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Vegetables

Monday, 5 October 2009 | Tags:

When it comes to choosing fresh vegetables, some are harder to pick out than others. Here are some of the vegetables we've learned about during our research for Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag.

Artichoke

  • Although commonly considered a vegetable, artichokes are actually a flower bud that, when left to mature, is a violet colour.

  • In season from March until May, there are many varieties, but the most common is the Globe artichoke, grown in California.

  • Artichokes are rich in nutrients like Vitamins B and B5, biotin, folate potassium, zinc, and cynarin.

  • Buy smaller artichokes, since ones that are overly large often have less flavour and are coarse and tough to eat.

  • Look for artichokes that are plump and heavy for their size and firm. The leaves should be thick, a healthy green, and tightly closed. Really fresh artichokes will make a rubbery squeak when you rub them together.

  • Avoid artichokes that are dehydrated. The leaves will look slightly more wrinkled and the bottom leaves (bracts) will be limp when broken. (You want them to break off with a crisp snap.) 

  • Whole artichokes may be sold with the stem still attached, or it may have been broken off. Fresh-cut artichokes will ooze a white, milky sap, which darkens with exposure to air. Produce sellers usually trim this every so often.

Arugula

  • Native to the Mediterranean region, Arugula is rich in iron, calcium, and beta carotene and contains more than three times the amount of vitamin C than spinach.

  • Baby arugula is simply arugula that is harvested young for its mild, delicate leaves. It’s milder in flavour to its mature counterpart, while still offering a fresh, peppery taste that distinguishes it from other leafy greens.

  • Choose leaves that are bright green with no sign of wilting.

  • Arugula is a gritty green and must be washed thoroughly – wash it just before use since, unless it is dried well, washed arugula can wilt from any leftover water.

  • Arugula is highly perishable and should be used within two days of purchase. Store it in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your fridge.

Asparagus

  • Asparagus is available year-round but its peak season is in April when the price is cheaper and the vegetable is more abundant.

  • To ensure you’re buying the freshest bunch, look for compact, tight, firm tips (deep green or purple-ish), and stalks with smooth, rich, green skin.

  • The asparagus stalk should be cut almost as far down as the green extends. You’ll see hints of white or purple at the bottom of the stalk.

  • Smaller spears are usually more tender than big ones.

  • Try to buy spears that are of equal thickness so they cook evenly.

  • If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water.

  • Store your asparagus standing upright in a sturdy glass or container filled with an inch or so of water. Many grocery stores sell asparagus in trays filled with a bit of water to help keep them fresh and hydrated.

  • Avoid tips that are open and spread out, moldy or decayed.

  • Avoid spears with up-and-down ridges or that are not approximately round, which means they’re not fresh and will taste poor.

  • Read more about asparagus.

Beets

  • Buy beets that are firm with smooth skins and tops attached.

  • They should have a deep, rich purple-red color, but the skins will be rough and dusty

  • Choose small to medium beets as they are usually sweeter and more tender.

  • Beet tops should be fresh looking and dark green, not wilted or slimy.

  • Beets will keep for a long time in a cold room or refrigerator once the leaves have been cut off at the collar level.

  • Read more about beets.

Bell Peppers

  • Brightly-coloured bell peppers are rich sources of vitamins C and A, both very powerful antioxidants.

  • The variety of the pepper plant and the stage of its ripeness determines the flavour and colour of each. E.g. red or yellow peppers are mature green peppers. 

  • As a bell pepper ages, it becomes sweeter and milder, and generally develops more nutrients. (Red peppers have 11x more beta carotene than green!)

  • Bell peppers are available all year, but they’re most flavourful during August and September when they’re locally in season.

  • Choose peppers with a deep vivid colour and taut skin. Avoid any with soft spots, blemishes, darkened areas, or that are turning wrinkled

  • The stem should be green, frim and look fresh.

  • Choose peppers that are heavy for their size and firm. They will yield slightly to gentle pressure.

