Whether it's in-season asparagus, local squash or organic bell peppers, our Produce department is a destination for bright, colorful vegetables all year long. We're as meticulous about our sourcing practices as we are our selection: Our produce field inspectors visit farms to select the best-tasting fruits and vegetables at peak season. Ready to learn about some of the choices you'll find in our stores? Brush up on your veggie IQ below.
Look for artichokes that are heavy with leaves that are tightly packed and well hydrated. Keep an eye out for thick stems -- the heart will be roughly 1 1/2 times the diameter of the stem, so the thicker the stem the bigger the heart. Peak artichoke season is April through June and there is a smaller second season in September.
Store in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Cut off the top third of the artichoke; trim the prickly tips off the leaves with kitchen scissors; then cut off excess stem (leaving up to an inch intact). Steam artichokes in a large pot for 30-40 minutes (depending on size) until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off. Many cooks add a garlic clove, bay leaf, salt or lemon slices to the water. Artichoke leaves are delicious dipped in garlic butter and other sauces. After eating/removing the leaves you will reach the “heart” of the artichoke (located at the base of the artichoke where the stem attaches), which is the most tender part; to eat it, scrape off the fibrous fuzz with a spoon, then cut the remaining meaty heart into pieces. Eat artichoke hearts with a dipping sauce or add them to pasta dishes or pizzas. The cooked stem of the artichoke can also be eaten.
Artichokes are a good source of folate, magnesium, fiber and vitamin C.
Food you eat directly after eating artichokes can taste sweet because of a substance in them called cynarin. This makes successful wine pairings difficult, so it’s better to serve artichokes with water or beer.
Look for firm, straight stalks with small, crisp tips. Asparagus should be a consistent color from top to bottom -- green asparagus with excessive white or brown bottoms should be avoided. The thickness of the stalk is not important; both thin and thick asparagus can be tender. Choose bunches with stalks that are uniform in size to ensure uniform cooking. Available in green, white and purple varieties; white asparagus can be bitter. Asparagus is a spring vegetable with many growing areas spread across the US. It is usually best in late March through July.
Eat fresh asparagus as soon as possible. Keep it in the refrigerator for three to four days maximum.
Some cooks like to trim the outer skin on the stalk but it is not necessary. Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, grilled or roasted. Lightly steamed asparagus is wonderful with just a bit of high quality olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Asparagus is a good source of vitamin C and also supplies iron, folate, beta-carotene and glutathione (an antioxidant).
Asparagus has historically been used medicinally to relieve indigestion and as a sedative.
Most beets are a deep purple-red color, but a few varieties are pale orange, gold, white or even striped. Baby beets (golf ball size or smaller) cook faster, but taste the same as larger ones, which can be cut to speed up cooking. Choose beets that are smooth and firm with deep color. If purchased with the tops (greens) on, the greens should look fresh and be free of decay. Beets sold loose with the tops cut off should be firm and heavy for their size with no wrinkles or sprouts. Beets are most abundant from June through November.
If purchased with the tops intact, cut the greens off about an inch above the beet, then refrigerate the beets and greens separately in plastic bags. The greens will keep up to one week and the beets will keep for two to three weeks.
The mild, earthy flavor of beets pairs well with vinegar, citrus, cheese and nuts. They can also be used to make borscht (beet soup) or pickled. Beet greens (the leaves) are delicious sautéed or, if young, in salads. Dark-colored beets will change the colors of other foods when combined, and will stain clothing, cutting boards and other surfaces so protect them accordingly.
Beet roots are a source of fiber, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese and vitamin C. Beet greens are a source of protein, folate, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese and other nutrients.
Look for peppers that are deeply colored and free of wrinkles, soft spots or other indications of age or decay. Shape or size is not usually an indicator of quality. Most bell peppers have three or four bulbous lobes, but some varieties are tapered with no conspicuous lobes. All bell peppers are green when young, changing to red, yellow or orange as they mature. All are edible, regardless of color, though more mature peppers are sweeter. Greenhouse grown bell peppers are available year round -- field grown bell peppers are available domestically during the summer and fall.
