What do you do with a bunch of limp carrots you forgot about in the back of the fridge? Learn how to prepare produce that’s about to go bad in this post!
We’re all guilty of it at some point. We’ve stocked up on fruits and vegetables at the store, with every intention of preparing healthy meals. But life gets in the way, and that bag of spinach gets lost in the back of the fridge, only to be discovered past its prime.
While you may be tempted to toss less-than-fresh fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of ways to turn them into delicious dishes! By doing so, you’ll eliminate food waste, save money, and learn some new cooking techniques along the way.
How to store produce
First, lets go over how to properly store different types of produce to keep them fresh as long as possible. You’ll want to store some items in the fridge and some at room temperature. Use this as a general fruit and vegetable storage guide.
Root vegetables include beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, kohlrabi, yuca, horseradish, and ginger. These hardy vegetables will last several weeks in the fridge, sometimes for more than a month.
Remove leafy green portions of root vegetables before storing them in your fridge crisper drawer. Wrap them in a damp paper towel to keep them crisp.
Store onions and garlic at room temperature in a cool, dry place. They will keep for up to a few months when stored properly.
Store other alliums, like leeks, scallions, and chives, in the crisper drawer of the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel.
Keep your potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Remove them from any plastic packaging, as they need air flow to keep fresh. Stored properly, potatoes will keep fresh for a few weeks.
Do not store potatoes with onions, as they both release gases which will speed up ripening.
Leafy greens will stay fresh for a week up to 10 days when stored properly. Wash and dry them before storing in an airtight container or ziploc bag with a paper towel or tea towel. The towel absorbs excess moisture to keep the greens crisp.
This group includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. These vegetables will stay fresh for a week or two after purchasing. Cabbages may last even longer when properly stored. Store them in a plastic bag, reusable produce bag, or beeswax wrap in the fridge.
Fresh berries should last up to a week in the fridge. Store them in the container you purchased them, unwashed. Only wash them immediately before eating, as excess moisture will speed up spoilage time.
Store bananas unwrapped at room temperature in a cool, dry place. Depending on ripeness level upon purchasing, bananas will keep well up to 10 days.
To speed up the ripening process, break up the bunch and put them in a sealed paper bag along with an apple. The apple releases ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process.
Keep apples in the crisper drawer in the fridge, either loose or in an open bag that allows airflow. Apples will last for several weeks when stored properly.
Anything with a pit
Avocadoes, peaches, plums…store anything with a pit at room temperature to allow for it to ripen. Once ripe, you can store it in the fridge for up to a week to stop the ripening process.
Store all types of tomatoes in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Tomatoes usually keep for up to one week before they become too soft and wrinkly.
Fresh herbs like parsley, dill, basil, chives, rosemary, and mint will keep in the fridge for a week or two. Store hardier herbs, like rosemary, wrapped in a paper towel in a plastic bag. Store softer herbs, like basil, dill, and parsley, like a bouquet of flowers. Trim the edges, place them in a jar with water, and cover them loosely with a paper towel or plastic.
When to toss produce
Most produce is safe to prepare and eat before it is about to go bad. But, there are a few warning signs that tell us it’s better to throw it out! Look out for these things when deciding whether to cook it or toss it.
Mold: Definitely toss a food with any visible mold. Some molds grow deep into the food, so even if you scrape off the visible portion, you may still ingest some mold and get sick.
Sprouted potatoes: When potatoes sprout, they contain a higher amount of a compound that can be toxic to humans. I like to air on the side of caution, and toss any potatoes with noticeable large sprouts.
Slimy: If produce is slimy, it’s best to throw it away.
Smelly: Our noses know what spoiled food smells like! If your produce has any sort of strange odor, even with no visible signs of rot, throw it away.
How to prepare produce about to go bad
Once your produce has the a-ok to be used, you’ve got to decide what to do with it! Here are several ideas to use less than stellar produce, that still pack lots of flavor and nutrition.
Think beyond just basil and pine nuts. You can make pesto from any fresh herbs, leafy greens, and different nuts! Instead of parmesan cheese, use nutritional yeast for a vegan version that still has a cheesy flavor. Use pesto spread on sandwiches, on top of eggs, in salad dressing, or tossed with pasta.
Chimichurri is a traditional Argentinian sauce made with fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, and olive oil. Use whatever wilted bunches of herbs you have, and it will surely be delicious. Serve it over baked fish, shrimp, or roasted vegetables.
Wilted greens, mushy bananas, and squishy kiwis are perfect to throw into smoothies. You can also add mild-flavored veggies, such as cauliflower or zucchini, without impacting the flavor of your smoothie. It’s a great way to add even more vitamins and minerals to your morning blend.
If you have some mushy berries, use them to make a batch of chia jam. Any berries will work!
Vegetable stock or broth
You can add basically any vegetable to a pot of water to create homemade vegetable stock. Some common veggies used include carrots, onion, garlic, and celery. Use the stock as a base for soups, or as a savory liquid in which to cook whole grains.
Chop up whatever veggies you have going bad and make a big frittata to have for a few meals. Since you chop the veggies and cook them anyways for a frittata, they don’t need to be perfectly crisp. I love frittatas for any meal!
Root vegetables and potatoes that have gone a little soft are still perfectly delicious when roasted. Simply toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper to season. Cook at high heat, around 425-450F, so the edges get nice and crispy.
Blended into a dip
Roast or steam any less than fresh vegetables, chop up wilted herbs, and puree them with canned beans to make a delicious dip. Some great combinations include beets and white beans, eggplant and chickpeas, or cilantro, lime, and black beans.