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How to Store Your Produce So It Lasts Longer

As you flip through the pages of Food52’s new cookbook Mighty Salads, you’ll notice right away that fresh produce is at the heart of any mighty salad—whether it’s a leafy salad strewn with grilled mushrooms and figs, a couscous salad that puts spring’s best baby artichokes center stage, or a steak salad made whimsical by a tangle of peppery greens, herbs, and charred red onions.

Shopping for beautiful produce is often the easy (and fun) part, especially at the height of the growing season when farmers markets are spilling over with ripe peaches, fat tomatoes, and zucchinis galore. But after you get your bounty home, that’s when reality sinks in. You may wonder: What was I thinking? I bought enough produce for a family of eight, not four! How can I fit all of this into my refrigerator? Should I just take a nap now?

I faced these questions many times over in the process of developing new recipes for Mighty Salads. Before diving into this project, I was a little lackadaisical about produce storage. But with 30 recipes to create (and test, and test again) over a six-month period, I had to be more intentional about creating strategies that allowed me to do my shopping over the weekends, and make Mighty Salads all week long.

While I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules for produce storage, there are good rules-of-thumbs to follow. My approach begins with two similar but distinct questions:

1. What steps need to be taken as soon as I get my produce home (e.g. washing)?

2. What is the best storage method for each type of produce to ensure maximum freshness?

home from the market

You’ve made it home from the farmer’s market or the grocery store. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Remove twisty ties, rubber bands, or other fasteners from your produce to prevent bruising and poor circulation.
  • Cut the green, leafy tops from radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, etc. They draw moisture out of the vegetables, causing them to go limp and lose flavor. Store the greens separately in a plastic or mesh bag. (And put them to good use!)
  • Hold off on washing or cutting produce ahead of time because it’ll deteriorate faster. (One exception is berries, believe it or not! They’ll last longer if given a diluted vinegar bath.) If pre-washed and ready-to-go produce makes meal prep easier, then go for it—just know that your produce won’t last as long. I typically limit my pre-washing to sturdy, leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and the like) because I’m much more likely to grab them mid-week if I’ve washed and separated the leaves from the stems. I don’t recommend pre-washing tender greens (like watercress or mache) or soft herbs—their leaves are too delicate to withstand multiple handlings or any trapped moisture.

  • If you choose to pre-wash, make sure to dry produce as well as possible; a salad spinner makes quick work of this step.

Storing produce to ensure freshness

There are three places to store produce: the fridge, the countertop, or a cool room or pantry. Each fruit or vegetable has its own preferred place.

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Photo by James Ransom

For the fridge:

Lettuce and all kinds of leafy greens, artichokes, asparagus, beets, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, corn, cucumbers, fennel, green beans, herbs (except basil), leeks, mushrooms, okra, peas, peppers, radicchio, radishes, turnips, scallions, zucchini

Most vegetables need a slightly humid yet breathable environment to stay fresh, and are happier if stored in something versus tossed in the fridge. (Note: If your tender greens still have the roots attached, wrap them in a damp paper towel before storing them.) Below are three storage options for the fridge that all work.

  • Mesh or cloth bags. Food52 recently sent me some of Vejibags’ Fresh Vegetable Storage Bags to test (newly available in their Shop!), in a few different sizes. To use them, you wet the bag, wring it so it is just damp, then place your produce (washed or not) inside. Made from organic cotton, they’ve kept my produce fresher, for longer, than plastic storage bags due to their breathability. I prefer the x-large size, because it’s big enough for even monster-sized bunches of chard or collards. The key to success with these bags is keeping them damp by sprinkling them with water every few days.
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Fresh Vegetable Storage Bags
  • Plastic storage bags. Toss the thin grocery store produce bags unless you’re using the contents within a day; they’re too porous to hold in moisture and keep produce fresh. Plastic sealable storage bags, in either quart or gallon-size, work well. If I’ve pre-washed my produce, I usually nestle a dry paper towel down in the bag to wick up excess moisture—and I’ll do the opposite by inserting a damp paper towel when I haven’t pre-washed. It’s important to leave the plastic bag partially unsealed, or poke holes in it so moisture isn’t trapped. And absolutely re-use your plastic bags! Rinse them after using if needed, and put them to use again and again.
  • Salad spinner. As Kristen wrote about here, if you can make room in your fridge for a salad spinner, lettuces and delicate salad greens will last up to a month. I’m 100 percent confident that this method works, but sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to try it out because there’s never, ever enough room in my fridge.
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How to Stock a Fridge & Freezer for One
by Klancy

Once you’ve decided on your storage vessel, into the fridge your produce goes. But not all areas of the fridge are created equal, and there is a strategy to using the space wisely.

