Spring is upon us, and our thoughts turn to crisp, colorful, flavorful, and fresh spring vegetables. After the winter, the selection of quality greens skyrockets until late summer, and the prices make it worth stocking up. Here are five tips for selecting and storing the best spring vegetables.
1. Size Matters
While it’s tempting to get the bundle of giant asparagus or green onions to get the most for your money, most spring vegetables are sweeter and more tender if they’re small. Look for thin asparagus stalks, small spinach leaves, and tiny fingerling potatoes for a more delicate flavor than their full-size counterparts. Remember to reduce cooking time for smaller vegetables.
2. Avoid Temperature Extremes
Whether it’s sitting out all morning in direct sun at the farmer’s market, or buried under ice at the store, most leafy greens hate extreme temperatures. Buy from a vendor who makes good use of shade and cool water, but does not put produce in direct contact with ice. Look for uneven color, dark streaks on salad greens, and limpness as signs of temperature damage. This becomes more of an issue at an outdoor market in the south, where intense sun can cook delicate greens. Only buy firm, crisp vegetables.
3. Buy and Eat
Spring vegetables tend to be more fragile, and don’t last as long as their more sturdy fall counterparts. Don’t buy more than you can eat within 5-7 days, and the more delicate foods (like ripe berries) may need to be used immediately.
4. Wait to Wash
Moisture balance is the key to keeping fresh fruits and vegetables longer. Once they are wet, especially stored in an air tight container, they will rot fairly quickly. Wait to wash your fruits and vegetables until just before preparation or eating for maximum shelf life. For items with protective peels and husks, like corn or tomatillos, leave them unpeeled until you’re ready to cook them.
5. Toss the “Green Bags”
The green-tinted plastic produce bags are expensive and unnecessary. Instead, wrap greens in a layer of dry paper towel and store in an airtight bag or container. Make sure the paper towel is between the produce and the sides of the bag or container. The paper towel helps regulate moisture, dramatically extending the edible life of your greens. Romaine lettuce will keep from 2-4 weeks after purchase with this method, as will green onions and leeks.