Fresh vegetables are usually least expensive and of best quality during their peak growing season. Unlike fruits, most vegetables do not continue to ripen after harvesting.
Look for produce that is crisp, nicely colored, firm and unblemished. Avoid vegetables with wilting, bruising, spoilage or dryness.
Most vegetables lose nutrients and flavor in prolonged storage. Buy a few days’ supply of vegetables at a time. Good "keepers" for longer storage include potatoes, onions, winter squash, carrots and cabbage.
The waxy coating commonly found on vegetables such as cucumbers, squash and turnips guards against spoilage and retains moisture. The wax, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is edible but may be scrubbed off with a vegetable brush or pared away.
Frozen vegetables are generally of high quality because crops are harvested at the proper stage of ripeness, when flavors and nutrients are at their peak. Soon after being picked, the vegetables are blanched to retain their flavor, color and texture. Little or no salt or sugar is added unless the package contains a sauce. Block-frozen packages should feel solid. Bags of loose corn, peas or other vegetables should feel loose and shakable inside big lumps probably indicate that the package was partially thawed and refrozen.
Compare labels and choose cans with little or no salt or sugar. Avoid any cans that are dented or bulging. Store cans in a cool, dry place and use the oldest cans first.
Dried vegetables such as beans, peas and lentils provide an excellent, low-cost source of protein. Dried peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions are convenient to store, and add flavor and character to recipes. Store dried vegetables in a cool, dry place.
Nutrient losses occur much more rapidly in fresh vegetables than in canned or frozen. Most fresh vegetables do best in the vegetable crisper compartment in the refrigerator, which is designed to provide optimum humidity, or in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Some vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, rutabaga and winter squash, are best stored unrefrigerated in a cool, dry, dark place. Store onions and potatoes separately to retard spoilage.
To freeze most fresh vegetables, blanch them first to retain flavor, true color, tender texture and to prolong freezer life. (For more information, see Fruit Freezing Chart, and Vegetable Freezing Chart.
Wash, but do not soak, fresh vegetables before cooking. Vegetables can be boiled, steamed, microwaved, baked, stir-fried, grilled or even broiled.
Whichever preparation method you choose, use as little water as possible and avoid overcooking. To keep flavor, color and texture at their best and to preserve vitamins and minerals, cook most vegetables just until crisp-tender-tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not mushy. The color should still be bright. Potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, winter squash and beets should be tender throughout. Leafy greens should be wilted but still bright in color.
Frozen or Canned
Prepare commercially frozen vegetables according to package directions. Canned vegetables need only to be placed in a saucepan and heated. They are sometimes used in salads without heating.
Cooking Fresh Vegetables
To boil fresh vegetables, use a saucepan and about 1 cup water per pound of vegetable. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of water. Bring salted water to a boil over high heat add vegetables. Return to a boil begin timing. To preserve the natural color of green vegetables, boil uncovered for first 5 minutes. Cover pan and reduce heat boil gently throughout the cooking time. Do not overcook. For directions on boiling specific vegetables, see the Fresh Vegetable Cooking Reference.
Grill Basket: Choose vegetables with similar cooking times and of similar size, at least 3/4-inch wide to prevent falling through grill basket. Brush vegetables with oil or melted butter.
Kabobs: Choose vegetables with similar cooking times and of similar size. Brush with oil or melted butter to prevent drying. Two skewers per kabob will hold vegetables in place and prevent falling off or slipping when turning them.
Direct Grill: Use whole vegetables, turning them for even heating. Vegetables with skins need to be pierced with a fork. Soak corn husks in water before grilling to prevent burning.
Foil Packet: Add butter, chicken, beef or vegetable stock, or another type of liquid for moisture. Use heavy-duty foil.
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