There is nothing like eating and cooking with fresh produce, but with that, comes challenges. Fresh fruits and vegetables have a limited shelf life and it can be difficult to find ways to use everything up before it goes bad.
Here are six ways to use up excess produce you have on hand, before it hits the compost bin.
Make fruit jams
In the summer months, when fresh fruit is so sweet, so fragrant and so affordable, it’s hard to resist buying it in large quantities (and frequently). When it so happens that you have an excess of fruit on your hands, extend its shelf life by turning it into a jam. Peaches, plums, blueberries and blackberries all make terrific jams that can be used on anything from toast to ice cream. Click here for my simple strawberry jam recipe.
Sauté salad greens
Like many of us, I buy large amounts of salad greens since they are great to have on hand for quick and easy weeknight meals. But no matter how much you cook and how good your intentions are to use them all up before they go bad, I inevitably have those weeks were I’m left with a large surplus. When I do find myself with enough greens to make a salad that would feed a small army, I sauté them. A huge amount of greens, once heated and wilted down, make a completely modest portion of wilted greens. Whether you have spinach, arugula or a spring mix blend, almost any salad green is totally great when cooked. Wilt the greens into a pasta or quinoa dish or sauté them with garlic and olive oil as a side.
Make vegetable stock
Have a few lone carrots, stalks of celery, scallions and sprigs of fresh herbs that are about to pass their prime? Turn them into a stock. Vegetable parts that are typically discarded also make wonderful flavoring agents for stock. The next time you are de-ribbing kale or chard, save those stems and use them. Have trimmings from leeks or fennel? Save those too. Throw all your trimmings together in a bag throughout the week. At the end of the week, take those vegetables that you haven’t used, plus your trimmings, and make a stock. It’s more economical and so much more delicious than store bought, plus it only takes about 30 minutes. Keep a bit on hand to use throughout the next week and freeze the rest in glass storage jars (just be sure to leave a little room at the top for expansion). For a good basic vegetable stock recipe and suggested uses for it, click here.
Add fried rice to your dinner rotation
Fried rice is a great way to use up leftover rice and whatever vegetables are sitting in your crisper drawer. It is simple to make, takes only a few minutes and can easily be adapted based on what you have on hand. There isn’t much in my cooking repertoire that is more economical or faster to throw together (it also happens to be quite a comforting and delicious meal as well). In the summer months, I make this version. During the winter, I follow the same fried rice recipe; however, I replace the snap peas and bell peppers with carrots and kale or Swiss chard. This dish is extremely versatile and forgiving, so have fun and experiment.
Use them as filling for vegetable turnovers
Sauté up whatever vegetables you want to use up and use them as a filling for vegetable turnovers. Spinach turnovers, also known as spanakopita, are a personal favorite in my household, but other vegetables such as mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and roasted squash make fantastic fillings as well. Make a batch of these using the produce you need to get rid of, bake whatever you are going to eat in the next couple of days and freeze the remainder. They keep well when frozen and are great to have on hand when you don’t have time to cook a meal from scratch or when you have impromptu guests. For tips and vegetable turnover recipes, click here.
Pickling extends the shelf life of produce significantly, so it is a great way to use vegetables whose days may be numbered. Pickled vegetables have the ability to instantly jazz up sandwiches, salads and antipasto platters. Crunchy vegetables tend to do best when pickled, as they don’t break down in the pickling liquid and they retain a nice pleasant crunch. In the cold weather months, try pickling vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, beets and onions. In the warmer months, experiment with zucchini, green beans, bell peppers and of course cucumbers. For more information on pickling and a recipe, click here.