best way to avoid bacterial growth.

CLEAN & CUT
It is a good idea to clean lettuce so that it will be ready to go for salads and sandwiches.  Break away leaves from core & rinse in clear running water.  Drain until moisture has evaporated.  For salads, tear into bite-size pieces; cutting lettuce with a knife will cause edges to turn brown more quickly.  See salad-drying tips.

STORE
An air-tight container specifically for lettuce is a good investment.  Alternatively, store in a  plastic zip lock bag in the refrigerator, away from apples.  If condensation begins to form inside the containt, open until it has evaporated, then reseal.  Greens that have wilted can sometimes be revived.  Rinse with cold water, shake to remove droplets and put in grip-lock storage bag in the refrigerator.  If it is going to revive, it will do so within twenty-four hours.  Use immediately.

COOK
Spritzed with olive oil, firmer varieties (romaine, raddicchio) can be cut in half and grilled.

LIME
SHOP
Heavy limes have the most juice.  Select heavy limes with thin skin; the smoother the skin, the thinner the skin and the easier it is to squeeze the juice.  Select bright green color, with no  brown spots.

CLEAN & CUT
Slice with a serrated stainless steel knife.  Do not use carbon steel knives because the citric acid will dull the blade.  The sawing motion of the serrated edge does a better job of cutting easily through the skin.  Cut laterally in half to extract juice by either squeezing or using a juicer.  For smaller wedges, cut in half laterally, then polar slice into wedges.  To decorate with round slices, slice laterally.  ZEST:  With a citrus zester or fine grater, lightly scrape off the outermost green layer of peel from the lime, not grating into the white pulp.

STORE
Store uncut limes for a day or two in a fruit bowl at room temperature.  To store for longer, keep in basket in refrigerator.  Store cut lemon in a glass refrigerator jar, cut side down.

MANGO
SHOP – summer
Select firm fruit that yields ever so slightly to the touch yet is just entering the final ripening stage.  Avoid bruises, soft spots, or black dots (mold).  Eat as soon as ripened.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse under cold running water.  Cut parallel and close to the pit with a bread knife, slicing off each end into one piece.  Hold one slice in the palm of your hand.  With your right hand, score a checkerboard into the flesh of the fruit, stopping the blade before it pierces the skin.  You can feel the tip .  Then insert the blade of the knife as close to the skin as possible and run it around the edge, rotating the frut in your hand, freeing the flesh from the skin, letting the scored cubes fall into the bowl.  Scrape the juicy remnants of fruit from the skin. Repeat with the other end slice.  Peel the skin from the center slice – that holds the pit – and scrape any pulp with the knife.  The flesh closest to the pit will be fibrous and more difficult to cut away.  Then squeeze the pit in your hand, letting the juice from the fruit run into the bowl.  There will be a lot of juicy pulp.

STORE
Store in the fruit bowl at room temperature.  If only part of a mango has been cut, store it, unpeeled, on a plate – cut side down – in the refrigerator.

MINT – Spearmint, Peppermint
SHOP
Select healthy green leaves & stalks.  Overall yellowing is a sign of age, as is a blackening of the leaves.

CLEAN & CUT
Twist off root ends, if any; rinse well under running water and drain until dry.  Tear off leaves and use whole, or tear or chop into smaller bits, depending upon use.

STORE
Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator.  Wilted leaves can be revived by spritzing with water.  Leaves will darken in spots as they age, but mint is heartier than parsley.

MUSHROOM – White Button, Brown Crimini & Portobello, Enocki; Shitake, Cinnamon Cap/Beech
SHOP  Early spring through summer
There are many types of mushrooms.  Most common is the white mushroom.  The whiter the better, with a moist softness.  If they look dry they’ve begun to age.  Another type of all-purpose  mushroom is Crimini — a little browner in color — and tastes much like the white button.  When selecting, they should be just as fresh and moist looking as the white ones. Shitake mushrooms have a distinctive, woody flavor, and the stems are too tough to eat raw but are excellent for sautéing or otherwise cooking.  Similar in flavor to shitake are cinnamon cap mushrooms, tender & delicate, great to eat raw.

CLEAN & CUT
Do not clean mushrooms until you are ready to use them.  Mushrooms are like little sponges:  they absorb liquid, so do not clean by running them under water or they will steam when you’re trying to sauté.  Moisten a paper towel with a little water & brush the dark bits of soil off the caps & stem.   Slice off the dry end of the stem; medium & large mushrooms can be sliced or chopped.  Enocchi & cinnamon cap mushrooms grow in clusters, rather than singly, are pristine & need no cleaning.  Separate & use whole.

