Happy New-ish Year!
After a 3-month long hiatus (after the holiday craze), I am back!
It didn’t mean I stopped cooking! In fact, I’ve probably cooked more meals in the past 2 months than I usually do. I often get discouraged from taking photos of my home cooked meals because 1) my kitchen is tiny so I lack space to set up and 2) food styling can get a bit too much especially when I just want to eat my food right away! I know, I know, both are feeble excuses and I promise I will try harder this year. However, today’s post is not a recipe! Instead, I’d like to share my tips on how to store herbs, vegetables, and fruits in your home to maximize freshness after your trip to the grocery store.
One of the things I hate about cooking is how much produce I waste. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 basil leaves, you cannot purchase TWO basil leaves at the grocery store. Instead, they come in a bunch and you don’t know what to do with the rest except hope that you’ll find use for it the next day or watch it wither and die. This is also why it’s discouraging to eat more veggies at home. By the time I’m ready to cook them, they’ve gone bad. It’s easy to say, “Just grow your own produce so you only pluck as much as you need to!” Trust me, I would very much like that, but I lack the space to do so. Maybe I just need to try harder next time.
To try and reduce food waste, I’ve gone through a series of trial and error to find the best ways to keep common produce fresh as long as possible. I know these things can easily be Googled, but I’ve found that multiple websites can tell you conflicting instructions, so it’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve narrowed it down for you. I also know there’s a lot of science behind these methods – mix of moisture vs. oxygen vs. sunlight – but I’m not going to go into that (boring!). Just trust me.
(Keep in mind that these are not new, revolutionary methods. This is just what has worked for me based on experience!! If you truly believe that singing to your herbs at 6am every morning helps them stay fresh, then keep on doing it!!!)
Basil: My patience is about as short as a basil’s lifespan when it’s been plucked from the plant. It’s non-existent. There’s a couple of tricks for this. 1) Trim off about 1/2-inch off the ends and place them in a jar of water, about 1 inch, just like you would with fresh flowers. Loosely cover it with a plastic bag (I usually use produce bags from the grocery store) and leave it on your counter. I’ve found that room temperature is basil’s best friend and oppositely, the cold air in the fridge can make them wilt faster. This method can usually prolong basil’s life for 4-5 days. I like this method if I know I’m going to use basil on Monday and then again on Friday for a different dish. With this method, I find that replacing the water every 2 days can help maintain its freshness. 2) If you accidentally bought a whole basil plant, but got home and decided that you’re too lazy to take care of it, you can actually freeze the leaves so you don’t have to use it all at once or throw it away. First, pluck the leaves from the stem and blanch* for 2 seconds (YES, 2 SECONDS ONLY). Then completely dry the leaves and store in a freezer-safe container, separating the layers with parchment paper.
Mint: Similar to basil, trim off the ends of the stem and place in a jar with 1 inch of water. Loosely cover it with a plastic bag, but store it in the fridge, not your counter. Change the water every 2 days (or when water becomes cloudy) to maintain freshness. This keeps mint leaves fresh for about 7-10 days. You can tell it’s gone bad when the leaves have become discolored.
Parsley, Cilantro: Exact same method as mint (trim ends, put in a jar of water, cover loosely, keep in fridge), but add more water to the jar. Change the water every 2-3 days. Keep trimming the ends if they get a bit slimy. This method keeps the leaves fresh for about 7-10 days. You can tell they have gone bad when the leaves become discolored.
Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano: These guys can last a while already without much care, but there’s 2 ways to keep them even longer!! 1) Place them in a small jar of water, about 2 inches and leave on your counter top, no cover. Replace the water when it gets cloudy. This prolongs their life for about 4-6 days. Thyme will last longer. 2) To keep them even longer, loosely wrap the sprigs in a slightly damp cloth towel and then again in a plastic storage bag or airtight container. Be careful not to wrap the sprigs too tightly because trapped moisture makes it easier for mold to grow. This prolongs their life for about 2 weeks. Method 2 is my favorite way to store these herbs.
