Selecting Vegetables

Selecting Vegetables

Vegetables are filled with vitamins and minerals. Try to work in a few servings of vegetables every day to improve your health and keep your body strong. Buying vegetables at the right time of year means you will get the best flavors for the lowest prices. In most cases, fresh vegetables will keep for a week or so at home, but you should use them as soon as possible for the best flavor. Seasons run as follows:

Spring – mid-March to mid-June
Summer – mid-June to late September
Fall – late September to mid-December
Winter – mid-December to mid-March

Remember these seasons apply to the northern hemisphere. While we have winter, southern hemisphere countries are producing great summer veggies of their own, so many of these are commonly available all year. See our other related articles for selecting and storing fruits and meats.

Artichokes
Selecting: Select artichokes that feel heavy for their size and have tightly closed buds. Leaves should be soft green or purple. Avoid artichokes that are wilting or drying.
Storing: Keep refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag for up to a few days.
Using: Trim the stem end, bottom leaves and thorny tips of the artichoke. Steam for 30 to 45 minutes. When done, a knife will slide in the bottom easily. Serve immediately with either olive oil or lemon wedges.
Season: winter

Arugula
Selecting: Look for small, soft leaves. The bigger the leaves, the more peppery and hot they are.
Storing: Will keep for 1 or 2 days if refrigerated. Discard the long stems. Wash well in several changes of water to remove any dirt. Dry well.
Using: Often used in salads. Its warm flavor is good with olives, hard-boiled eggs, grilled onions, and salty cheeses.
Season: summer

Asparagus
Selecting: Look for closed, compact tips. Spears should be smooth and round with a rich green color. Avoid spears with lots of sand in the tips as it may be hard to remove.
Storing: Re-cut the stem and place the end in water. Store in the refrigerator for no more than a few days.
Using: Cut off the woody end of the stalks. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes and serve. To serve cold, plunge into ice water to chill thoroughly and serve with vinaigrette.
Season: spring

Avocados
Selecting: Select ones that yield slightly when pressed gently. They should be uniform in color without blemishes or bruises.
Storing: Store at room temperature. They will ripen after a couple of days.
Using: Cut lengthwise around the large pit in the center and twist the two sides apart. Spoon out the flesh to use on sandwiches, in salads, or to make guacamole. Rub with lemon to prevent discoloration. Do not cook.
Season: fall, winter

Beans, broad, fava, green
Selecting: Choose beans that have a bright color without brown or soft spots. The beans should snap easily when bent. Look for small beans, as large pods may be tough or bitter. Plump seeds should be formed but not bulging.
Storing: Store in the refrigerator for no more than 5 days.
Using: Remove any strings along the pods’ seams before boiling uncovered. You may leave whole or slice lengthwise or crosswise.
Season: summer

Beans, snap
Selecting: Select pods that are firm and snap readily, but that haven’t developed seeds in the pod. The tips should be pliable. Choose beans that have a bright color without brown or soft spots. Large pods may be tough or bitter.
Storing: Store in the refrigerator for no more than 5 days.
Using: Remove any strings along the pods’ seams before boiling uncovered. You may leave whole or slice lengthwise or crosswise.
Season: spring

Beets, red, yellow, white, candy stripe
Selecting: Firm, smooth roots without splits. Small- to medium-size beets taste best. If possible, buy beets with greens still attached, as they are usually the freshest. The greens are also edible when young.
Storing: Remove the tops and refrigerate up to a week in plastic bags. The tops will stay fresh for a day or two and can be used as salad greens or sautéed.
Using: Wash and scrub well. Do not peel. Cover with water and boil for 30-45 minutes or until a knife pierces easily. Slip the skin off and serve.
Season: summer, fall

Bok Choy
Selecting: Look for dark green, glossy leaves and bright white stalks. Avoid heads with brown spots on the leaves.
Storing: It will keep refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to two days.
Using: Thoroughly wash and drain. Trim the leaves off, slice the stalks crosswise and shred the leaves coarsely. Serve raw in salads. Baby bok choy can be cooked whole, mature bok choy should be cut for cooking. Boil stalks for 4 minutes and leaves for 2 minutes, or stir-fry.
Season: fall, winter

Broccoli
Selecting: Select firm stems with heads that are a dark green-purple color. Pick heads with the tiniest, tightest buds. Avoid yellowish heads, which are on their way to blooming. Stems should be in a tight cluster.
Storing: It will keep for three days or more if refrigerated.
Using: Rinse and remove the outer leaves and tough stems. Eat raw or in salads. Place in boiling water until tender to cook.
Season: fall, winter

