Pictured Recipe: Little Gem Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese & Herb Dressing
After a day at the farmers' market, you come home with your bounty, look at it with admiration and promptly plop it into your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Five days later, when you recall the beautiful bunch of beets and crisp fresh head of romaine you picked up, you return to your fridge to stare in horror at the sad, soggy state in which your vegetables now find themselves.
Indeed, even home cooks with the most well-planned menus and strategies for using up produce find themselves, from time to time, with a bit of extra produce on their hands. And likely, because time passes quickly when you have fresh lettuce in your fridge, the once-beautiful leaves no longer look fit for consumption.
The good news is many vegetables can actually be revived with something you likely have on hand: ice water.
Here's a step-by-step guide to restoring squishy spuds or limp lettuce to their former glory.
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Cut away anything that is too wilted or not needed. Celery leaves may be too shriveled for resurrection, but the celery stalks can be saved. Beet greens might not be what you want from the beet bunches, so trim those and put them in your compost pile. Keep only what you want to revive.
For most produce, you can submerge the food in a bucket or large bowl of ice water. Then, put the container with the vegetables in the fridge to keep the water cool. Let the food soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Heartier produce, such as root vegetables, may need longer, or up to one hour.
For foods with stalks, such as asparagus, broccoli and herbs, you may be able to treat them like flowers: put the ends of the produce in a jar of water, and let them soak. Just be sure to trim the ends a bit to open up the cells. You may have to let them soak a bit longer, but you'll save water.
You may need to rinse the food under cool running water to remove any remaining grit or dirt. Then, wrap the vegetable in absorbent towels to wick away excess water. Dry individual lettuce and greens leaves thoroughly.
Most of the revived produce can be used just as you had planned. You may find that some of the produce has more water than normal, but this won't affect flavor. Indeed, even when water evaporates from the food, the nutrients and elements that are responsible for flavor remain. Revived produce will taste nearly identical to fresh-from-the-field food.
If you want to revive produce and save it for later, you need to get it very dry after the water bath. Water is a breeding ground for bacteria, and your refreshed food may end up rotting before you can return to it. Use any revived produce within two days to prevent deterioration.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Beet Salad
Water is essential to vegetable's growth, texture and vitality. Indeed, most vegetables are more than 80 percent water by weight. When they're harvested, vegetables have a limited supply of water. When that water is gone, the cells in the vegetables begin to collapse.
If you place the wilted produce in ice water, the cells can begin to absorb water and replenish the parched cells. It doesn't take long, and it will help you save much of the sad and soggy produce that has languished too long in your crisper drawer.
Hearty vegetables like carrots, beets and potatoes do well with the water revitalization technique. You can also use it with leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and even herbs. Asparagus and broccoli will also work.
What it's unlikely to work with are vegetables and produce that rot quickly instead of shriveling. These include zucchini, squash, pumpkin and tomatoes.
When in doubt, you can try to revive the food with an ice-water bath. If the texture worsens or doesn't improve, you can rule this out for future needs.
If you find food that is close to rotting or showing signs of rot, you've reached a point of no return. Produce that is also discolored or covered in dark spots is also likely too far gone. Other obvious signs of decay include slimy texture, mold growth and liquefied portions. These foods should be trashed—or better yet, taken to your compost pile.
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Improper storage leads to wilted veggies, and wilted veggies quickly waste your money. In fact, Americans throw away 150,000 tons of food every day—that's nearly 1 pound per U.S. adult—and much of that waste is made up of no-longer-fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you properly store vegetables as soon as you bring them into your home, you're less likely to need to revive them with water. You'll instead have healthy hydrated food longer.
For leafy greens and lettuce, wrap the leaves in an absorbent towel, and place them in a plastic bag for protection. The towels will wick away moisture and prevent quick deterioration.
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You can store carrots, asparagus, broccoli and similar foods in your crisper drawer. Newer fridges often allow some level of adjustable humidity control. Increase the humidity, if you can, to prevent evaporation. Plan to use the food within four days.
Potatoes should be stored at room temperature in a dry environment to prevent moisture from making them soggy. Place beet bulbs in a zip-top bag and refrigerate for up to one week.
If you're storing herbs in your fridge, you can moisten a paper towel and gently wrap it around the ends of the herbs. Put the herb bundle in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to one week. Check the towel after two days. Add more water if it is dry.
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