Raw bell peppers freeze very well. Simply wash them, core them, then cut them into pieces; freeze in a single layer and transfer to an appropriate freezer container, eliminating as much air as possible to minimize freezer burn. Use frozen vegetables within eight months.
To remove the stem and core from a bell pepper, cut a circle around the stem or gently tear the stem off the top (most of the seeds will come with it), then shake out the remaining seeds from inside and remove as much of the white ribs as possible (using your fingers or a knife). If you wish to leave a bell pepper whole for stuffing, cut a circle around the stem, leaving it attached with a slight inward lip or rim around the edge, then cut the rest of the pepper in half lengthwise and proceed to remove the seeds and ribs.
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamins C, A and K, a good source of vitamin B6 and are low in calories.
Broccoli and cauliflower both belong to the brassica (cabbage) family and are so closely related that during the earliest stages of growth, the two plants are identical. Broccoli and cauliflower are produced year round and are a popular local crop all over the US. Other variants and genetic crosses include broccoflower, which is somewhat sweeter and milder than broccoli; and Romanesco, which has a unique pyramidal shape with spiral florets. For all varieties, look for stalks that are slender and snap-crisp. Broccoli floret buds should be tight and darkly colored (yellowing is a sign of age). Cauliflower should have compact curds that are clean, uniformly white or creamy white, with no spots or bruising, and firm to the touch.
Keep broccoli and cauliflower in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in an open or perforated plastic bag. Broccoli and cauliflower will keep for several days provided they are kept cold and hydrated. Be careful not to let cauliflower get too wet -- excess moisture will brown the curds.
All varieties can be eaten raw. Cut away the main stem and separate florets before washing. Broccoli stems can be eaten; simply slice them thinly and cook until tender. Cauliflower curds should be separated; they can be cooked whole but this requires longer cooking times, which results in the loss of nutrients. Rapid cooking is best to prevent nutrient loss and to preserve texture and color. Avoid aluminum pots, which can enhance the cabbage-like cooking odor created by these vegetables.
Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins C, K and A as well as a good source of folate, B6 and manganese. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C.
Cauliflower is white because it lacks chlorophyll since its large leaves prevent sunlight from reaching the vegetable while it grows.
Choose firm, small, compact sprouts with a good green color and stem ends that are clean and white. When possible, select sprouts of uniform size for uniform cooking. Avoid those with wilted or yellowed leaves or that feel spongy. Brussels sprouts are most abundant in autumn through early spring.
Do not wash or trim Brussels sprouts until you are ready to use them. Sprouts purchased on the stem can be kept on the stem in the refrigerator if you have room. If not, remove them with a sharp knife and store loose sprouts in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator (discard the stem). Fresh sprouts will keep for several days.
Trim any bruised or yellowed leaves if necessary as well as the stem end, being careful not to trim away too much so the outer leaves don't fall off during cooking. Cut an X in the base of each sprout so the interior cooks as quickly as the outer leaves. Regardless of cooking method, test for doneness by inserting the tip of a knife into the stem end, which should be barely tender. Overcooking enhances an unappealing cabbage-like odor. Brussels sprouts can be boiled, steamed, oven roasted, braised and grilled.
Brussels sprouts provide vitamins C and A, folic acid, potassium, fiber and protein.
Look for cabbage that is heavy for its size with leaves that are unblemished and have a bright, fresh look. Heads that weigh 2 pounds or less are usually a better choice for tenderness and flavor. Cabbage is produced year round but peak season for most cabbages runs from November through April.
Fresh whole cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for one to six weeks depending on type and variety. Hard green, white or red cabbages will keep the longest while the looser Savoy and Chinese varieties should be used more quickly. Keep the outer leaves and do not wash before storing since moisture will hasten decay. Cut cabbage should be used within a week (wrap partial heads securely in plastic wrap). Frozen cabbage will keep up to one year. To freeze, cut or shred coarsely and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and allow it to cool, then place it in an airtight container and freeze. Frozen cabbage should only be used when cooking -- use fresh when serving cabbage raw.