  • Store unwashed peppers in the vegetable drawer of your fridge for up to one week.

  • To freeze peppers, keep them whole since exposure to air will degrade their nutrient content and flavour.

Bok Choy

  • Bok choy (means “white vegetable”) is also called Chinese cabbage and contains high amounts of Vitamin A and C, potassium, and calcium.

  • When purchasing bok choy, select stalks that are pure white and firm. Look for leaves that are dark green and non-wilted. Avoid bok choy that has any brown spots on its leaves, as this type of bok choy is less flavorful.

  • Baby bok choy, a younger version of bok choy, should also be purchased according to these standards.

  • Once purchased, you can safely store bok choy in your home for up to three days. Simply refrigerate the bok choy in a plastic bag as soon as you arrive home.

  • When cooking, bok choy leaves take less time to cook than the stalks, so the leaves should be added later to obtain optimum flavor from both parts of the vegetable.

Brussels (Brussel) Sprouts

  • Brussel sprouts are packed with nutrients and are usually served cooked rather than raw.

  • Look for firm, compact sprouts with a bright green colour. Yellow leaves are a sign of aging, as is puffiness and softness.

  • Fresh sprouts either have no odour, or a slightly delicate smell. Old sprouts have a strong, cabbage-like odour.

  • The base discolours quickly after picking, which is fine. It will turn yellowish or brown.

  • If you can buy brussel sprouts on the stalk, they’ll stay fresher longer.

  • For easy cooking, choose small, evenly-sized sprouts. Always buy from a bulk display rather than pre-packaged.

  • Fresh sprouts are kept on ice since at room temperature, they turn yellow quickly. 

  • Store your sprouts in the refrigerator and eat as soon as possible.

Cabbage

  • Leaves should be crisp, shiny, and tightly-packed. If you bend a fresh leaf, it should bounce back, not fold over limply.

  • The head should be firm and heavy for its size.

  • When you smell the cabbage, its aroma should be mild and fresh. Avoid any strong-smelling cabbages.

  • Check that the core at the base of the cabbage appears fresh and firm. Avoid any with cores turning woody or that are split.

  • Cabbages at the grocery store should be dry since moisture speeds up decay. Avoid those that have been kept under misters on the shelf.

  • Look for a cabbage with its outer leaves intact and in fairly good condition. Looking at the base, if you see outer leaves have been cut away, it’s probably because they were looking limp, which means that it’s past its prime.

  • The colour of green and Savoy cabbage leaves tend to be dark green on the outer layers. On older cabbages, they cut away the darker, limp leaves to reveal light green inner leaves, which means it’s not fresh.

  • Red cabbage should be deep purple in colour.

  • Although cabbage is available year-round, its peak is late fall and winter, when cool temperatures give it a sweeter flavour.

  • More about cabbage.

Carrots

  • A member of the parsley family, carrots are usually available year-round, although they grow best in cool weather.

  • Choose carrots that are well-formed, smooth, and blemish-free. They should be firm, not flabby, and show no signs of sprouting or splitting.

  • The freshest, most tender carrots still have the bright green tops attached. The tops deteriorate quickly, so it’s easy to tell they’re fresh. If they’re browning, turning slimy, yellowing or wilting, avoid.

  • Avoid carrots with large, “sunburned” green areas at the tops. Slightly green crowns are ok, but dark crowns indicate the carrot is old.

  • Smaller carrots are more tender. A deep orange colour indicates high amounts of Vitamin A.

  • After purchasing, remove greenery right away since it robs the roots of moisture and vitamins.

  • Store carrots in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of your fridge. Don’t keep them with your apples, however, because apples emit an ethylene gas that can turn carrots bitter.

  • Bagged baby carrots are convenient but more expensive. They may have also been processed with chemicals to remove their skins. Read the labels to ensure you’re not picking up anything unwanted.

Cauliflower

  • When purchasing cauliflower, look for a clean, creamy white, compact head (called the “curd”) in which the bud clusters are not separated.

