Recipes and Tips to Make Your Veggies Last
Here’s how to store vegetables so they’re fresh and appealing as long as possible.
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Craving vegetables lately? The pandemic blues drains us of vigor. Meals packed with vibrant, living food can be just the ticket to feeling renewed and alive, too: a giant salad, a sauté of greens and multicolored bell peppers.
But since we're all aiming to be in stores less often, what does that mean for fresh produce? During the pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends purchasing the same amount of food all at one time that your family would normally eat in one to two weeks. Here’s how to shop for and store produce so you can still enjoy crisp, colorful vegetables on your plate all 14 days between grocery runs or online orders.
Eat the delicate stuff first
Leafy greens (lettuces, fresh herbs) and any pre-cut produce are more perishable. Plan your meals so you use those up first.
Re-bag before refrigerating
Airtight plastic bags and airtight containers lock in moisture, causing vegetables to rot. Most produce keeps best in an open plastic bag (like a zip-top bag). This lets it breathe, but doesn’t lock in water droplets.
Store veggies and fruits unwashed
Don’t rinse off produce until you’re using it. Once again, moisture = bacteria = faster spoilage.
Store fruits and vegetables apart from each other in the fridge
Fruits produce ethylene gas, which can accelerate the rotting of vegetables.
Buy whole veggies, not precut
Whole veggies keep longer. If you prefer precut veggies, buy the ones you hate prepping the most, and cook with those first.
Can produce transmit coronavirus?
There’s not any evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through vegetables or fruit. You don’t need to wash produce with soap (in fact, it’s unsafe), or rinse it the moment you get home. When selecting produce at the store, observe the regular precautions you would shopping anywhere else. Shopping at off-peak hours and having an action plan helps a lot. Organize your shopping list by store section, like a map, so you’re not spending more time browsing than necessary.
Is it okay to eat raw vegetables?
Yes, thank goodness! You don’t need to cook produce for it to be safe to eat. Coronavirus is a respiratory virus spread from person to person, and not through food handling.
Is there anything different about ordering produce online?
Wait times can be long, depending on demand; check before letting your provisions dwindle too much.
What about produce from the farmers’ market?
If you prefer to support local farmers, see if there’s an option to get produce from them directly. Check the website or social media of your favorite farmers' market — many of them are offering produce boxes for pickup, similar to a CSA.
How to store vegetables
Below you’ll find specific tips, in order from shortest-keeping to longest-keeping.
Vegetables that keep about 1 week
Asparagus: Trim off the bottom half-inch from the stalks, remove the rubber bands, and put the spears upright in a small tub of water. Refrigerate for a week or more, changing the water out every day or two.
Cauliflower: Take the head of cauliflower out of its plastic wrapping and transfer it to an open plastic bag (you can keep the leaves on; they are sturdy and keep the cauliflower from drying out). It’ll start developing brown spots in 4 to 7 days. If so, just trim those off.
Zucchini: Yes, it’s summer squash, but you can get it year-round, and it keeps better than other produce we associate with summer (like green beans or eggplant). In a crisper in an unsealed plastic bag, it’ll last a week or longer.
Kale: Bunches of kale can be dripping with water from automatic misters in the produce display. Fling out any excess water, then wrap the leaves in dry paper towels (not damp paper towels). Slip the bundle into a clean new bag and keep it open. The leaves tend to turn yellow and limp within a week. Same goes for Swiss chard.
Tomatoes: Great news, you can refrigerate ripe tomatoes! Let them sit on the counter until they’re as ripe as you like them, then refrigerate up to a week.
Avocados: Same as tomatoes. Let them ripen on the countertop first, then refrigerate up to a week.
Broccoli: If the broccoli has long stems, trim off the bottom half-inch and stand the stalk in a container of water, changing the water out every day or so. Otherwise, keep in an unsealed plastic bag and cook within a week. The stems are great for cooking (cut them across the grain and peel, if necessary); freed from the florets, they’ll keep for up to two weeks.
Vegetables that keep about 2 weeks
Fennel: Cut off the fronds and long stems. The root itself will last over a week in a loose plastic bag.
