Cooking with Bwog: Back to Basics—Vegetables and Fruit
Written by Bwog Staff
Matt Powell continues his exhaustive “Back to Basics” series this week with veggies and fruit!
Picking out and storing vegetables
- Take a good look at your veggie. Is it bruised, soft? Are the leafy parts wilting? These are signs of vegetables decaying.
- Most vegetables need to be stored in the fridge for freshness. Don’t store in plastic bags. Store leafy greens in paper towels ideally. Mushrooms are best kept in a paper bag. Exceptions to the refrigerator include winter squash, garlic, onion, potatoes, and yams. These should be kept at a cool 60-70 degree, a room temperature.
- When ready for use, vegetables should be rinsed with cold water and scrubbed. Leafy greens should be swirled in cold water or tossed in a salad spinner. (This will decrease grit—which is especially a problem for West Side.) For mushrooms, use a damp paper towels to rub off excess dirt.
Popular Vegetables and Common Preparations (* indicates instruction below)
Broccoli: Remove any stray leaves and trim the ends of the stalks. Cut the top into 2-inch pieces. Broccoli is great to toss into stir-fries*, steaming, or boiling. Typically, it takes 5-10 minutes for the broccoli to become tender and yet crisp.
Carrots: Carrots can be julienned (cut into strips) with a vegetable peeler, for a simple garnish, sliced for soups, shredded for salads, or chopped into pieces. Carrots can be glazed, stir-fried*, roasted, turned into a slaw, or you can do the good ol’ fashioned boil. Simply boil for 5-10 minutes, until tender.
Green Beans: Trim off the tough ends. Green beans can be boiled, steamed, tossed in a stir-fry*, sautéed**, and roasted. Once again, the typical time is 5-10 minutes.
Mushrooms: When buying mushrooms, look for tightly closed gills (the part under the cap). They should not be withered or wrinkled. They should not be wet! Check your mushroom for cooking directions. Some mushrooms cannot be eaten raw, but some are best when eaten raw… it depends. I commonly sauté** mine in butter.
Onions: This is probably our most essential vegetable in cooking. Later in the semester, when I tackle knife skills, I will demonstrate how to dice and how to slice onions properly. For now, this is how to properly caramelize an onion:
Recipe: Peel 1 large yellow onion and trim the ends. Slice the onion in half. Slice the halves very thinly. Heat 2-3 tbsp butter or olive oil to a skillet and heat. Add the sliced onion. Add a large pinch of salt and 1 tbsp. sugar. Turn the heat to medium-low. Stir frequently and keep the heat on low. The onions will begin to soften and turn a light brown. The caramelization process can take 10-30 minutes, depending on how many onions you use, your stovetop, and how caramelized you want the onions. You can stop cooking when the onions are a light honey color or you can continue to cook until they are deep brown. As long as you continue to stir, the onions should not burn. Season with a little pepper at the end.
*Stir-fry: to cook small pieces of food quickly in a small amount of oil (about 1 tbsp.-4 tbsp.) over high heat. Traditionally made in a large pan and stirred/tossed constantly until cooked through.
**Sauté: to cook food quickly in a small amount of fat (2 tbsp.) in a skillet
Picking out and storing fruits
In general the “sight rule” also applies to fruit. If there are visible deformities, bruises, or soft spots on the fruit, it won’t be as good. Here are some common fruits and how to pick them out:
Apples: Buy firm, crisp apples without bruises or soft spots. Store in the fridge to prolong apple life.
Bananas: Buy when yellow or yellow with a couple light brown spots. If bought when green, place in a paper bag at room temperature to hasten ripening.
Berries: Buy plump, vibrant berries free of bruises or juice stains. Avoid moist berries—this will hasten decay. To store, place in the refrigerator. However, berries begin to mold quickly—sometimes within 24 hours. To prolong the life of your berry, stick them in the freezer.
Citrus (grapefruit, limes, lemons, oranges, etc.): Buy fruits that are firm and brightly colored. Avoid soft fruits or hard-skinned fruits. You can store them in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Grapes: Best are plump grapes, firmly attached to the stem. Avoid dry, brittle stems and shriveled grapes. Store in the fridge for about 1 week.
Stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums): Choice stone fruits are bright, fragrant, and not hard. They should not be shriveled. The color should be vibrant and bright. Under-ripe fruits will become softer at room temperature, but they will not gain any sweetness or flavor. Ripe fruits should be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Pears: Pears should be a little firm, and well-shaped. They can be ripened at room temperature in a paper bag for a few days and refrigerated once ripe for 3-5 days. Never refrigerate in plastic.
Tomatoes: Size does not correlate to flavor. I usually go with tomatoes that are still on the vine because they are picked as close to their flavor-peak as possible. Store at a cool room temperature out of direct sun.