  • Spotted or dull-colored cauliflower should be avoided, as well as those in which small flowers appear.

  • Heads that are surrounded by many thick green leaves are better protected and will be fresher.

  • Size is not related to quality, so choose one that best suits your needs.

  • Store uncooked cauliflower in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to a week.

  • To prevent moisture from developing in the floret clusters, store it with the stem side down.

  • If you purchase pre-cut cauliflower florets, consume them within one or two days as they will lose their freshness after that.

  • Since cooking causes cauliflower to spoil quicker, consume it within two to three days of placing in the refrigerator after cooking.

  • If cooked in a pot made of iron, cauliflower can take on a brownish hue. Prevent this by adding a bit of lemon juice to the water in which you blanch the cauliflower.

Celery

  • Packed with Vitamin C, look for crisp, relatively tight and compact stalks. Avoid any that splay out or appear dry.

  • The leaves should be pale to bright green in color and free from yellow or brown patches.

  • Make sure that stalks are free of brown or black discoloration, also called “blackheart”.

  • Also avoid buying celery if you can see that it has a seedstem. This is the presence of a round stem instead of the smaller, tender stalks that should reside in the center of the celery. It means the celery was allowed to grow too long and the seeds have begun to form, which often gives the celery a bitter flavour.

Celery Root (Celeriac)

  • A root vegetable available from October through April, celery root, also known as celeriac, is rich in phosphorous and potassium.

  • When shopping for celery root, choose one that is firm and has a sprouting top that is bright green.

  • The taste of celery root pairs well with pumpkin pie spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, as well as the savoury flavour of garlic.

  • One small celery root yields about 2 cups when all sliced up.

  • Celery root lasts up to one week wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.

Chili Peppers

Chives

  • In hot or wet weather, chives spoil quickly, so sniff before buying and avoid chives with an off smell or yellowed, slimy stalks.

  • Commercially freeze-dried chives are best used for cooking rather than garnishing.

  • The thinner and brighter green the chive, the more delicate. Later in the season, as they grow larger, chives get more onion-y.

  • Avoid chives that have dried out and turned brown in hot weather.

  • Chives freeze and rot easily, so store them in the warmest part of the refrigerator, generally on the top shelf.

  • Don’t plan on storing chives for more than 3 to 4 days unless they are in exceptionally fine condition.

Corn

  • Fresh corn on the cob starts converting sugars to starches immediately after it is picked so ideally, you should buy, cook, and consume it the same day it’s picked, or as close to that as possible.

  • Never buy corn that has been sitting out in the sun all day as the heat will speed up the conversion of sugar to starch.

  • When buying corn on the cob, pick up each ear and select those that feel full, heavy, and plump. Peel back a bit of the husk to make sure the rows of kernels are plump, shiny, and evenly spaced.

  • The silk poking out the top should be golden pale, slightly sticky, and very plentiful. More silk indicates more kernels of corn. (There is one piece of silk for each kernel!)

  • Look for husks that are moist, pliable, and green in colour. If the stalk end of the corn has turned brown, it’s already a few days old.

  • Try popping one of the kernels with your thumbnail – if the juice from the kernel is milky, the corn is fresh.

  • If you’re not planning to cook and eat your corn on the same day, store it in the refrigerator with the husks on to protect the corn against moisture loss and help slow down the transformation of starch to sugar.

Cornichons

  • Cornichons are pickled gherkin cucumbers that are very common in French cooking.

  • These crunchy pickles have a dry, sharp taste, and are often served alongside fatty meats in traditional French fare in order to perk up and cut through the richness of a meaty dish.

  • Try to find cornichons from a market or deli counter as they tend to have a bit more “snap” than store-bought varieties.

  • If you can’t find cornichons, try substituting equal amounts of dill and sweet gerkins to replicate their sour-sweet flavour.

Cucumber

  • Cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, so choose ones that are displayed in refrigerated cases. Avoid any that have been sitting in the sun.

  • Choose cucumbers that are firm right to their tips, with good green colour and without blemishes. They should be fleshy but not too large, and nice and straight.