Cabbage complements meat dishes, especially smoked or salted meats, as well as root vegetables, and it is delicious in stir-fries. It pairs well with red wine and herbs and spices. Onions, apples, horseradish and sour cream make great flavor combinations when combined with cabbage. Cabbage is also used to make sauerkraut. Red cabbage may bleed color onto other ingredients when used in salads; adding lemon juice, vinegar or wine can reduce this effect. To reduce odors when cooking cabbage, cook it immediately after cutting or shredding (those actions increase the formation of the pungent flavor compounds) and cook cabbage only as long as necessary.
Cabbage provides fiber, vitamins A, C and K, folate, potassium, manganese, B6, thiamin, calcium, iron and magnesium.
The infamous odor of cooked cabbage comes from sulfur compounds, which are actually a good thing—they contribute to the vegetable’s antioxidant content.
Carrots should be bright, firm and smooth skinned. Avoid carrots that feel rubbery or have cracks. Carrots vary in size depending on the variety, and any type can be harvested early as a more tender baby carrot, though some types are bred specifically to have smaller roots. The “baby” carrots typically found in supermarkets are larger carrots (usually varieties bred for consistent color and sweeter taste) that have been machine cut to achieve their tiny size and uniform shape.
Carrots will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Store them in plastic bags so they do not dehydrate.
Carrots should be thoroughly washed and scrubbed. It is not necessary to peel them, although many cooks prefer to do so because the skin can be bitter.
Carrots are loaded with vitamin A. Look for red or purple colored varieties, which are packed with anthocyanins.
Look for peppers that are deeply colored and free of wrinkles, soft spots or other indications of age or decay. Peppers should be chosen based on their flavor and heat. The spiciness level of a pepper is expressed in Scoville units, a measure of the capsaicin content in the pepper, which is perceived as “heat” by the human palate. The heat range of individual peppers can vary dramatically because it is affected by both the variety and growing conditions.
Popular Pepper Varieties
mild heat, medium size, green or red
chile relleno, seared, broiled, grilled or smoked
slight heat, large, dark green
chile relleno, roasted, grilled, dried to make Ancho chile powder
medium heat long, tapered
sandwiches, chili, queso, roasted, grilled
hot, small, dark green
5,000 to 6,000
chili, tacos, nachos, pickling, most common variety used to make chipotle peppers
very hot, very small, red when ripe
used in Mexican and Asian cuisines, substitute for jalapeños in recipes for a kick
very hot, long, narrow, red
most often found in powdered form on the spice aisle
extremely hot, orange or red pods
200,000 or higher
found in many commercial hot sauces, add to recipes with caution
The term “chipotle” has become extremely popular when describing various salsas and sauces made from chile peppers. Chipotles are not a variety of peppers, but rather they are smoked jalapeño peppers. Originally used as a preservation technique by the Aztecs, smoking provides a rich earthy flavor that complements robust foods like chili very well. Chipotles are available both dried and in powder form, as well as canned in adobo sauce.
Most fresh peppers will keep, unwashed, in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for about a week.
The seeds and membranes in chile peppers contain most of the “heat” in the form of capsaicin, a compound that causes the familiar mouth-burning sensation. Removing these parts will reduce a chile’s heat. To remove seeds and membranes from a large pepper (like poblanos), cut a circle around the stem or gently tear the stem off the top (most of the seeds will come with it), then shake out the remaining seeds from inside and remove as much of the white ribs as possible (using your fingers or a knife). If you wish to leave large peppers whole for stuffing, cut a circle around the stem, leaving it attached with a slight inward lip or rim around the edge, then cut the rest of the pepper in half lengthwise and proceed to remove the seeds and ribs. For small peppers, slice the pepper lengthwise down the center in order to access the ribs, then use a knife to gently carve or scrape out all seeds and membranes. Use care when handling peppers that are spicy with your hands—the oils that cause a burning sensation may linger for hours even after you wash your hands (an unpleasant surprise if you rub your eyes or remove contact lenses). To prevent this problem, wear gloves or use utensils instead of your fingers to handle the pepper.
