As spring continues to blossom, more varieties of vegetables begin to line our counters and fill our refrigerators. Strawberries make their bold entrance with a burst of color and sweetness that cannot be replicated, arugula reaches upward with fervor and spice, asparagus pushes from it’s network of roots to reign over our meals for its short existence. The spring vegetables demand to be noticed and appreciated. The gray hue of winter departs from our eyes as we fill our stomachs with flavorful, new life. Our kitchens become art studios, sacred spaces of creation with the finest supplies; as Douglas ponders in his grandmother’s kitchen in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine: “Grandma, he had often wanted to say, Is this where the world began? For surely it had begun in no other than a place like this. The kitchen, without doubt, was the center of creation, all things revolved about it; it was the pediment that sustained the temple.”
However, with increasing abundance can also come a feeling of being overwhelmed. We don’t have to eat everything at once but we do need to be able to store it well. There are tricks with each vegetable that can make it last longer. So, sit back, don’t let the freshness overwhelm you, and enjoy these tips for fresh vegetables all week long:
Arugula (5-7 days): Arugula is actually an herb in the mustard family. It is generally used similarly to salad greens, either as a substitute or as a complement. Arugula should be kept in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss, and refrigerated. It will keep for just a few days. Arugula tends to be gritty, so don’t forget to wash it just prior to using. If cooked, it should be added in just the last few minutes to prevent flavor loss and overwilting. Arugula makes a great pizza topping!
Asparagus (3-5 days): Cut ½ – 1 inch off of the base of the asparagus. Place asparagus stalks in a glass with water and refrigerate. Asparagus is best used within a few days, so try to use it at it’s freshest.
Green Onions (1-2 weeks): Cut off any damaged greens from the green onions bunch. You might also consider removing the rubber band, which can damaged the onion tops. Store green onions in a plastic bag to retain moisture and refrigerate.
Spinach (7-10 days): Spinach should be stored in a plastic bag to retain moisture. Spinach is generally rinsed by the farm, so it should have some moisture, but check the bag to make sure that it is not sitting in water. If it is, punch holes in the plastic bag, and drain any excess water and refrigerate.
Strawberries (5-7 days): Check for any damaged or bruised strawberries, and remove them from the container. Damaged fruits release ethylene gas which signals other fruits to ripen at a faster rate. Berries can go bad quite quickly, so make sure they are covered, and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, strawberries will be at their juiciest at room temperature, so if possible bring them to room temperature prior to consuming.
Herbs, bunched: Commonly bunched herbs include basil, cilantro, and parsley. Remove band or tie, and pick out any stems or leaves that have been damaged from banding. Snip the base of the stems, wrap in damp paper towels, and store in plastic bag in the refrigerator. This will help herbs to retain moisture, and extend storage life.
Mustard Greens: Mustard greens are considered to be just as healthy and nutrient packed as other cruciferous vegetables, like collards and kale, but haven’t gotten the same kind of press for it. They can be prepared as you would other greens, sauteed, boiled, or steamed. For more interesting options, consider taking a look at Indian or Chinese cuisine where they are use frequently. Like other greens, it’s best to store mustard greens in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss and refrigerate.
Radishes (1-2 weeks): Remove tops from radishes to prevent moisture loss and refrigerate. Radishes have a peppery flavor that usually goes well in salads or in appetizers. A simple and delicious appetizer is just sliced radishes served with melted butter and salt on the side. The peppery flavor is most concentrated in the skin, so they can be peeled for a milder flavor. Radish greens can also be used raw in salads, or cooked as you would other greens.
Pickling Cucumbers: Pickling Cucumbers are a shorter, thicker skinned variety of cucumber that as the name suggests are commonly used for pickles. However, pickling cucumbers are also consumed raw as well, and tend to have significantly more flavor than the long green cucumbers most of us are accustomed to in the grocery store. Cucumbers should be refrigerated and kept relatively dry. Over exposure to moisture can cause premature deterioration through mold.
With these tips you can move forward and allow your creativity to flow through your fingers and your spatulas. Enjoy the flavor the spring has to offer and keep it fresh for as long as possible.