  • Try to purchase cucumbers that are unwaxed so that you can eat the nutrient-rich skin without consuming the wax and any chemicals trapped in it.

  • The smaller the cucumber, the smaller its seeds. Smaller cukes will also generally be crunchier and tastier.

  • Choose English cucumbers for fewer seeds.

  • Like all vegetables with a high water content, cucumbers must be eaten as quickly as possible after being picked.

  • Once cut, cover the cut end with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.

  • Do not keep cucumbers at room temperature as they will dry out quickly and lose their crunch.

Daikon Radish

  • Daikon radish is a mild-flavored, very large, white, East Asian radish. Despite being known most commonly by its Japanese name, it did not originate in Japan, but rather in continental Asia.

  • The most commonly used daikon radish in Japan resembles the shape of giant carrot and is approximately 14 inches long and 10 centimeters in diameter.

  • Daikon radish is prized for its digestive qualities so appears alongside many Japanese dishes. It can also be substituted in any recipe that calls for radishes.

  • When selecting a daikon, look for one that is firm, white, and spotless.

  • Daikon can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks, but make sure to peel it before eating.

Eggplant

  • Smaller eggplants tend to be milder in flavor, while larger ones can have bitter overtones.

  • You can leach out the bitterness in sliced eggplant by sprinkling it with salt and letting it sit for a while.

  • Eggplants become quite watery during cooking, so salting them beforehand will also remove some moisture.

  • Eggplant discolors quickly when sliced – this can be combated by sprinkling or rubbing it with lemon juice, and cooking it in an enamel, glass, or stainless steel dish.

Endive (Belgian Endive)

  • Endive (or Belgian endive) is available from September through May, with its peak season from November through April.

  • The shoots of this plant are grown in the dark in order to retain the pale white color and to prevent the leaves from turning darker in colour. When endive is exposed to light, the leaves turn green and become bitter.

  • Used in salads, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, and side dishes, Belgian endive has narrow, spear-shaped leaves that grow close and tightly wrapped around the head.

  • As it begins to grow, endive is typically covered with a loose layer of dirt or sheets of opaque plastic, or immersed in water in order to keep the full light from reaching the plant leaves.

  • Belgian Endive is a member of the chicory family and may be creamy white with either very pale yellow tips (white Belgian endive), or scarlet to deep red colored tips (red Belgian endive).

  • Look for creamy white, tightly closed heads (or creamy red if you’re choosing red endive) that are 6-8 inches long with light yellow points. There should be 5-6 heads per pound.

  • As a substitute, use radicchio, arugula, or watercress.

Fennel Bulbs

  • Fennel belongs to the same family as parsley, carrots, dill, and coriander, but resembles a cross between celery and a leek. Every part is edible – the bulb, leaves, and seeds.

  • When choosing fresh fennel, look for clean, firm, and solid bulbs that are pale green or whitish in colour.

  • The stalks and leaves should be brighter green and appear fresh and firm.

  • Fresh fennel should be fragrant with a mild black licorice smell.

  • Avoid choosing fennel that has flowers or buds on the leaves as their presence means it is past maturity and the taste may be compromised.

  • Also avoid any bulbs showing signs of splitting, bruising, or discoloration.

  • To store fresh fennel, wrap it in plastic and store in the crisper of your fridge. Do not wash it first as the added moisture can cause the bulb and leaves to go soggy.

  • Use fresh fennel within three to four days, before it loses its flavour.

  • Fennel can be blanched and frozen, though will lose some of its flavour and texture.

Garlic

Green Beans

  • Choose crisp, well formed beans that have smooth skin.

  • Avoid beans that appear woody or tough with any brown spots.

  • For the best flavor, use green beans within a day or two of purchasing.

  • Beans can be stored in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready for use, up to 5 days.

  • Snap off the tough ends of the bean only when you are ready to cook them.

  • More about green beans.