Chile peppers are very high in vitamins C and A. They are also known for clearing sinuses when eaten (especially the very hot ones) and may help to improve circulation (certain types are even found as ingredients in orally administered natural remedies). Capsaicin is also known for relieving inflammation caused by arthritis when applied topically in a cream.
The capsaicin found inside hot chile peppers is the ingredient that makes the pepper spray used by law enforcement so effective.
Sweet corn can be yellow, white, or a combination of yellow and white called bi-color. Kernel color has no effect on sweetness. Look for ears with husks that are fresh, tight and green, not yellowed or dry. Peel back part of the husk to see if the kernels are bright, plump and milky. Overly large or indented kernels at the tip are a sign of over-maturity. The silk should be moist, soft and light gold, not brown and brittle.
Refrigerate corn until ready to prepare it. Some varieties of sweet corn can lose half their sugar content in one day if kept at room temperature. Leave the husks on to retain moisture. If the ears are already husked, place them in a perforated plastic bag. If you have more corn on hand than you can use in a day or two, parboil it for just a minute or two and refrigerate it up to three days. To complete the process, just drop them into boiling water for one minute. Or, cut the kernels from the cob and then refrigerate.
Unless you are grilling or roasting corn in the husk, strip off the husk and snap off the stems (or leave the stems on to use as handles). Pull off the silk, using a dry vegetable brush to remove strands between the kernels. To remove corn from the cob, hold the cob vertically, resting the tip on the work surface, and slide a sharp knife down the length of the cob. For cream-style corn, slit each row of kernels with a sharp knife and then run the back of the knife down the length of the cob to force out the pulp and juice, leaving the skins of the kernels on the cob.
Corn is a source of fiber, magnesium, phosphorous, thiamin and vitamin C.
Corn is America’s number one field crop for volume and production.
Select firm cucumbers without bruises that are heavy for their size and rounded at the tips. Avoid shriveled tips or soft spots. Overall size can vary with the type, but smaller, slender cucumbers typically have fewer seeds and more flavor. They should have a rich green color, not yellow, and be cool to the touch. Slicers, or salad cucumbers, are the most common type. Pickling varieties are smaller and squatter than their slicing cousins, with thicker, bumpier skins, and are usually harder to find. Greenhouse cucumbers, also known as English or "burpless" cucumbers, are seedless and milder in flavor than field-grown varieties, and can be substituted for slicers in any recipe.
Keep unwashed cucumbers in the refrigerator crisper. Unwaxed cucumbers should be checked daily for spoilage, while waxed ones keep for about a week. Wrap cut cucumbers tightly in plastic wrap and use within a day or two.
Removing the seeds (there is no harm in eating them) is a matter of personal preference. Cucumbers add texture and crunch to sandwiches and salads and can be used to create delicious summer soups like gazpacho. They are also a cool complement to fish and poultry dishes.
Cucumbers are 95% water. They have minimal nutritive value, but also minimal calories.
On a hot summer day, the inside of a garden cucumber can be 20 degrees cooler than air temperature.
Purple, amethyst, green or white, striped or solid, big or small, slender or plump—eggplants come in an astonishing array of colors, shapes and sizes. Eggplant should be glossy, not dull, with taut skins and no soft spots, cuts or bruises. The skin should rebound when pressed gently with your thumb. Choose small to medium-sized fruit for fewer seeds and firmer texture. The fruit should have a green cap and a portion of stem. Eggplant is most flavorful and plentiful in late summer or fall, when crops are allowed to mature in open fields.
Eggplant can be stored for several days but is sensitive to extremely cold temperatures (below 45 degrees) for prolonged periods of time. You can store them in your refrigerator but it is best to use them within a few days of purchase.