STORE
Store unwashed in a glass jar (not air-tight) with a paper towel in the bottom. If jar begins to gather condensation, leave the jar open to room temperature for about an hour.  Replace lid & return to refrigerator.  Mushrooms will keep for about 5 days.

FREEZE
Mushrooms are available year-round, leaving little reason to freeze. They can be cooked in soups & sauces that are then frozen.

COOK
Saute, stir-fry or add to soups & stews.

OKRA
SHOP Summer
Select pods three inches or less; longer, older okra will be woody & tough.  Okra should feel and look tender.  The surface feels soft (almost furry) to the touch.  Unlike peaches, don’t try to wash off this quality as it is inherent to the plant & is not noticeable after cooking.

CLEAN & CUT
Okra is usually pretty clean when taken to market.  If you must wash it, put in a colander & run under cold water, shaking gently.  Do not clean until just before cooking.  Okra should be completely dry before cutting prior to frying.  Cook young, tender small okra pods whole, cutting off one end close to the stem tip.

STORE
Okra has a very short shelf life. It should be eaten within 24 hours of buying, as brown spots will begin to form and the clear, green green color will begin to dull and turn yellow.  Store at room temperature until ready to cook.

COOK
Sauté, pan-fry, stew w/tomatoes or in soup or gumbo.  Gumbo is a French word for okra; gumbo refers to a soup or stew containing okra.  The mucilage, or goo, inside okra pods is a thickener for stews & gumbos.

ONION – Yellow, White, Red, Vidalia, Pearl
SHOP  Winter
The yellow onion is the staple cooking onion, used in many dishes and good to keep on hand.  Buy a 2-lb bag of yellow onions; they are cheaper this way and you won’t have to buy them so frequently if you have them on hand.   Look over the onions carefully, checking for bad spots.  Onions should be firm, with a little sheen to the skins.  If they are dull, that is the first sign of age.  Better to buy them individually than to start out with the less-than-fresh.

CLEAN & CUT
Onions do not need to be cleaned.  Slice off the ends, peel the skin.  Cut according to use.

STORE
Store in open bin in cool place or in refrigerator.

COOK
Sauté
, caramelize.

ORANGE – Valencia, temple, navel
SHOP  Winter
Chose those with a bright orange, slightly pitted skin.  Avoid soft spots or bruises & those developing a chalky white residue on the skin.

CLEAN & CUT
Peel skin & pull off the bulk of the white strings around the segments and in the center.  Separate sections. ZEST:  With a citrus zester or fine grater, lightly scrape off the outermost orange layer of peel from the orange, not grating into the white pulp.

STORE
Keep in fruit bowl at room temperature.

PARSLEY
SHOP
Select healthy green leaves & stalks.  Yellowing is a sign of age.

CLEAN & CUT
Twist off root ends, if any; rinse well under running water and drain until dry.  Tear off leaves and use whole, or tear or chop into smaller bits, depending upon use.

STORE
Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator.  Wilted leaves can be revived by spritzing with water.

PEACHES & NECTARINES
SHOP – summer
Selected firm fruit that yields ever so slightly to the touch yet isn’t soft.  Avoid bruises or soft spots, or fruit with no stem that looks as though something has borrowed into the fruit where the stem was.  Eat as soon as ripe.

CLEAN & CUT  
Rinse under cold running water, gently rubbing the fuzz off of peaches.  Cut with a serrated knife laterally into the fruit towards the seed and remove wedges one at a time.

STORE 
Store in the fruit bowl at room temperature.

PEASSweet green peas, sugar snap peas/sugar snaps, snow peas
SHOP Spring through early summer
Select firm, unblemished, closed pods of a clear, green color.  Age shows in limp or yellowing pods, or dark spots.  Sweet peas and sugar snaps are plump while snow peas, because of the undeveloped pea inside, are flat.

CLEAN
Rise in cool, running water.

CUT & COOK
SWEET GREEN PEAS Do not cut.  Break open pea pods & empty peas from inside, discarding pods.  Steam lightly, add to other dishes at the end, or use in soup.
SUGAR SNAP PEAS Do not cut.  Eat raw alone or use for dipping as crudités.  Lightly steam, sauté or stir-fry.
SNOW PEAS Do not cut; eat raw, lightly steam, or stir-fry.

