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Get and Keep it Fresh!
Here's how to buy by season and prepare fresh vegetables and herbs.
While many fruits and vegetables are available year round, most are at their peak during specific seasons. Always buy fresh produce that looks its best, and avoid blemished, bruised, or dried-out fruits and vegetables. Buy local, seasonal produce whenever possible. I like using a fruit and vegetable wash, sold in a spray bottle. It is wonderful for cleaning away dirt, wax, water-repellent agricultural chemicals, and fingerprints from your fruits and vegetables.
Buy Fresh By Season
sugar snap peas
Keeping it Fresh
Store mushrooms in paper bags, as plastic makes them sweat, turning them slimy. Poke a couple of holes in the paper bag so that the air can pass through, and the mushrooms should keep three to four days. Do not clean until just before use. Avoid submerging mushrooms in water; wash them under cool running water and immediately dry them with paper towels, or wipe them individually with a wet paper towel. Store potatoes, squash, onions, and garlic loose, in a cool, dark place.
To ripen avocados, mangoes, pears, or tomatoes, place them in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter for two to four days. To speed up the ripening process, you can place them in a paper bag at room temperature. A ripe fruit yields to gentle pressure. Once ripened, keep avocados, mangoes, and pears in the refrigerator. The fruit is best sliced or diced at the last minute to prevent it from browning. Tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, as this will decrease their flavour and alter their texture.
Tips for Preparing Fresh Produce
To peel a mango, before cutting, wash the mango with the peel on. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the fruit in half vertically, sliding the knife along the seed. Repeat this on the other side so you have two halves. Slice the halves while still in the peel, then turn the mango halves inside out to fan out the fruit. Slice off the fruit at the base.
To open an avocado, cut it in half lengthwise, through to the pit. Separate the halves by twisting them in opposite directions. Remove the pit by hitting it with the blade of your knife and twisting. After removing the pit, scoop the flesh out from each side in one piece with a large spoon.
To section oranges and grapefruit, with a sharp knife, remove the peel and pith from the fruit, first by cutting off the top and bottom, then by slicing off the sides along the contours. Trim off any remaining pith, which is bitter. Cut between the fruit segments and membranes to remove each section.
Choosing and Preparing Herbs
Fresh herbs will enhance any salad, providing it with distinctive flavour. Herbs offer more than taste; they are rich in antioxidants and other healing compounds. Many herbs also have a substantial amount of vitamins A and K.
To keep your herbs fresh, treat them like a bouquet of flowers. Immerse the stems in a jar with 2 inches (5 cm) of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and refrigerate. Change the water occasionally—the herbs will stay fresh for several days. Before using, rinse the herbs under cold running water and dry thoroughly by gently patting with paper towels. If the leaves are attached to woody stems, pull them off the stems and then chop.
The taste of parsley is described as clean and refreshing. The flat-leaf, or Italian, variety is more strongly flavoured than the curly variety. Parsley has a celery-like taste and is very popular because it underlines the aroma of foods without being dominant. High in vitamins A and C, parsley is also known as a natural breath freshener. Basil is peppery in taste and has a faint tang of cloves and anise. Cilantro (fresh coriander) has a pungent, palate-awakening taste, with hints of citrus. Mint is sweet and has a cool, refreshing taste. Chives (first up in my spring garden) have a light onion-like taste. Their edible purple flowers make a pretty garnish for your salads. Thyme is an herb with tiny leaves and a minty, tea-like flavour. Rosemary has a pungent but sweet taste and a piney scent. Tarragon has a mild licorice taste. Chervil is a sweet, aromatic herb that also has a mild taste of licorice. Dill has a delicate, mild caraway flavour. Greek oregano has a spicy, piquant taste.
Edible flowers are a beautiful garnish for salads. I have found nasturtiums among the most versatile. I make sure to plant my own nasturtiums annually—that way I know they’re safe to eat. Nasturtium petals will add a light mustard taste to your salad.
Reprinted with permission from ”For the Love of Salad” by Jeanelle Mitchell. Writer and artist Jeanelle Mitchell was born in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Whitcap, 2010. Visit www.whitecap.ca.