A 1-pound eggplant yields approximately 3 to 4 cups diced. The skin can be removed but it is not necessary. Whether peeling or not, rinse eggplant in running water and dry it with a towel; then trim off the green cap and stem and cut the eggplant as the recipe directs. To preserve texture and reduce eggplant's tendency to absorb oil during cooking, sprinkle the sliced or cubed flesh with salt and allow it to sit in a colander for 30 minutes or so. After salting, you may wish to rinse and pat dry to reduce the salt content. Contrary to popular belief, salting does not reduce the bitterness of eggplant; rather it shrivels the outer cell walls and pulls moisture from the interior, blocking absorption of oil and helping maintain firmness. Once cut eggplant will discolor quickly (if you're not salting it, sprinkle it with lemon juice to minimize discoloration).
Eggplant is high in fiber, folate, potassium, manganese, vitamins C and K, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorous and copper.
Botanically a fruit but treated as a vegetable, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and chile peppers.
Anise is typically referred to in recipes as a “fennel bulb” because its overlapping stalks grow into a fist-sized swelling at its root. Look for fennel bulbs that are firm and clean. Bulbs are usually available with stalks and feathery leaves intact but are sometimes sold with the stalks already cut off.
Fennel stores well, provided the leaves are removed and the bulb is hyrdated. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag for a week or more. Keep fennel seed tightly sealed in a dark, cool place for up to one year.
When preparing fresh fennel, cut off the stalks where they emerge from the bulb (they can be used in stews and soups and the leaves can be used as an herb, like dill); then slice or dice the bulb as desired, discarding the dense core. Add fennel to potato salads, green salads, dressings or dips. It is also commonly sautéed, fried or steamed as an ingredient in savory recipes.
Fennel is a source of niacin, calcium, phosphorous, copper, fiber, vitamin C, folate, potassium and manganese.
Fresh Beans (Edamame, Fava, Green, Lima)
There are two main types of beans that are eaten fresh: “edible pods,” including green, snap, yellow wax and scarlet runner; and immature “shell beans,” including fava, soybeans, cranberry beans and limas (also known as butter beans).
Look for loose edible-pod beans so you can pick out beans of equal size for uniform cooking. Choose beans that are free of rust spots and scars and that have vivid color and velvety feel. They should also be straight and slender with a firm texture and should snap crisply when broken. Avoid beans that are stiff or have seeds that are visible through the pod. The seasonal peak for these varieties is in summer and early fall.
Fresh shell beans should be firm and bulge through a tightly closed pod. If already shelled, the beans should be plump and tight-skinned. Soybean pods have two to four beans per pod and should be plump and well filled with no signs of browning. Lima beans, soybeans and cranberry beans are available from mid-summer through early fall; fava beans from late spring through early summer.
Keep all types of fresh beans in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. Edible-pod beans will stay fresh for three to five days, shell beans for two or three days.
For edible-pod beans, snap or trim both ends. Leave them whole for cooking or cut crosswise or diagonally into 1- or 2-inch lengths. For shell beans, remove them from their pods by splitting the pod open and push the beans out with your thumb. Rinse before cooking. Opening the pod may be easier if you shave the seam of the curved side with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Large fava beans not only need to be shelled, but their tough skins must be peeled either before or after cooking. To peel the raw beans, split the skin with your thumbnail or a sharp paring knife. The skins of cooked favas will slip off easily.
Fresh beans are not as nutritionally dense as dried beans, but they do offer some vitamin C, folate and iron. Beans that are deep green in color also have beta-carotene.
Look for bulbs that are plump and compact with several layers of dry, papery husk. Spring garlic (also called garlic greens) is a younger, delicately flavored type that can be chopped and added raw to soups or salads. Elephant garlic is not true garlic at all, but is actually a type of leek; it does not provide the same health benefits as regular garlic and has much milder flavor.
Garlic will keep for several weeks and should be stored at room temperature. Garlic has the potential to sprout, which diminishes its pungency and flavor. To prevent this, keep garlic in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat.