  • The crisper, the coldest and most humid part of the refrigerator, is valuable real estate. These are the vegetables (stored in the aformentioned cloth or plastic bag) that get first dibs in mine: broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn (with husks), green beans, and leafy greens. And did you know that celery does best when wrapped in foil? Neither did I until reading this article.
  • The top shelves near the front are the warmest part of the fridge. Keep your bagged cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini there, as they are the most sensitive to cold temperatures.

And a few more handy tips for refrigerator storage:

  • Some vegetables prefer a little more TLC. For the happiest asparagus and scallions, treat them like fresh flowers by storing them upright in a jar, with the ends submerged in a small amount of water and the tops loosely draped with an inverted plastic bag. The same idea applies for many herbs.
  • Pack your produce as loosely as you can in the fridge, and store fruit and vegetables separately. Most fruit releases ethylene gas which will cause produce in close proximity to spoil and lose flavor.
  • If you’ve bought packaged produce, such as bagged or boxed lettuce, there’s typically no need to transfer them to new packaging. And one word of advice on that triple-washed lettuce: yes, wash it before eating. I know it’s tempting to use it straight from the bag, but packaged lettuces can harbor harmful bacteria. Plus, a dunk in cold water will crisp it up.
  • For a particularly big haul from the market, put a sticky note on your fridge listing all of the produce you need to use up, in order of perishability. (Or maybe there’s an app that does this? If not, there should be!) Check out this nifty chart for which produce you should eat first. If you’re like me, despite my best intentions, something is likely to get pushed to the back of the fridge where it’s forgotten. I find it’s helpful to rearrange the produce in my fridge every few days, to make sure I’ve accounted for everything.
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3 Tips for Buying Imperfect Produce
by Lindsay-Jean Hard

For the countertop:

Avocados, basil, bananas, citrus, eggplant, non-cherry stone fruit, pears, pineapple, mangoes, melons, tomatoes

  • Most fruit—avocados, peaches, cantaloupe, pineapple, etc.—should be left on the counter to ripen (in a pretty bowl perhaps?). You can transfer fully ripe fruit to the fridge to prolong its freshness, but return it to room temperature before consuming for best flavor. And should you ever refrigerate tomatoes? This article lays out pretty compelling evidence that refrigeration does minimal harm once tomatoes are fully ripe. But I’ll admit, I can’t bring myself to put any tomatoes in the fridge.
  • Confused about whether or not to refrigerate citrus? Me too. According to this article, the bottom line is that it’s fine to refrigerate, but like the fruits above, citrus tastes best when returned to room temperature. I find this last step of taking the chill off more important for oranges and tangerines I’m eating out of hand, versus lemons and limes I’m using as part of a recipe.
  • Eggplant should be stored on the countertop rather than in the fridge, which I’ll admit doesn’t seem intuitive. If exposed to cold temperatures, eggplant’s texture and flavor deteriorate quickly. Just make sure your eggplant has some personal space on the countertop away from tomatoes, avocados, and other fruit that produce ethylene gas.

For a cool room or pantry:

Apples, garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, shallots, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squashes

  • Moisture is the enemy for most fruit and vegetables that need cool storage. Remember to keep fruit and vegetables separate (and potatoes and onions, too) to prolong freshness, and store in a cardboard box or basket lined with newspaper to absorb any moisture until you’re ready to use. Apples are a bit more forgiving of the cool, dry storage rule: they also fare well in the crisper drawer, draped loosely with a damp paper towel.
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Everything You Need to Know About Garlic
by Lindsay-Jean Hard

What to do with expiring produce

Even when fastidiously following all of these rules-of-thumb, life just has a habit of getting in the way. If you open your fridge to discover wilting greens or produce that’s quickly going downhill (but hasn’t spoiled or gone slimy), you still have options!

Here are a few ways to use up less-than-mighty produce:

  • Try reviving greens, herbs, radishes, and more by soaking them in icy water for about 15 to 20 minutes. Slicing them first will maximize water absorption and crispness.
  • Pound greens and herbs into a green sauce or pesto (this kale salsa verde and Genius herb jam are two favorites of mine).
  • Fry herbs for mighty salads! Hot oil doesn’t discriminate between perfect and not-so-perfect herbs.
  • Or even easier, make herb oil by whirling wilty herbs with olive oil in a blender.
  • Make a big batch of vegetable soup or stock.
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We Asked, You Answered: The “Right” Temperature to Roast Vegetables
by Sarah Jampel
  • Roast (or simmer) root vegetables until tender, then purée or coarsely mash.
  • Make Genius roasted applesauce (with all apples or a mix of apples and pears).
  • If all else fails, then compost! Head here for 3 ways to start composting.
  • Plenty more ideas here!