Green Onions (including spring onions and scallions)

  • Green onions are small onions that have been harvested before they are mature. They are also commonly referred to as spring onions or scallions. These terms are used interchangeably, but there are some differences between them.

    • True green onions have small white bases that vary in size depending on when they were harvested. Most have a slight roundness to them, but they have not developed into full bulbs.

    • Spring onions are green onions that have been allowed to mature a bit further. They are slightly larger and rounder in shape, and they have a slightly stronger flavor.

    • While green onions can come from any variety of onion, scallions are actually a distinct variety. The ends of scallions have straight sides and they do not form rounded bulbs as other green onions do. They are generally milder in flavor as well.

  • Green onions are available year-round, but their prime season is spring and summer.

  • Typically sold in bunches, look for groups that are fairly consistent in size. The tops should be crisp and bright green and the white ends should be firm and unblemished.

  • Compared to mature onions, green onions are quite perishable. Remove any rubber bands and store them unwashed and wrapped in paper towel in a tightly closed plastic bag.

  • Green onions will keep in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for three to five days before the tops begin to wilt.

Kale

  • Kale is a highly-nutritious leafy vegetable that is a good source of fibre, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and vitamin K.

  • Look for smaller, fresh-looking, dark green leaves. Avoid any with yellowing or brown leaves.

  • The stems are edible too, so make sure they are also crisp, tender, and green.

  • Fresh kale becomes bitter the longer it is stored,  so try to use it within a couple of days of buying it. Kale also freezes very well.

Kelp

  • Also known as sea vegetables (or seaweed, incorrectly), kelp gets its nourishment from the sea and contains all the minerals you find in sea water: calcium, sodium, iron, phosphorus, and iodine, as well as amino acids and vitamins B1, B2, A, C, D and E.

  • Purchase kelp, usually dried, at specialty and health food stores. Look for tightly sealed packages and avoid those that have evidence of excessive moisture.

  • Store sea vegetables in tightly sealed containers at room temperature where they can stay fresh for at least several months.

  • Kelp can be used in specific dishes or to thicken soups. To separate the kelp from its gelatin, soak it in water for a couple of hours, agitate the water and then strain the kelp.

  • Kelp is different from seaweed and grows up to 100 feet long in the ocean. It is the main breeding ground of herring, which lay eggs on these “curtains” during spawning season in spring.

Leeks

  • Leeks look like giant green onions.

  • When shopping for leeks, choose those with straight, fleshy, firm stalks that are vibrant white in colour.

  • Avoid any with brown blemishes.

  • Make sure the leaves are rich green without yellowing or dryness, and its root is fresh and earthy-smelling.

  • The easiest way to clean a leek is to trim away the green tops and slice it in half lengthwise. Then run the leek under cold water, spreading apart the layers to allow the water to seep through.

  • Unlike most vegetables, leeks are tastier when they are cooked longer.

  • When cooking leek, don’t discard the green tops. They may not be as tender but they’re very nutritious and can be used in soups, stews, or sauces.

  • Whether you’re steaming, braising, frying, poaching or grilling the leek, cook it just like you would an onion.

  • When boiling leeks, keep your pot uncovered to allow the sulphur to escape.

  • To maximize its flavour, let leeks sweat – cook them with butter over low heat until soft and translucent.

Onions

  • There are a few types of onions commonly available in a typical grocery store:

    • Yellow onions, or cooking onions, are the most common. Yellow onions are full-flavored and are a reliable standby for cooking almost anything. They turn a rich, dark brown when cooked and give French Onion Soup its tangy sweet flavor.

    • Red or purple onions have flavour ranging from mild to sweet, and are often eaten raw, added for color to salads. They’re also good grilled or lightly cooked, but may lose their colour when cooked.

    • Organic onions tend to be higher in sulfur content, which is what gives onions their strong, complex flavour. Unfortunately, sulfur is also what produces the vapour that burns your eyes when cutting onions.

  • The time of year onions are grown can affect their flavour:

    • Onions are typically sweeter in spring and summer than in fall and winter. Keep this in mind when shopping for a particular recipe.