To easily peel garlic, separate the cloves from the bulb and place them on a cutting board. Lay the flat side of a broad knife on top of one clove at a time. Tap the knife with a closed fist. A fairly gentle impact is all that's required to split the peels without smashing the clove. Be careful not to burn garlic when sautéing; it will turn bitter. Roasting whole garlic bulbs will mellow its flavor and transform cloves into a spreadable consistency.
Garlic contains more than 100 sulfur compounds, which may help promote healthy arteries and cholesterol levels. Allicin, the best known, is formed when cloves are crushed, chopped or chewed, releasing its characteristic scent and flavor.
Americans consume more than three pounds of garlic per person annually.
Greens vary widely in flavor from sweet to bitter to earthy, and many are pungent, peppery and sharp. Regardless of variety, always look for crisp leaves with vibrant color. Young, leafy greens generally have small, tender leaves and a mild flavor. Many mature plants have tougher leaves and stronger flavors. Choose mild-flavored greens such as collards, chard, bok choy or spinach when you want their flavor to blend well with other ingredients in your dish. For a medium sharpness, choose kale. For stronger, assertive flavors, select mustard, arugula, mizuna or turnip greens. To create a balanced dish, combine mild and strong flavored greens together. Collards, kale, turnip greens and mustard greens are at their best from October through early spring. Swiss chard and beet greens are best from the spring through the fall. Dandelion greens are available and best in the spring and summer. Quality and seasonality may vary as greens are a popular crop for local and regional growers.
Popular Leafy Greens
peppery, delicate texture
raw in salads or sandwiches, versatile for cooking
mild, slightly sweet, very tender
steam, braise or sautée, eat raw in salads
sweet, mild, stays crisp when cooked
stir-fries, salads or soups
tender, chewy, robust flavor
sautée or braise, typical in Italian fare
mild, sweet, cooks to tender texture
steam, braise or sautée, shrinks less than other greens when cooked
pungent, spicy, bitter
eat small leaves raw, braise or sautée longer leaves
tender, bitter, high in fiber
eat raw in salads, cook briefly for milder flavor
coarse, mildly bitter
eat raw in salads, steam, braise or add to soups
mildly peppery, tender
boil, steam or sautée, tough stems and ribs must be removed
tender, spicy, exotic flavor
serve raw or slightly wilted, mix with other greens in salads
subtle hot mustard flavor
steam, braise or sautée, tough stems and ribs must be removed
soft, sweet, rich flavor
multi-purpose, eat raw in salads and sandwiches, sautée, braise, add to soups, quiches or pasta
Swiss Chard (Red, Green, Rainbow)
tender, sweet, velvety texture
multi-purpose, wilt, sautée, braise, add to soups, casseroles or pasta, red chard may “dye” other foods
boil until silky for traditional Southern style
Most greens can be stored in the refrigerator for several days provided they aare protected from air flow. Most store best in a plastic bag in the crisping drawer of your refrigerator. Tender, delicate leaves (such as beet greens) wilt very quickly, so use them as soon as possible or purchase them on the day you plan to prepare them.
Greens with similar texture can be used interchangeably in recipes, though they will impart slightly different flavors. One pound of fresh, untrimmed greens will typically serve two to three people. While this may look like a lot when raw, a significant portion of the plant (stems and ribs) will be discarded and most greens shrink considerably when cooked. To prepare greens for washing, cut off the stems and discard any bruised leaves. For greens with tough stems, such as collards, mustard and kale, cut off the stem backbone, which can be quite tough. Chard, bok choy, turnip and beet greens have tender stems that can be eaten along with the leaves. Wash the greens and edible stems in a sink full of water to remove dirt and sand. Bunches of greens that are especially sandy may require several soakings. Drain the greens in a colander and chop or slice them according to recipe directions.
Greens provide a wide array of nutrients including fiber, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, folic acid and chlorophyll (the green pigment found in plant cells). Many varieties of leafy greens, especially members of the cruciferous (cabbage) family such as collards, kale and bok choy are also rich sources of vitamin C.