Broccoli Rabe
Selecting: Pick crisp, tender leaves that are bright in color. Avoid wilted, browning leaves
Storing: Wrap the greens in paper towels and place in a plastic bag to maintain moisture. They will keep refrigerated for two to three days.
Using: Wash thoroughly. Use raw in salads when leaves are small and tender. Quick cook them by sautéing or steaming.
Season: fall, winter

Brussels Sprouts
Selecting: Choose small sprouts with tight-fitting leaves and no browning or yellowing. Should be about 1 inch in diameter. Sprouts still on the stalk will be freshest.
Storing: They will last 7 to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Using: Before cooking, trim the ends and cut an X in the stem. Steam over boiling salted water.
Season: fall, winter

Cabbage
Selecting: Find tight, firm, heavy heads with no broken or bruised leaves. Also make sure there are no cracks or splits in the head.
Storing: They'll keep up to a week or more in the refrigerator. Leave the outer leaves attached to help retain moisture during storage.
Using: Wash, quarter and core. Use raw in coleslaw or salads. Boil uncovered in salted water for five to seven minutes.
Season: fall, winter

Carrots
Selecting: Young, firm, smooth, small carrots with the tops still on will be sweet and fresh. The sugar content is higher in mature carrots, but the younger ones are more tender. Avoid soft or shriveled carrots, those that are still green around the top or those that have splits.
Storing: Keep in the refrigerator for a week or more. Remove and discard the tops.
Using: Remove and throw out the tops. Enjoy raw or cook by boiling, steaming or stir frying.
Season: spring, fall

Cauliflower
Selecting: Choose a firm white or cream-colored head with a solid feel and tight florets. Should be nestled in bright green leaves and have no brown spots.
Storing: Keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Using: Before cooking, remove the leaves and core, and divide florets into even-sized pieces. Eat raw in dips or salads, or boil in salted water.
Season: fall, winter

Celery Root
Selecting: Choose a celery root heavy for its size with no bruises on its skin. Roots larger than a softball are overgrown and will be woody inside.
Storing: The root will keep for a week or more in a cool, dry place.
Using: Wash and peel. Use raw in coleslaw, or cooked in stews, braised with your roasts or boiled and added to mashed potatoes.
Season: fall, winter

Chestnuts
Selecting: Look for chestnuts with a glossy brown shell.
Storing: They will keep refrigerated in a plastic bag for a few weeks.
Using: To prevent the shell from bursting when cooking, make a small "X" on the flat side of chestnut all the way through the shell. To roast, arrange chestnuts in dish in a single layer and roast at 325°F for 20 minutes. Let cool and peel. Add to soups and stews or make candied chestnuts for dessert.
Season: fall, winter

Collards (collard greens)
Selecting: Leaves should be crisp, tender, and not overgrown. Leaves should have a bright color.
Storing: Keep refrigerated in plastic bags to maintain moisture.
Using: Wash thoroughly to remove sand. Remove thick, tough leaves. Quick cook them by sautéing or steaming.
Season: summer, fall

Corn, yellow, white, bi-colored
Selecting: Freshly picked ears will have moist, green husk and silks. At their prime when silk becomes dark and starts to shrivel. Peek inside for plump, glossy kernels without spaces between them.
Storing: Best eaten within a few hours of purchase. Will keep for a day or two if refrigerated in husks. Remove husk and silks only when ready to cook.
Using: To grill, soak with husks on in water for 10 minutes and place directly on grill for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Peel and boil in salted water for 5 minutes, or peel, cut kernels from cob and sauté for 5 minutes.
Season: summer

Cucumber
Selecting: Look for ones that are solid and completely dark green. Should be very firm. Slender cucumbers are younger and have tender skins. Avoid cucumbers that are dull and yellow.
Storing: Will keep 5 days or more if refrigerated.
Using: Rinse; peel if waxed. Best used raw in salads, sandwiches, soups, and dips.
Season: summer

Eggplant
Selecting: Should be 6 to 8 inches long, glossy, smooth and have a uniformly deep purple color. The fruits are over-mature when they become dull, soft, and seedy or are more than 5 inches in diameter. Stem should be green. If the stem is dry or brown, the eggplant isn't fresh. Should be heavy for its size.
Storing: Store at a cool room temperature or in the refrigerator. After a few days, eggplants become unpleasantly bitter.
Using: The skins are edible and a good source of nutrition, but they may be peeled. It's important to cook eggplant thoroughly for good taste and texture. Grilling a half-inch slice takes about 2 minutes, while baking 2 halves takes about 30 minutes.
Season: summer