    • Fall/winter onions last longer and contain less sugar and water than spring onions. This makes fall/winter onions ideal for simmering in recipes with longer cooking times, like chili.

  • To choose a good onion:

    • Pick ones that are heavy for their size. Heavier ones are juicier.

    • The outer skins should be dry, papery and crackling, and showing no signs of spotting or moistness.

    • The skin beneath the papery layer should be smooth and tight all the way around, with no loose or soft spots, dark blemishes, or sprouts.

    • Onions should feel firm when squeezed and have no scent. If they’re squishy, they’re probably past their prime.

  • More about onions.

Potatoes

  • A medium potato contains almost all the nutrients your body needs:

    • about 110 calories

    • nearly 3 grams of proteins, no fat

    • about 23 grams of carbohydrates.

    • almost 2.7 grams of dietary fiber

    • 750 mgs of precious potassium.

  • When choosing potatoes, they should be fairly clean, smooth, firm and heavy for its size. Avoid potatoes with soft dark spots, large cuts, growth cracks, bruises, skinned areas, decay, sprouts or shriveling.

  • Potatoes should not smell musty or moldy, which may affect the flavor or indicate decay. Potatoes should also not look green. “Greening” is caused by exposure to natural or artificial light, and produces alkaloid solanin, creating a bitter flavor is potentially poisonous consumed in great quantities.

  • When reading recipes that call for potatoes, pay attention to the type requested. If no type is mentioned, remember:

    • For scalloped potatoes, use new, boiling potatoes or low-starch potatoes like red or yellow because they have more fibre and stay together better.

    • Baking potatoes are best for just that: baking. If used for other recipes, they can get all powdery.

  • More about potatoes.

Scallions

  • A member of the onion family, scallions have a white base that is actually an immature bulb, and tall, stalk-like green leaves.

  • The dark-green ends have a delicate sharpness similar to chives and a light, crisp texture, but they wilt and discolor when cooked too long, so are often added to a dish just before serving.

  • The white bulb is more onion-flavoured and can withstand longer cooking times.

  • You can substitute chives in recipes calling for scallion greens, or onions or shallots for scallion bulbs.

  • Choose scallions with full white bulbs and firm green tops and avoid any that have soggy or browned leaves as these are past their prime.

  • Wrap whole, trimmed scallions in a paper towel and put them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to a week.

Shallots

  • When selecting shallots, follow the same guidelines as choosing onions.

  • Shallots should be firm and heavy for their size, not dry and light, and should have no soft spots.

  • Sprouting shallots are an indication of age. They taste stronger and more bitter, though still edible. Simply cut away the green sprouts to remove the really bitter parts.

  • The younger and smaller the shallot, the milder the taste.

  • Large shallots smell and taste more like their onion and garlic cousins.

  • Store shallots in a cool, dry, dark place with plenty of air circulation.

  • Shallots may also be chopped and frozen up to 3 months. When thawed, they’ll have the texture of a lightly sautéed shallot, so don’t expect any crunch.

Soybeans

  • Soybeans are available as edamame (when large, sweet beans are harvested prematurely) or as mature beans (either fresh or dried).

  • Mature beans are light tan or yellow in colour, though there are also brown and black varieties.

  • Dried beans should be purchased from a store that has covered bins and good turnover.

  • Dried beans need to be soaked for several hours before cooking.

  • Dried soybeans can be stored in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

Spinach

  • When purchasing spinach, look for broad, thick, crisp leaves that are dark green and tender.

  • Some fresh spinach may contain traces of dirt and mud, so take the time to thoroughly wash it before using.

  • When buying pre-packaged spinach, turn the package over to make sure that the leaves on the bottom appear dry and vibrant green. Avoid any that are wet or turning slimy.

  • Fresh spinach should keep up to seven days in the refrigerator. Frozen spinach can last up to eight months, but make sure to check the expiration date on the package to confirm.

  • Raw spinach is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K, and can also be a good source of iron.