Mighty Salads, the new cookbook from Food52, and the clever Vejibags that EmilyC tried are both available in our Shop!

What are your first steps when getting produce home from the market or grocery store?

The New, One-of-a-Kind Food Magazine That Needs Your Help

Earlier this month, I came across the Kickstarter campaign for REPAST, a magazine devoted fully to food history. That’s quite a broad topic to wrangle into one publication, but Emelyn Rude, the magazine’s editor, seems particularly up to the challenge. She’s a journalist with bylines in TIME and Munchies, and, just last year, she wrote the book Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird.

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Here’s How to Keep Indie Food Media Alive—and Weird
by Mayukh Sen

The first issue of REPAST, set to be released early next year, is themed “The Food of the Gods,” and will have an essay from Butter author Elaine Khosrova on ancient Tibetan butter-carving and a piece from food scholar Ken Albala on Jesus’ diet. I should add that the magazine’s aesthetic, judging from the mock-ups, is stupid gorgeous.

“Writing good history takes time, a precious commodity in today’s media landscape,” Rude writes in her statement of purpose for the campaign. Rude’s taken to Kickstarter to cover printing costs and payment for the contributors who make the magazine possible; it’s an all-or-nothing campaign that ends on May 11. So far, it’s reached $8,375 of its professed $20,000 goal. It’s got a ways to go.

I had a brief email correspondence with Rude earlier this week about where she got the idea for the project and where she sees it going. Here’s a lightly edited transcript.

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Photo by Emelyn Rude

MAYUKH SEN: First, the obvious—take me back to the moment you first conceived of REPAST.

EMELYN RUDE: The idea just popped into my mind one afternoon out of the blue. I have always been obsessed with culinary history, but it’s not a subject that seems to get much love these days in the popular food media.
There are plenty of articles declaring the Top Ten Pieces of Fried Chicken You Need To Eat Right Now! and far fewer exploring the origins of Southern fried chicken (it’s actually a Scottish dish) or explaining how the food came to have its terrible racial undertones or detailing how Colonel Sanders, a man who was a disbarred lawyer, unlicensed midwife, failed ferry boat captain, and struggling tire salesman, managed to build an empire using his secret blend of eleven herbs and spices.

I am a huge fan of what Lapham’s Quarterly does to make history accessible and to demonstrate that stories from the past are incredibly relevant to our lives today. I thought, why can’t I do that for the subject I love most, food? I sent a few emails out gauging interest in the idea and it grew pretty rapidly from there.

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Photo by Emelyn Rude

MS: One of your reasons for beginning this project is, and correct me if I’m wrong here, because solid writing on food history doesn’t exist in one concentrated place. How do you think that happened?

ER: I think this has happened for a few reasons. One of the big ones is that people haven’t taken food history seriously as a subject until very recently, so, relatively speaking, it’s a much newer concept. Another is that writing good history takes time, and time is really hard to come by in today’s media world. A third, I think, is the common misconception that history is kind of boring, which is something I highly disagree with!

All this being said, I think there is a lot of cool work being done in academia on the subject of food history right now. Most of this writing is being produced for other scholars, however, and, to be completely honest, it is not always the most engaging reading.

So I wanted to make something that fills this gap—an accessible, fun, and fascinating publication that explores the roots of what we eat and why we eat it.

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Photo by Emelyn Rude

MS: Where does the most exciting writing on food history live these days?

ER: As I mentioned above, there are definitely some great academic sources dealing with food history today. Gastronomica is a longtime favorite of mine and a lot of interesting material comes out each year from the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.

On the more popular spectrum, there are also a whole host of culinary history books that have come out recently that I think are excellent. Elaine Khosrova’s Butter: a Rich History and Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe’s A Square Meal: a Culinary History of the Great Depression are two good examples from the past year.

MS: You’ve assembled some big name writers for the magazine’s first issue—Elaine Khosrova, Adrian Miller. How big a challenge was it to convince them that yours was a project worth investing time and effort in?

ER: This was actually the easiest part of this whole thing so far! I just sent them an email explaining who I was and what I was trying to do and both responded yes almost immediately. I think it’s both a testament to how passionate they are about their research and also how few outlets there are out there that highlight the kind of work that they do.

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Photo by Emelyn Rude

MS: Tell me more about what regions of the world—and perspectives—you have represented in the first issue. How much thought did you put into inclusivity?

ER: For the first edition, themed “The Food of the Gods,” we already have planned a profile of a group of Norman monks who are reviving their ancient brewing traditions in northern France, a photo essay on the sacred origins of another fermented drink called pulque in central Mexico, and a recipe spread for a “feast for the gods” from a cookbook from ancient Babylonia. So we’re being pretty ambitious and trying to cover a lot of distance here!

I think inclusivity is essential to the stories we want to tell. History is wonderfully multifaceted and dizzyingly complex, and culinary history is certainly no exception. I don’t think we would be doing the subject justice if we didn’t come at it from all possible angles and world views. We want to be an outlet where a piece on the traditional cookery of the Sami, an indigenous group of the Arctic, coexists comfortably with the strange saga of the sunchoke and a profile of scientists in China trying to get to the roots of the human diet one archeological dig at a time (all three of which are potentially in the works for volume 2!). They are all valuable stories that help us better understand what we eat and why we eat it, and these are the stories we want to tell in REPAST.

To donate to REPAST, head here.

A Verdant, Versatile Sauce to Jazz Up Your Dinners (No, It’s Not Pesto)

Earlier this week, I found myself back home in my parents’ kitchen, sitting at the counter, nibbling on cheese and crackers, sipping wine, watching my mother throw together dinner. After setting two cast-iron skillets over high heat, she sprinkled a layer of kosher salt on each and laid filets of arctic char on them. As the pans smoked away, the fish began cooking, its skin turning black, crispy, and heavily seasoned, its flesh light pink.

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Photos by Alexandra Stafford

In less than five minutes, it was done and transferred from the skillet to a platter loaded with fat spears of roasted asparagus. My mother then spooned chimichurri, an herb sauce from Argentina, over everything. That’s all.

Dinner took about 15 minutes to materialize, and as I tucked in, it struck me how versatile and refreshing this simple sauce is. My mother makes chimichurri year round, serving it aside whole roasted beef tenderloin in the winter, grilled skewered chicken thighs in the summer, and, as I just learned, pan-seared arctic char whenever it’s available.

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Chimichurri is fresh and sharp and can be made in countless ways—spicy or not, puréed or chunky, garlicky or mild—and while it’s typically served with beef, it pairs well with all sorts of meat and fish, not to mention vegetables, beans and legumes. Its biggest virtue, I’d argue, is that allows the cook to simplify other preparations. With this sauce on hand, there’s no reason to marinate or to season with anything more than olive oil, salt, and pepper—anything else would get lost once met with the chimichurri.

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Photo by Alexandra Stafford

One tip: Make a double batch. Everything on your plate—any vegetables, grains or legumes, any nubs of bread, will beg for a drizzle of this bright, verdant sauce. Chimichurri makes everything better.

A few notes

Macerate the shallots: Allowing the shallots to soak in the fresh lemon and lime juice for at least 10 minutes will not only temper their bite, but also draw out their sweetness, which will make for a more balanced sauce. If pressed for time, however, you can stir together all of the sauce’s ingredients and serve it immediately.

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Stir, don’t whisk: As indicated above, there are many ways to make chimichurri, but I think it’s particularly good when the ingredients are chopped by hand (as opposed to puréed in a food processor) and stirred together, rather than emulsified. It’s visually appealing to see the individual elements of the sauce, and the chunky texture is nice, too.

Use a mix of herbs: Parsley and cilantro are traditional, but others, such as chives, tarragon, and fresh oregano, would be nice as well.

Don’t relegate the sauce to meat only: Vegetables, beans, and grains all welcome a drizzle of chimichurri. I’ve used this sauce to dress chickpeas and white beans. I’ve also stirred it into plain basmati rice.

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Pan-Roasted Arctic Char with Chimichurri

By Alexandra Stafford

  • 1/4
    cup finely minced shallots

  • pinch kosher salt

  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1/4
    cup freshly squeezed lemon, lime or a combination of the two juices, plus more wedges for serving

  • 1/3
    cup olive oil plus more for coating the fish

  • 1/2
    cup finely minced cilantro, parsley or a combination of the two

  • 4
    4- to 5-oz filets arctic char

  • freshly cracked pepper

  • bread, chickpeas or both for serving

View Full Recipe

What are some tricks you’ve learned from eating at your parents’ house? Let us know in the comments.

20 Ways Metallic Tape Can Put a Bright Spot in Your Day

A wink. A bright spot. A glimmer of goodness. Something about warm metallic tones—bronzes and golds and brasses and coppers—are inherently positive, especially in small unexpected doses.

Enter the new metallic, foil tape that landed in our shop last week. Here are 20 ways we’re using it to spread smiles.

  • To seal letters. SWAK!
  • Swapped in for clear tape when wrapping a gift.
  • To mount a simple print on your wall—stick a piece on each corner, or run it all around the art like a faux frame.
  • Taped across simple leather coasters to jazz them up.
  • Wrapped around part of an elegant branch, to prep it for life as a centerpiece.
  • On the round part of your house key, so you don’t have to rummage around for it.
  • Turned into art—just use scissors to snip perfect lengths, and a ruler to line up the pieces into a geometric pattern. Frame!
  • To affix a card with your recipient’s name on it to a wine bottle gift.
  • Stuck on the back of your phone, with your name written on it. (Never lose that thing again.)
  • Same goes for anything you don’t want to misplace, like your notebook or favorite pen at the office.
  • To secure ticket stubs and other happy memories in a scrapbook.
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  • Wrapped about the base of a tea light, in lieu of fancier votive holders.
  • Taped over your computer’s webcam (yep, you should do this—and it might as well be cute).
  • Labeling: A glimmery piece of foil tape can become a label for those grains and sugars in your pantry.
  • To hang up signs inside the window of your small business (that “back in five!” sign wants a little copper holder).
  • All over a clothespin or two, with a little magnet glued on the back—fridge goals!
  • Turned into a DIY bookmark.
  • To spiff up a simple terra cotta planter, with a few zig-zags across its surface.
  • Around the end of your favorite wooden kitchen spoon, just for a happy glimmer.
  • In lieu of twine, when sealing up baked good gifts in paper bags and parchment packages.

Shop our new metallic foil tape in the Food52 Shop.

Are we forgetting anything? Let us know in the comments.

A Trusty Trick for Cooking Without a Recipe (& Anxiety)

Say you are making a beautiful carbonara. You’ve got the bacon crisping, the Parmesan shredded and at the ready, the pasta water simmering away, and—oh no. You used up all the olive oil making Maialino’s dreamy Olive Oil Cake! And all you’ve got on hand is… coconut oil. Drat. That won’t work!

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How to Chip Away at Your Stash of Bacon Fat
by Caroline Lange

Sure, it’ll fill the oily void, but the flavors of the dish will be all off. You might run out to buy more olive oil, or you might think of this instead as an opportunity for culinary experimentation. Up to you. Either way, it’s easy enough to tell that coconut oil isn’t exactly what the dish is calling for—and it’s certainly not what a nonna would reach for. At the same time, butter would be unusual in a stir-fry, and sesame oil very peculiar in a sauce for sole meunière.

In her cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, chef and author Samin Nosrat sums this all up cleanly: “Fat determines the particular flavors of regional cooking.” That means ghee and coconut oil are popular in Indian cooking, where cow dairy and coconuts are both plentiful. You won’t find much ghee in Caribbean cooking, but the coconut oil will be there in spades. Eastern European cooking loves schmaltz more than any other cuisine in the world, bacon fat has a special place in the cooking of America’s South, and sesame oil is beloved in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese foods.

Picking a fat to cook with is the first step to locating a dish in a region, and keeping in mind which fats are specific to certain regional flavors will help you choose one that’s true to the cuisine (thus giving whatever you’re cooking an even deeper sense of its roots). But what I’m taking away is that it also helps guide you when you’re riffing in the kitchen: Instead of an Italian olive oil cake, make a Caribbean-inspired coconut oil cake with lime juice and rum instead of orange juice and Grand Marnier. Change the fat and you begin to shift an entire recipe in a new direction. Try out your new-found freedom with fats by experimenting with these classic recipes:

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Reform Jewish Penicillin
by drbabs

Granola: For a masala-spiced granola, swap in ghee for olive oil or butter, and add cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper.

Seafood baked in parchment: Butter, white wine, and lemon would be at home for a French-ish meal; for one that nods to China, use toasted sesame oil (just a little mixed with some neutral oil!), lime, and slivered scallions.

Chicken soup: Classic Eastern-European chicken soup (with matzo balls, maybe) calls for schmaltz—but sauté onions in coconut oil instead, add some lemongrass and ginger, and you’re on your way to a Thai-inflected broth.

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Photo by James Ransom

All April, Kitchen Confidence Camp takes us through the four essential elements of cooking, inspired by chef and author Samin Nosrat’s cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Follow along here.