Fennel
Selecting: Look for a bulb, with short, tight, overlapping celery-like stalks with feathery leaves. Choose fairly large, bright white bulbs on which the edges appear fresh. Bulb should be compact, not spreading.
Storing: Place in plastic wrap or bag and keep in refrigerator. You can separate the bulb from the stalks and leaves and store separately. Fennel will keep several days in the refrigerator.
Using: Cut off and throw away the tops and stems. Trim away any yellowed or bruised outer leaves and then cut each bulb in half through the stem end. Can be braised, grilled, roasted, steamed or served raw.
Season: winter, spring

Garlic
Selecting: Choose firm, dry bulbs with tightly closed cloves and smooth skins. Avoid bulbs with green sprouts.
Storing: Store in a cool, well-ventilated place. Do not refrigerate.
Using: Whole bulbs can be baked or roasted. Cloves should be peeled and sliced, minced or crushed when used for flavoring.
Season: spring, summer, fall

Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
Selecting: Choose the smoothest artichokes with tight-fitting skins of uniform color and firmness. Avoid discoloration or mold.
Storing: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for a few days.
Using: Serve raw in salads by slicing and tossing immediately in acidic salad dressing to delay discoloring. To cook, slice the artichokes and stir-fry, sauté, braise, roast or steam. Be careful not to overcook them or they will become mushy.
Season: fall, winter

Kale
Selecting: Pick crisp, tender leaves that are bright in color. Leaves should be 8 to 10 inches long.
Storing: Wrap the greens in paper towels and place in plastic bags to maintain moisture. They will keep refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.
Using: Rinse to remove sand and dirt, and remove any thick, tough leaves. Use raw in salads when leaves are small and tender. Quick cook them by sautéing or steaming.
Season: fall, winter

Kohlrabi
Selecting: Light green in color and sometimes sold with its edible greens attached (cook these greens like spinach). Choose small ones like the size of a golf ball. Kohlrabi may be white, green or purple in color. Leaf stems should be succulent and tender. Large kohlrabi can be woody and tough.
Storing: With the leaf stems removed, kohlrabi can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. Storage life can be extended if placed in sealed plastic bags.
Using: Peel before using. Crisp flesh can be served raw in salads, as a relish, or with dips. The bulb can be sliced, quartered, or cubed and steamed. Bulbs can be hollowed out and stuffed with a vegetable or meat filling.
Season: summer

Leeks
Selecting: A firm white root end. Crisp, straight, bright green stems.
Storing: Keep in the refrigerator for 5 days or more. Both the white bulb end and the green stems are edible. Remove the roots. Wash and remove any loose skin.
Using: Leeks must be fully cooked. A good flavoring ingredient that compares to green onion.
Season: spring, fall

Lettuce
Selecting: Pick the freshest greens with crisp leaves, free of brown spots on the leaves or stems.
Storing: Remove any browning leaves and take off rubber bands or metal ties. Unwashed and stored in the refrigerator, lettuce will keep for 3 to 4 days.
Using: Wash thoroughly by separating the leaves. Use in salads or as a topping in sandwiches.
Season: fall, winter

Mushrooms, Chanterelles, Porcinis, Hen of the Woods
Selecting: Look for dry and firm mushrooms with a sweet earthy smell. If the caps are open, the gills underneath should stand upright, not be limp or stuck together.
Storing: Store in a closed paper bag (or in a cardboard container) in refrigerator for several days. They will turn slimy if kept too long. To clean, wipe with a damp cloth. Do not soak in water to clean.
Using: Can be eaten raw or cooked. Can be sautéed, marinated, grilled, broiled, used in salads, stuffed, or used in soups and stews.
Season: summer

Okra
Selecting: Choose short pods less than 4 inches long with a velvety feel. Bright green, and the tips should be bendable. No bruises or discoloration. The large pods become tough and woody.
Storing: Will keep up to 4 days if refrigerated. To avoid a slimy texture, do not wash okra until ready to cook.
Using: Add to Creole or Cajun-style soups, stews, and sauces to thicken and add flavor.
Season: spring, summer