STORE
Store at room temperature for a day, or in refrigerator crisper for 3 days.

PERSIMMON
SHOP  Lat fall through winter
Selecting a good persimmon takes some fruit divination.  Look for a smooth, orange skin, unwrinkled & umblemished.  Fruit should be neither hard nor soft (rather like a kiwi in resistance), although select one that is more soft than hard.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse in cold tap water, remove stem area with an angled, serrated knife (the skin is tough) and cut into polar wedges.  Eat flesh by sucking the fruit off of the skin.  You can peel it, bit may find it more trouble than it’s worth.

STORE
Keep in the fruit bowl until ripe.

POTATO – Red-skinned, Russet, Baking, Fingerling, Peruvian Purple
SHOP
Select potatoes of uniform size for a particular dish:  smaller ones for cooking whole in stews, medium ones for roasting and serving alongside poultry and roasts, and larger ones for cutting up in soups.  Look for smooth skins with a little sheen and few eyes.  A dry, dull skin is beginning to show age, as are larger eyes.  If skin is wrinkled, pass.

CLEAN & CUT
Leave the skins on!  Most of the nutrients are in the skins, and they add texture and color when served whole or sliced.  Place in colander and rinse under cold tap water while shaking the colander.  Cut out the larger eyes of the potato using the tip of a peeler.  Smaller eyes can be left in.  Potatoes can be cooked whole or cut up; the smaller the piece, the quicker they will cook.  Small potatoes are nice left whole.

STORE
Store in an open bin in cool place.  If storage encourages growth of roots from the eyes, put them in an open basket in the refrigerator.

<>COOK
Boil, pan-fry or bake.

RADISH – Red, Watermelon, French breakfast
SHOP  Winter through summer
Radishes most often come in bunches, but you can find the more expensive watermelon radish sold singly.  Look for smooth, unblemished skins of deep color and fresh-looking green tops.
CLEAN & CUT
Before using, rinse in cold tap water & cut off leafy tops.
STORE
Store unwashed in refrigerator in air-tight container or crisper drawer.

SHALLOT
SHOP
Shallots are like tiny, delicately-flavored onions & can be used & substituted for onions in many dishes.  If you need just a little bit of onion, use a shallot or 2.  They should be firm with no brown spots and a little sheen to their violet skin.  Dull or dry-looking is the first sign of age.

CLEAN & CUT
Shallots do not need to be cleaned.  Slice off the stem end & peel the skin.  Cut according to use.

STORE
Store in open bin in cool place, or in refrigerator.

STRAWBERRY
SHOP  April through July
Select dark red berries with minimal white at the top and/or bottom.  Turn the plastic containers upside down; avoid those that are juicing or that show any white mold or brown spots.   As strawberries begin to go bad, they have a distinct flavor of dirt.

CLEAN & CUT
Place in colander and run under cold tap water, shaking colander to dislodge sand.  Drain and store berries to be eaten the day of purchase in a fruit bowl at room temperature.  With a strawberry huller or small paring knife, twist out the tiny, fibrous core attached to the leaves at the top of the berry.

Store
If eaten later, refrigerate in glass jar.  Best if brought to room temperature before eating.

SPINACH
SHOP
Curly or flat, usually bought with stems (and sometimes with the root) attached.

CLEAN & CUT
Do not clean until ready to use.  Spinach grows in sandy soil, soak in water to clean.  Put in large pot & fill with cold tap water.  Let stand 5 min, allowing sand to settle on bottom.  Remove spinach, dump water and repeat until no sand can be seen in water.

STORE
Uncleaned spinach will keep 48 hrs in closed plastic grocery bag in refrigerator crisper.  If storing longer, put in airtight container; will keep for 4 to 5 days.

COOK
Steam.

SUMMER SQUASH – Yellow squash, crookneck squash
SHOP  Summer
Select for unblemished, smooth yellow skin with no brown spots or signs of wrinkling

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse with a light rub under cold running water.  Slice off the stem and the opposite end, then slice laterally 1/4” thick.  If the skin has begun to wrinkle, age will probably have begun to turn the skin bitter.  Still usable, simply peel and then cook.

STORE
Squash will keep for two days in the refrigerator crisper, a little longer in an airtight container. Use before skin begins to wrinkle.