*Blanching is a cooking process wherein a food, usually a vegetable or fruit, is scalded in boiling water, removed after a brief, timed interval, and finally plunged into iced water or placed under cold running water to halt the cooking process. -definition stolen from Google
VEGETABLES & FRUITS
This section is more about proper storage and how long it lasts i.e. do I put it in the fridge or leave it on my counter top? Should I hop around it for 10 seconds and clap my hands twice?
Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Eggplants: Fridge, 5-7 days
Onions: Counter top, 1-2 months if whole. Fridge, 5 days if cut & peeled & stored in an airtight container
Avocados: Fridge, 3-5 days. However, if you’re storing half an avocado, I’ve found that placing it in the same, air-tight container as a cut onion can help slow it down from turning brown. Also, I’ve found the problem with buying avocados is that they are always too unripe (reminds me of dragon eggs) or it’s too mushy. If it’s too unripe, the faster way to ripen them is to store them in a brown paper bag until soft. Pro Tip: when picking avocados in the grocery store, pull back the stem on the end of an avocado to check the ripeness. If it’s green underneath, it’s ripe. If it’s too brown, it’s overripe. If the stem doesn’t come off easily, with just a slight pull, it’s unripe.
Apples: Fridge, 3 weeks
Mangoes: Counter top, 1 week. They shouldn’t be refrigerated until they’re ripe, but putting them in the fridge when they are ripe can help them prevent from getting too ripe.
Grapefruit, Oranges: Fridge, 2-3 weeks. Counter top, 1 week
Lemons & Limes: Fridge, 3 weeks. Counter top, 3-5 days depending on how ripe they are
Potatoes: Counter top, a lifetime. Just kidding, they can last about 3-4 weeks. These are best stored in a dark, cool place. When your potatoes start to sprout, this means that nutrients are leaving the potatoes. To prevent from sprouting, keep them in a brown paper bag. If your potatoes have sprouted, don’t throw them away just yet! If you have a garden (or access to one), click here to learn how to grow a potato from a potato.
Asparagus, Scallions: Store in a jar with about 2 inches of water. Don’t trim the ends/roots. Loosely cover with plastic bag. Store upright in fridge for 7 days.
Garlic: Counter top, 2 months
Ginger: Fridge, 3 weeks. You can also freeze these to make it last for MONTHS. This is awesome because you don’t need to thaw it out before grating. My best tip is to just buy ground ginger. I have seen no difference in taste in recipes when I’ve substituted ground ginger for the real ginger. I would say that the equivalent is 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger to every tablespoon of freshly grated ginger the recipe calls for.
Arugula: Wash & dry thoroughly. Wrap the leaves in a cloth towel and place them in a plastic bag with holes and store in the fridge. This will keep them fresh for about 7 days.
Carrots: Wrap in damp cloth towel and place in an airtight container. If you buy carrots with the tops, cut it off first. Store in fridge, 7 days.
Celery: Keep it whole! Wrap the whole thing with foil (not too loose, not too tight) and store in the fridge, 7-10 days.
Tomatoes: I recommend counter top for 1-2 weeks. Not sure if there’s any science behind this but in my experience but I’ve found that although tomatoes keep longer when refrigerated, they lose their flavor.
OTHER FUN FACTS
Did you Know? When other fruits are next to bananas, they ripen faster. This is because Bananas release a gas called ethene/ethylene. This gas breaks down the cell walls of fruits (starches converting to sugars) thus causing them to ripen & soften. There are some fruits like oranges that doesn’t ripen next to ethene, but there are a lot that do (avocados, peaches, apples, tomatoes)!
To Wash or Not Wash?: I think there’s a lot of argument about whether or not to wash veggies & herbs before storing (something about the bacteria on the leaves helping it last longer). From my experience, I think that you can certainly wash certain vegetables before storing, but make sure to dry them well after washing. I’ve found that doing this doesn’t necessarily shorten the life of the vegetable or herb.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope that helps out someone. I promise my next post will be a recipe post!