Onions, Bermuda, red, Spanish, Vidalia, sweet, Walla Walla, yellow
Selecting: Clean, firm, well-shaped bulbs with no sign of mold. Dry, papery skins.
Storing: Can be stored in cool, dry place with ventilation for a month or longer. Or store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Using: Peel the papery skin and cut or slice. Use sweet onions (Bermuda, red, Vidalia, Walla Walla) raw. Others may taste better cooked.
Season: spring, summer

Onions, green, scallions (see leeks in their own entry)
Selecting: A firm white root end. Crisp, straight, bright green stems.
Storing: Keep in the refrigerator for 5 days or more. Both the white bulb end and the green stems are edible.
Using: Remove the roots. Wash and remove any loose skin. Use raw in salads, as a garnish or cooked into dishes.
Season: spring

Parsnips
Selecting: Look for well-shaped, small, firm roots. Large, older parsnips require more peeling and have a woody core.
Storing: Will keep for a week or more if refrigerated.
Using: Cut parsnips into cubes and use them in soups or stews. They can be exceptional roasted or boiled, or mashed and mixed with mashed potatoes for a sweeter, richer taste.
Season: fall, winter

Peas, English
Selecting: Bright green pods with few wrinkles. Pods should be filled with peas but not bulging. If the peas are too large, they are old and starchy.
Storing: Keep in the refrigerator and use within a day or two still within the pod.
Using: Rinse peas. Remove the peas from the inedible pod. Cook in boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes.
Season: spring

Peas, sugar or snap
Selecting: Pods should be plump, firm, bright green, and crisp. Avoid those with brown spots or shriveled appearance.
Storing: Store sugar snap peas in vegetable crisper up to 1-3 days. Sugar snap peas are suitable for freezing, but not canning. Frozen peas keep well up to one year.
Using: Do not shell the peas before cooking, as the entire pod is eaten. Remove the string by pinching one end and peeling string off. Then eat raw or simmer for 2 minutes.
Season: spring, summer

Peppers, sweet bell, red, green, yellow, orange
Selecting: Should be thick skinned and feel heavy. Color should be uniform, deep, shiny color. The pepper should be well-shaped and firm and have no soft spots. The red, orange and yellow versions are more mature and sweeter stage of the green pepper.
Storing: Will keep refrigerated for 3 days or more. Rinse and cut into desired shapes.
Using: Use raw or cooked. Great when grilled, roasted, or in a stir-fry.
Season: summer

Potatoes, new, fingerling
Selecting: Should be very firm, without sprouted eyes. Skin should have no greenish tint. Potatoes should be small and have thin skins.
Storing: Store in a cool, dark place; do not store in the refrigerator. Will keep up to 2 weeks.
Using: Avoid peeling when possible, as the skins are very nutritious. Start covered with cold water and boil 20 to 30 minutes, until tender when pierced.
Season: summer

Pumpkin
Selecting: Look for "pie pumpkins" or Jack-Be-Little pumpkins; they're smaller and easier to cook. Pick ones that feel heavy for their size with no blemishes. The fruit should have a deep-solid color and a hard rind. Pumpkins without stems do not store well.
Storing: Pumpkins keep for one month in a cool, dry place or up to three months in the refrigerator.
Using: Halve, remove seeds, season and roast until tender. Roast the seeds separately and sprinkle with salt for a delicious snack.
Season: fall

Radishes
Selecting: Look for firm, smooth skins without splits. They are ripe when the size of marbles and are good up to 1 inch in diameter. After that, they may become hot and pithy. Radishes can be round or elongated. The attached green tops should have no signs of wilting or discoloration.
Storing: Keep very well in the refrigerator, although the tops should be used within a day or two.
Using: Scrub well and cut off the ends. Use in salad or as a garnish. Young green tops also add zest to salads.
Season: winter

Rhubarb
Selecting: Select stems that are long, thin, and fully colored red.
Storing: Can be refrigerated for a few days. The leaves are poisonous, so it’s best to remove before storing.
Using: If the stalks are thick, peel with a vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous strings. Rhubarb must be cooked. Use it in fruit soups, compotes, crisps, jams and pies.
Season: winter

Rutabaga
Selecting: Choose rutabaga with smooth, thick skin that is yellow to tan in color. It should feel heavy for its size.
Storing: Rutabagas keep in a cool, dry place for a month or longer.
Using: To cook, rinse and peel the skin with a paring knife. Cut into cubes and boil in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. You can mash and serve them alone, or add to mashed potatoes for a richer flavor.
Season: fall, winter