COOK
Steam, stir-fry, add to soups, stews.

SWEET BELL PEPPER – Green, Red, Yellow & Orange
SHOP
Bell peppers ripen from green to yellow to orange to red.  Green pepper is less costly but has a distinctive flavor, more pungent than sweet peppers of other colors.  For this reason, green pepper is not always a suitable alternative to other colors specified.  Red, yellow and orange peppers are sweeter & more expensive.  Select peppers that are firm, with no bruised, soft or dark spots.  Advanced age is evidenced by wrinkling of the skin; pass on those.  Green peppers will often have orange highlights, indicating that pepper has begun to ripen into a red pepper.  This is normal & no reason not to buy.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse under cold tap water.  With small paring knife, cut in a circle around the stem and remove.  Remove small (bitter) seeds from inside along with the little bit of almost-white pulp.  Cut into angled strips about 1” long for salads; chop or dice as appropriate.

STORE
Store in fruit bowl at room temperature for a day.  For longer, store uncut in refrigerator drawer.  Store whole peppers in refrigerator crisper drawer; cut peppers in air-tight container in refrigerator.

COOK
Use in stir-fry.

TANGERINE
SHOP  Winter through early spring
Chose tangerines with a bright orange, slightly lumpy, pitted skin.  Avoid soft spots or bruises & those developing a chalky white residue on the skin.

CLEAN & CUT
Peel skin & pull off the bulk of the white strings around the segments and in the center.  Separate sections.

STORE
Keep in fruit bowl at room temperature.

TOMATO
Full Size: Heirloom, Beefstake
Miniature: Cherry, Grape
SHOP  Summer
Select deep red, firm full-sized tomatoes, preferably with green tops attached.  Avoid any that are packaged in cellophane as they will have little or no flavor and a mealy texture.  Buy only as many as you can use within 3 days.  Grape an Cherry tomatoes come in pint packages for ease of transport and are available for many months of the year.  They are often sweeter than a lot of full-sized tomatoes, and a little more predictably flavorful.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse under cold tap water.  Slice with a serrated stainless steel knife.  Do not use carbon steel knives because the citric acid will dull the blade.  The sawing motion of the serrated edge does a better job of cutting easily through the skin, and won’t squish a very ripe tomato.  Remove the core by cutting into the flesh with the knife at an angle around where the stem was attached.  To best keep slices intact, slice tomatoes in polar half, from top to bottom.  Then cut each half into large, wedge-shaped slices.  The larger the wedges, the more the juicy center will resist falling apart.  Cherry and grape tomatoes can be popped into the mouth intact, although larger ones are best sliced in half for use in salads.

STORE
Store tomatoes at room temperature.  Chilling them in the refrigerator will alter the flavor significantly.  Should you have to store a cut tomato, slice in half before removing the core, place on a plate cut side down, refrigerate and eat as soon as possible.

FREEZE
Tomatoes can be frozen, but only after cooking.  I recommend eating all of the fresh tomatoes you can buy when they are in season, and using canned for cooking.  Freezing tomatoes requires preparation that may not render them significantly better in flavor than can be found in cans.  If you grow tomatoes, or stumble upon a bumper crop, canning is a better alternative.

COOK
Use in stir-fry.

WINTER SQUASH Acorn, Butternut
COLOR  Acorn – Dark green color w/s of orange; Butternut – Light tan color

<>SHOP  Winter
Select smooth, unblemished skin.  If a light dusting appears on surface, pass as that is a sign of age.

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse.  WHEN BAKING: With a sharp knife beginning at the stem end and pushing down, cut in polar half.  Remove seed core.  Bake with skin on for easy removal.

STORE
Can keep at room temperature for up to 1 week, over that keep in refrigerator before cooking.

COOK
Bake, use in soups.

ZUCCHINI
SHOP  Summer
The color of zucchini is bright to dark green.  Select for unblemished, smooth skin with no sign of wrinkling

CLEAN & CUT
Rinse with a light rub under cold running water.  Slice off the stem and the opposite end, then slice laterally 1/4” thick.  If the skin has begun to wrinkle, age will probably have begun to turn the skin bitter.  Still usable, simply peel and then cook.

STORE
Zucchini will keep for two days in the refrigerator crisper, and longer in an airtight container. Use before skin begins to wrinkle.

COOK
Steam, stir-fry.

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