Choose leeks that are firm and slender with clean white necks. The green tops are typically not used in recipes so look for leeks with long white or light green necks so you get more usable leek per leek! Leeks are produced year round but prime leek season runs from September through April.
Leeks will keep well in the refrigerator for a week or more. Wrap them loosely in plastic wrap to prevent their aroma from being absorbed by other foods and to help retain moisture. Cooked leeks should be refrigerated in a sealed plastic bag or covered container and used with one or two days. Do not freeze leeks.
Leeks should be cleaned thoroughly because soil can collect between the leaves and work its way down the stem. To prepare leeks for any recipe, first cut off the roots at the base and the dark top portions of the leaves (the leaves are edible but have a stronger, less pleasant flavor than the white stalk). Then slice the stalk as directed. Use care not to overcook leeks or they will become soft and slimy. Leeks are related to the onion but are milder and sweeter with a crisp texture when cooked, making them versatile as an addition to soups and stews or as a side dish. They are the prime ingredient in the classic French cold soup, vichyssoise.
Raw leeks are a source of fiber, vitamin B6, iron and magnesium, vitamins A, C and K, folate and manganese.
Leeks are more nutritious than onions, containing slightly more vitamins and minerals.
Mushrooms come in a very wide range of varieties and types. The most common are variations of the Agaricus bisporus. These include the common white, Crimini, and Portobello. When selecting Agaricus types you should look for dry, even colored, and smooth skinned mushrooms. You can place them in a plastic bag but paper is better to prevent moisture from condensing on the mushroom. Agaricus with open veils (the gill-like part of the mushroom under the cap) are more flavorful but are a sign the mushroom is aging.
Wood pulp growing medium cultivated varieties like the Shitake and Oyster will discolor along the cap or edge when aging. Like Agaricus, excessive moisture will speed decay so it is best to avoid wet product and airtight containers.
Foraged mushrooms (like Chanterelles and Morel) are more sporadically available and are not harvested and sorted to a consistent size and maturity. It’s best when selecting to choose specimens that are consistently sized so that they will cook evenly.
Chanterelle has a beautiful curved trumpet or vase shaped with color varying from bright orange to apricot gold. Wonderful simply sautéed with olive oil, the flavor ranges from apricot-like to fruity earthiness.
Enoki mushrooms are tiny and dainty with a creamy white cap on a long slender stem. Their delicate nature, mild, sweet taste, and slightly crunchy texture make them best for using raw in salads, floating on soups, or tossing into a stir-fry just before serving.
Morels are tan to dark brown with conical spongy caps that hide a hollow interior that must be rinsed thoroughly before cooking. Their intense, earthy flavor complements meat dishes well; however, fresh morels sautéed in butter are heavenly on their own.
Oyster mushrooms have a unique fan shape with prominent ridged gills. Their color ranges from off-white to pink, yellow or grey-brown. They are delicate in flavor. Sautée briefly or use in mild dishes; they are complemented by butter, onion, seafood and gentle herbs.
Shiitake mushrooms (also called Black Forest or Chinese Black) are chocolate brown with a whimsical, umbrella-shaped cap and fibrous, woody stems. Their strong flavor makes them a good all-purpose mushroom and their firm texture can stand up to long cooking times. Use in everything from a quick stir-fry to a casserole, but be sure to remove their tough, inedible stems first.
Porcini mushrooms (also known as Cepes or King Boletes) range from two to eight inches wide, growing from umbrella-shaped to nearly flat with age. Yellow-brown to dark red-brown in color, they are smooth, moist and firm. With a robust, meaty flavor and sturdy texture, they can be used in any recipe requiring a definite mushroom flavor, whether cooked briefly or at length. The liquid from soaking dried porcinis is valuable for soup and sauce making.
