Herbs & Produce 101
PHOTOGRAPHY: PAULINE BOLDT
One of my favourite parts about the summer season is all of the plentiful herbs and produce available at farmer’s markets or in my garden. There’s nothing quite like walking outside and grabbing a fresh bunch of aromatic greens to add to my favourite summer dishes! I am always mindful to try to give my herbs and produce the longest shelf life possible, so I have rounded up a few tricks to help you squeeze every last ounce of goodness from your latest herb & veggie haul:
First, let’s talk about herbs. These delicate leafy greens require a bit of special care to ensure they have as long of a life as possible. Here are a couple of different tricks I use to try to achieve a longer life span:
Store the roots in a glass of water in the fridge. This will keep them hydrated and keep them from wilting right away. However, if space is a valuable commodity in your fridge, you can also opt to store them washed and wrapped in a towel in the veggie crisper.
If the herbs have roots, wrap a piece of damp paper towel around them. This will give the same effect as storing in a glass of water.
A little trick I like to use for Basil: After picking up a big bundle of fresh basil from the farmer’s market, I make a batch of pesto in my food-processor and then freeze it in my ice cube tray. Once the cubes are frozen, I toss the “pesto cubes” into a rubbermaid container and store them back in the freezer for the next time I want to use them. Hey, even frozen pucks of pesto will taste better than any store bought kind!
Try adding a dash of thyme to your lemonade, or some fresh mint leaves as a garnish for your bowl of ice cream! There are many options, both savoury and sweet, where herbs are the perfect answer for enhancing a dish!
Tips for Drying Herbs:
Another approach to caring for herbs it to dry them out. This is a great storage method to use for light herbs such as oregano, sage, basil and thyme. Simply tie small bunches up with twine and hang them upside down in a well ventilated room, being mindful to avoid any sunlight. Once the bundles have dried out, which usually occurs in about 7-10 days, then remove the leaves from the stems and store in airtight jars.
If you are looking to dry out hardy herbs, such as mint and rosemary, another approach is to remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves on a muslin covered tray and put them in the oven at the lowest temperature possible. Leave the oven door open while you “cook” the herbs for half an hour, at which point you can turn them over to bake for an additional half hour, about an hour total time. It’s important to bake the herbs at the lowest temperature possible because higher temperatures diminish the aromatic properties of the essential oils in the herbs. Turn off the oven and let the herbs cool until you are ready to store in an airtight container.
Note: You can also choose to hang dry mint and rosemary as well, this is a quicker method if time is of the essence!
A few other noteworthy thoughts:
Drying concentrates the flavour, so you may need to adjust the quantities when using the herbs for cooking. An example of this would be if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs, you could scale that quantity back to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs instead.
Time of day also plays a factor when you are picking your herbs. Aim to harvest your herbs in the morning after the dew has settled. This is preferable to later on in the afternoon when the sun has had time to totally dry them out.
Now let’s move on to produce… for the most part I find that storing hardy produce like zucchini, green beans, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and eggplant (unwashed!!) in glass containers in the fridge works great for freshness up to a week or so. For more leafy produce such as lettuce, kale, and spinach, it is recommended that you rinse them in cold water when you get home and then spin them to dry in a salad spinner before placing in a container (with paper towel to soak up extra moisture) for storage in the fridge. Be sure to keep an eye on them though - if the greens are left in the fridge for too long they can start to rot and become slimy! No, thanks!
When it comes time to wash your vegetables, be sure to take extra care in making sure all the grits and bits (maybe even some bugs!) are all out of your edibles. To do this, prepare a sink with cold water, and add either white vinegar (the general rule is 1 part vinegar, 4 parts water) OR sea salt (1 tsp of sea salt for every cup of lukewarm water until salt is dissolved, then add cold water) Swish and scrub your vegetables to thoroughly clean off the grit. Once clean, drain the water and rinse with fresh cold water. Allow to air dry or spin in a salad spinner.
An important tip I always love to share when it comes to storing produce involves tomatoes! Are you one of the many people who store their tomatoes in the refrigerator? If you answered yes, then I have news for you! You should switch to storing your tomatoes in a bowl on your counter at room temperature. By storing them in the fridge you are compromising their delicious flavour and texture, which is a true shame! They just don’t shine as bright once they have been refrigerated, so I definitely recommend giving this storage technique a shot!
I’m a strawberries FANATIC! When it comes to storing them in the fridge, only wash before eating. If you wash them ahead of time and put back in the fridge, they will get soft and mushy. To freeze simply wash, pat or air dry, cut off the stem, and freeze on a baking sheet lined with parchment spread out so they aren’t touching each other. Once frozen, toss into a glass or plastic container and place back into the freezer. I like this method because the strawberries are frozen individually, not in one giant clump! Now you have beautiful local strawberries year-round for smoothies, desserts and cocktails!
What about you? What are your favourite tips and tricks for storing your garden fresh produce? I would love to hear your feedback!