Salsify
Selecting: Select firm, tapered roots with black or white skin. Salsify has a mild flavor similar to artichoke hearts, asparagus or oysters.
Storing: Wrap in plastic and it will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Using: Remove the tops and thin skin. Boil in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. Mash plain or use in stews.
Season: fall, winter

Shallots
Selecting: Should be plump and well shaped. Avoid those that appear dry or have sprouted.
Storing: Store in a cool, dry spot.
Using: When peeled, a shallot separates into multiple cloves, similar to garlic. Can be chopped and used raw or cooked. Can be baked as a side dish or sautéed.
Season: spring, summer

Snow Peas
Selecting: Select bright green, firm peas. Avoid ones that are rubbery. Should be not more than 2 inches long.
Storing: They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
Using: Remove the string before cooking. Boil uncovered in salted water or steam. Add to stir-fry with ginger or garlic, or chill and toss in salads.
Season: fall, winter

Spinach
Selecting: Firm, fresh, crisp deep green leaves. Should be no blemishes, insect damage, or wilting.
Storing: Will keep for 1 or 2 days if refrigerated.
Using: Remove the central ribs if they are large and tough. Wash well to remove sand. Use raw or cooked. Use small raw spinach leaves in salads. Steam using a small amount of water.
Season: spring, fall

Squash, summer (Pattypan, yellow zucchini)
Selecting: Look for small squash with thin, glossy skins. Avoid any that have pits or dull skin. It should feel heavy. A lighter squash may be dry and stringy. Yellow squash and zucchini should be 6 to 8 inches long. Pattypan should be less than 3 inches in diameter.
Storing: Will keep for 3 days or more if refrigerated.
Using: Rinse and remove stem and blossom end. Bake whole or halved, drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Or wilt in a very small amount of water with salt, pepper, and olive oil for 6 to 8 minutes.
Season: summer

Squash, winter
Selecting: Pick squash that feel heavy for its size. The skin should be thick and hard without blemishes. If it's soft, it's too young.
Storing: Will keep for a month or more in a cool, dry place.
Using: Halve, remove seeds, season and roast until tender. Great alone or added to soups and risotto.
Season: fall, winter

Sweet Potatoes
Selecting: Find firm, medium-sized potatoes with tapered ends and bright orange skin. Avoid ones with blemishes, sprouts, or any sign of decay.
Storing: They will keep for several weeks when stored outside the refrigerator in a cool, dark and dry place.
Using: Scrub well before using. Bake unpeeled, or, peel, cut in half, boil, drain and mash.
Season: fall, winter

Swiss Chard
Selecting: Crisp, tender leaves that are not overgrown. Bright color and about 8 to 10 inches long. Available year round, but tend to be tough and woody in hot summers.
Storing: Keep refrigerated in plastic bags to maintain moisture.
Using: Wash thoroughly to remove sand. Remove thick, tough leaves. Use raw in salads when small and tender. Quick cook them by sautéing or steaming.
Season: spring, summer, fall

Tomatoes
Selecting: Should be plump and heavy for its size. Slightly soft. Color should be uniform and blemish-free. Color and shape vary according to variety.
Storing: Will keep at room temperature for a few days. Place in a warm area out of direct sunlight if they need to ripen more. Avoid refrigerating if possible, as it stops the ripening process.
Using: Wash and remove stem. Very ripe tomatoes are best raw. Roma tomatoes make the best sauce.
Season: summer

Turnips, white
Selecting: Choose ones with smooth white and purple skin. They should be small to medium in size, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and should feel heavy. The tops can be used for greens when they are 4 to 6 inches long.
Storing: They will keep for a week or more if refrigerated.
Using: To use, cut off the root and greens, and peel. Cook in boiling salted water for 15 to 25 minutes. Serve mashed, glazed or in stews.
Season: fall, winter

Watercress
Selecting: Look for crisp stems with glossy, dime-sized, dark green leaves.
Storing: They will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days.
Using: Wash thoroughly to remove any dirt. Drain and dry. Toss in salads to add a different flavor or use as the base ingredient of a salad with other strong flavor toppings.
Season: fall, winter

Zucchini
Selecting: Small squash with thin, glossy skins. Zucchini should be less than 8" long.
Storing: Will keep for 3 days or more if refrigerated.
Using: Rinse and remove stem and blossom end. Cut into pieces of desired size. Bake whole or halved, drizzled with olive oil and seasoning. Or wilt slices in a very small amount of water with salt, pepper, and olive oil for 6 to 8 minutes.
Season: summer


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