Short of curing cancer and promising never-ending longevity, vegetables are accredited with so many health benefits it's a wonder that their daily consumption is not a common obsession.
Rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, vegetables are THE cornerstone of a healthy diet. Once the exclusive domain of vegetarians, vegetable-only meals are being incorporated into a growing number of weekly menu plans. And why not? They're good for health, they help with weight loss and they're easy on the budget.
With increased demand comes increased availability and today's supermarkets and grocers offer an exciting diversity of vegetables. If you're shopping for lettuce, what type? Good shops will have at least 5 varieties of hand. Check out the cos, iceberg, mignonette, green coral, red coral, butter endive, rocket and radicchio. And potatoes? Look for the pink eye, desiree, pontiac, king edward, new and sebago. Capsicums are available in a multitude colours. Asian vegetables such as bok choy, chinese cabbage and ginger are plentiful and fresh.
There are lots of books that shows versatility of vegetables. It is used almost in every dishes. Don't you ever think why people don't like spinach when it has lot to offer?
BUYING AND STORING
When shopping for vegetables, it's worth remembering that freshness is important. Buy only what you need - shopping for small amounts of vegetables a few times a week is much better than once weekly shop for everything. Plan meals with vegetables in seasons. These will be the freshest and most reasonably priced vegetables available. Watch the weather - long periods of rain can reduce the supply and the price will rise. If you establish a good relationship with your fruit and vegetable provider, they will be able to assist you in the best buys from week to week.
Also keep in mind that frozen vegetables can be added to soups and simmering dishes. Despite being frozen, they still contain nutrients and can be extremely handy if you don't have the time to shop every couple of days.
Lettuce and leafy greens
Looks for lettuces and leafy greens with crisp shiny leaves. The base of the lettuce should be dry and not slimy. Wash the lettuce, remove the core and, if possible, spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry in a tea towel. Store the lettuce in a plastic bag or wrap in wetted absorbent paper in the crisper section of your refrigerator. Lettuce should keep for up to 7 days for the crisper varieties, softer leaf types will only last for 3-4 days. Salad leaves deteriorate after a few days, so it's best to only buy what you need; some supermarkets are now selling prepackaged salad mixes that last up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Avoid root vegetables with blemished skin, green or purple marks, a musty smell or that have started to sprout. Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beetroot, celeriac, sewedes, jerusalem artichokes and turnips are all quick to show signs of spoilage, When purchased, carrots should be firm with no signs of wrinkles. Store most root vegetables in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for 6-8 days. There are many different varieties of potatoes available for cooking; the two main groups being floury and waxy. Floury potatoes are suited to baking, mashing and frying while waxy potatoes are good for boiling. Potatoes should be bought with the dirt still on to protect them from bruising and exposure to light. If stored in a cool dark placecc in a hessian bag, potatoes can last for up to 1 month.
Whole pumpkins will keep for months in a cool dark place. Wedges wrapped in a plastic can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Unless you have a good, sharp and large knife, it is probably best to buy pumpkin bu the wedge. Check that the seed area is moist, but not slimy, and that there is no mould.
Store tomatoes at room temperature as refrigerating will soften the flesh. To ripen tomatoes leave them on a window sill in a sunny spot in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the colour of a tomato is no longer indicative if the flavour. Vine ripened tomatoes that have been, as the name implies, left to ripen on the vine usually have a stronger sweeter flavour. Roma or egg tomatoes can also be sweet.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are quick to show signs of spoilage. With broccoli and cauliflower, look for tightly packed florets that show no evidence of yellowing or tiny flower. Cabbages and brussels sprouts should be dense with crisp out leaves.
Purchase onions with skins intact and no soft spots, green sprouts or any signs of moisture. Spring onions (also known as green onions) should have crisp green stems with moist roots.
Peas and Beans
The best way to test the freshness of a beans is to bend it - if it snaps it is fresh, it it bends it is on its way out. Try to purchase beans loose as this allows you to pick your own. Store them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for 2-3 days. Sugar snap and snow peas (also known as mangetout) should be crisp and bright green with no sign of blemishes; they should be eaten on the day of purchase. Buy peas in the pod and shell them just before cooking - 1 kg peas will yield 500 grams shelled peas. About the only way to tell the sweetness of a pea is to put it to the taste test.
Look for capsicums (also known as peppers) with shiny waxy skins; they should also be heavy for their size with no signs of softening. They can be stored at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for 4-5 days
Celery, Fennel and Asparagus
Stalky vegetables should be crisp with upright stalks. Celery should have bright green leaves. Look for asparagus with firmly closed buds. Store stalky vegetables in the vegetable crisper for 2-3 days.
To select a ripe avocado, gently press your thumb into the top near the stem and if it gives slightly it's ready to eat. Ripe ones should be eaten with 2-3 days of purchasing. Store unripe avocados at the room temperature.
Corn is best purchased in its husk. Peel back the husk and silk and check the kernels for signs of drying. Also, the silk should no be starting to moisten - the whiter the silk the fresher the corn. Corn is best eaten soon after purchased.
Look for clean white mushrooms with a fresh earthy aroma and tight caps. Exotic mushrooms are usually sold in trays covered in plastic so check carefully for any signs of decay. Mushrooms last longer when stored in paper bags in the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator. Do not wash or peel mushrooms; brush clean with a piece of absorbent paper towel.
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