  • In the 1930’s, U.S. spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33% increase in domestic spinach consumption – a welcome boost to the industry during the Depression.

Squash (butternut, acorn, sugar, spaghetti, etc.)

  • Squash is rich in antioxidants, which help fight aging.

  • Squash is also an excellent source of potassium, a diuretic that helps purify the blood.

  • When selecting a squash, make sure that the rind is a uniform color. This means it is uniformly ripe.

  • Check the squash for brown frostbite scars, which can affect its texture and longevity.

  • Don’t choose a squash with punctures or cuts. These can let in bacteria and cause mold.

  • Squash keeps fresh for several weeks in a cool, dry place.

Sweet Potatoes

  • Choose firm sweet potatoes that are free of cracks, bruises, or soft spots.

  • Cold temperatures negatively affect the taste of sweet potatoes, so avoid any that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce department, and don’t store them in your refrigerator.

  • Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, away from any sources of heat. Either keep them loose, or put them in a brown paper bag with multiple air holes punched in it. Never store sweet potatoes in a plastic bag because they will heat up.

  • Properly stored, they’ll keep fresh this way for up to ten days.

  • Organically grown sweet potatoes be eaten in their entirety – flesh and skin.

  • Non-organic sweet potatoes should be peeled, either before or after cooking, as they are often treated with dye, wax, or pesticides.

Tomatoes

Watercress

  • By weight, watercress contains more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than an orange, and more absorbable iron than spinach. This makes it a true super-vegetable and natural multi-vitamin.

  • When buying watercress, look for one with the darkest and largest leaves possible and avoid any with wilted or yellow leaves or that appear dry.

  • Watercress keeps for several days in the fridge and stays especially fresh and crisp if submerged in a bowl of cold water.

Zucchini

  • If you’re buying zucchini from a local farmer’s market or grocery store, the best yields are usually available in August and September.

  • Zucchini typically is at its most flavourful within the first few days after picking, so use it as soon as possible after buying

  • Size:

    • For recipes, frying or baking, buy a zucchini between 4 and 6 inches long.

    • For a stuffed zucchini, go with a slightly larger fruit, about 8 inches or so.

  • The best zucchinis should be an even, dark green color.

  • To guarantee flavour, choose zucchinis that are firm and heavy for their size since, as they grow, zucchinis become softer and less tasty. Bigger is not always better.

Grape Leaves

  • Part of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, grape leaves are commonly used as wrappers for fillings of rice, meats, and other vegetables. 

  • Bottled or preserved grape leaves come in a wide variety of quality and size, so you may have to shop around to find a suitable product.

    • Leaves should be completely covered by brine – check the jar before you buy.

    • Leaves keep their colour best if stored in a dark cupboard.

    • A 16 oz jar usually contains about 60 usable leaves in 3 bundles.

    • Commercially-prepared leaves still need to be blanched and chilled before use or they’ll be too salty and strong-flavored.

  • If picked fresh, the leaves from Sultana grapes (Thompson seedless) are hardier and more flexible than other types, but any variety can be used. Pick leaves in late spring (May or June).

    • Leaves should be whole, without holes, medium to large (about palm-size), from vines that have not been sprayed with pesticides.

    • Leaves should be light green and supple. The best are those below the new growth at the top of the plant and above those close to the grapes.

    • After picking grape leaves, use a sharp knife and cut off the stem. Rinse well under cold running water. Blanche fresh leaves before using within 2 months. (Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn off heat, add leaves, and let sit 3-5 minutes.)

    • To store fresh grape leaves for longer than a couple of months, wipe off fresh leaves to remove moisture and debris (don’t rinse or wash), lay one on top of the other and package 50-70 (or less) in a plastic bag. Press to remove as much air as you can, close, and freeze flat. Label bags with date and number of leaves. Defrost in a strainer or colander under running water and use without blanching.

    • If you’re planning to use them earlier than two months, blanche first, drain well, pat dry to remove excess liquid, and freeze as above.

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