Celery: Remove from the plastic bag it came in, wrap tightly in foil (weird, but it works), and refrigerate in the crisper drawer. You can revive limp celery with a quick soak in ice water.
Radishes: Radishes keep for up to two weeks, but their greens don’t. If your radishes have the greens still attached, lop them off when you get home, because they will turn to slime in a few quick days. If the greens are in good shape, you can braise them like mustard or spicy spinach.
Vegetables that keep about 1 month
Carrots: The thicker the carrot, the longer it keeps (a month on longer, if it’s really burly). Old-fashioned regular carrots in a bag are your best bet. Cut the top off the bag before storing them. If the carrots have green tops, trim those off. Baby carrots keep pretty well, until you open the package. Once you get them home, refrigerate them in a plastic container full of cold water, changing the water every day or so. This prevents them from getting dry and splitting.
Turnips: Need a change of pace? Scoop up some turnips the next time you’re out. They have a radish/mustard-y hint that goes well with rich cream, or cuts through fattier meats (they’re great with pot roast). Turnips keep in the fridge for about a month, and even when they start to get soft, you can braise them.
Sweet Potatoes: We think of sweet potatoes as a starch, but they’re packed with more nutrients than regular potatoes, so upgrade them to a carb/veggie hybrid. A bag of them will keep in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator) and have a shelf life of multiple weeks.
Beets: If the beets have green tops, cut them off (if you want to cook them, do so within a few days). Keep the beets in a paper bag or open plastic bag and use within a month.
Cabbage: Cabbage holds up like a champ, whether green or purple. You can get a head of each and keep them for weeks in an open plastic bag in the fridge. A cut head will start to brown on the cut side; just shave that part off and toss it before proceeding to chop.
Winter Squash: Keep whole winter squash at room temperature, but look out for soft spots, which will lead to rot. Use within a month.
Now that you have your veggies safely tucked away where they belong, why not get to cooking?
Buttery-rich cabbage and potatoes are so much more alluring than they look. This calls for savoy cabbage, but green cabbage is easier to find and will be just as tasty.
Cheesy Zucchini Casserole
If you have leftover rice around, put it to good use in this sunny casserole.
Beet Carrot Apple Salad Recipe (Paleo)
Make this when you’re craving salad, but your lettuce is long gone. Sub 2 cups of shredded cabbage for the apples for leftovers that’ll hold up better.
If your favorite veggies are all picked over, root vegetables are your heroes. Why not give turnips a shot? Gobs of dairy and cheese will convert turnip skeptics.
Caramelized Cabbage and Onion Pasta
Cabbage has never been so glamourous. It’s silky and sweet when you cook it long enough. Feel free to skip the vegan bacon, or use real bacon if you’re a meat-eater.
This gets better the longer it sits. Make a jar to have as a quick side, or a strikingly purple topping for grain bowls.
Carrot Ginger Soup
Simple and satisfying…particularly when you want healing food, but the fridge is getting bare.
Sriracha-Buffalo Cauliflower Bites
Spicy, addictive, low-guilt. Pretend you’re at your favorite sports bar, watching an actual live game!
When broccoli is getting wilty, chop it up and make these. Even broccoli snobs can’t resist.
Celery and Grapefruit Salad with Parmesan
So basic it’s genius. Why spotlight celery in a salad? Crunch. Use oranges if you don’t have grapefuit.
Super Kale Pesto
If you bought a bunch of kale with the best of intentions but aren’t jazzed about actually eating it, try this. Sub olive oil for flaxseed oil, and pecans or walnuts for the hemp seed, if you like.
Cooking mellows out peppery radishes cooked super simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add a touch of lemon juice and parsley before serving.
Easy Roasted Asparagus
Try eating these with your fingers like they’re French fries — you’ll love it.
Sweet Potato Curry
Add a little shrimp or chicken, if you like, but you really don’t need to; sweet potatoes are unexpectedly meaty in curries like this.
Recipes for quarantine cooking
We're with you at Yummly during the coronavirus to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection.