Check the condition of the skins of fruits and vegetables
When I go grocery shopping, unless I’m just running in for a can of something, I nearly always visit the produce section.
I buy most of the produce we use at home a little at a time to be sure it is as fresh as possible when we eat it. We’re lucky to live close to several grocery stores, so it’s not a hardship to spend a few minutes picking out fresh veggies, fruit and dairy products every other day or so.
What does more frequent shopping buy us? How about plump, shiny sweet peppers; firm apples with bright, tight skins; smooth potatoes with no sprouts; and lettuce and celery without a hint of brown anywhere.
The condition of the skins of fruits and vegetables is one of the best indicators of how fresh they are. It’s a given that you look it over and rule out produce with bruises, blemishes and gouges. Apples and oranges should have tight skins and feel heavy in your hand for the size of the fruit. The heavy feel indicates a well hydrated fruit that will be juicy and flavorful — it hasn’t had time to lose its moisture.
I’m the Queen of Discount, but I take a hard second look at discounted berries. To achieve optimum flavor, berries should ripen on their plants before being picked. Since they are picked ripe, they should be eaten as soon as possible after being harvested; therefore, they have a sharply limited shelf life after they hit the grocery store. A sale on bright red strawberries doesn’t mean much if you lose your savings in what you have to discard because it’s past its prime. Buyer, beware — look over berries carefully.
Some produce will finish ripening on its own after you get it home. If you buy bananas still showing a bit of green on their skins you’ll have them ripening and tasting wonderful for several days. When they become “freckled” with lots of brown on their skins, they’re very fragrant and just right for banana bread.
Most of the time, green is good. Do not, however, buy green potatoes. Green splotches on potatoes indicate they’ve been exposed to sunlight and formed chlorophyll. The toxin solanine is present in harmful levels where you see the green discoloration. If you cut out and discard the green, the rest of the potato is fine to cook and eat.
Keep the color in most of the vegetables you cook by limiting cooking time as much as possible. If you serve green beans, peas, carrots and summer squash cooked crisp-tender you’ll have beautiful vegetables and taste their natural sweetness as well.
I like to have some bright color as part of most of my meals. You just know something beautiful is going to taste good too. Here’s a yummy side dish that goes with just about any entrée. It’s also a good vegetarian dish on its own. It’s quick, it can be prepped ahead. Who can ask for anything more.
RED PEPPER AND
CORN STIR FRY
Original recipe from Time Life books “Fast, Fresh and Delicious.”
2 large sweet red peppers, seeded and cut bite-size
1 medium sweet onion, cut into thin wedges
1/4 pound fresh baby spinach, stems removed (you can substitute 12-15 leaves fresh basil for the baby spinach)
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Dash of fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 10 ounce package frozen corn (or fresh corn in season)
Add 1/4 teaspoon spicy red pepper flakes if desired.
In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with broth and black pepper.
In a large skillet or wok, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot (not smoking). Add onion and garlic and stir fry until onion begins to brown (about 5 minutes).
Add peppers, spinach and corn.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet. Bring to a boil and stir until slightly thickened.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the vegetables are crisp-tender (2-3 minutes).
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.