Truffles are elusive, stemless fungi with an irregular, round shape. They are one to three inches in diameter with a rough surface, blackish-brown in color and very firm in texture. Growing completely underground, truffles are very difficult to cultivate. Harvesting in the wild requires the assistance of trained truffle-hunting pigs or dogs during a short season. The expense of this operation and the fact that demand far exceeds supply shows up in the cost; however, a small truffle shaving imparts big flavor. Often grated finely over egg dishes, truffles are also used in other mild dishes (such as rice or creamy pasta) where their pungent, unique flavor shines. This intense flavor fades quickly with time, yet moves into the medium in which they are stored, so they are often used to create luscious truffle-scented oil.
Refrigerate un-cleaned, fresh mushrooms in a paper bag or their original container. They remain freshest when neither too dry, nor too damp, so never store in airtight plastic, and place on a regular shelf (rather than in a high-humidity produce drawer) in your fridge. Depending on the variety and the humidity level, they should keep well, but use soon after purchase so they remain firm and blemish free and so they do not absorb odors or flavors from other foods in the refrigerator.
To clean mushrooms, simply brush off any dirt with a soft brush or a damp paper towel. If you must wash them, rinse only very briefly under running water and dry quickly on a paper towel. Mushrooms absorb water easily and should never be soaked for cleaning. Cut off and discard any portion of the stem holding a lot of soil. If your recipe calls for just caps, save the clean, unused stems for making stock.
Most mushrooms are good sources of B vitamins, potassium and selenium (an antioxidant). All mushrooms are a good source of fiber. Touted for their immune-boosting properties in Asian medicine, certain mushrooms are now being studied by Western doctors.
Look for small, young pods that are no more than 3 inches long (these are the most tender). Choose pods that are clean, fresh and green and that snap crisply when broken in half. Avoid pods that look dull and dry. Okra becomes fibrous and tough when over-mature.
Don't wash okra until just before you cook it; moisture will cause the pods to become slimy. Store untrimmed, uncut okra in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for no longer than three or four days.
When washing okra, if the pods are especially fuzzy, rub them in a kitchen towel or with a vegetable brush to remove some of the fibers. If cooking whole pods, trim a tiny slice from the stem end and tip without piercing the internal capsule; prepared this way, the juices won't be released and the okra won't become gummy. When cutting slices, trim the stem end more deeply. To minimize okra’s thickening juices, keep cooking time at a minimum; for instance, add it to recipes during only the last ten minutes. When okra is used in a soup, stew or casserole that requires long cooking, it should be cut up and allowed to produce its juices. Do not cook okra in a cast iron or aluminum pot, or it will darken. The discoloration is harmless, but unappetizing.
Okra is a good source of vitamin C, lutein, magnesium, and potassium. It's also high in fiber.
Okra originated in Africa, and the word “gumbo” is a derivative of a West African word that means okra.
Most members of the onion family are divided into two categories, sweet onions and storage onions, although some specialized onion varieties are somewhere in between.
Sweet onions are seasonal, harvested in spring and early summer, cured briefly, then rushed to market. Their flavor is sweet and mild. Their shelf life is shorter than storage onions. These onions are palatable when raw because they have high sugar content and low sulfur content. There are many varieties of sweet onions grown throughout the world, including AmeriSweet, Maui, OSO Sweets, SpringSweets, 1015 SuperSweets, Sweet Imperial, Vidalia and Walla Walla.
Storage onions are most plentiful from August through April. They are more pungent than sweet onions and have lower water and sugar content, which makes them the ideal choice for savory dishes that require long cooking times or intense flavors. These attributes, together with multiple layers of husk and generally thinner necks, allow them to be stored for long periods, as their name implies. Storage onions come in yellow, red and white. Yellow can be used in virtually any recipe and they have the longest shelf life. White onions are also versatile and are traditionally used in Mexican cuisine. Red onions are often preferred for salads and sandwiches, and they caramelize well. Bermuda onions (may be yellow or white) and Spanish onions are milder than most other storage onions.
Cippolini (pronounced chip-ah-LEE-nee) onions occupy the middle ground between sweet onions and storage onions. They are a perfect choice for those who shy away from strong onions but still want a hint of pungency.
Boiler or pearl onions are simply immature onions. They are useful for kebabs, stews or pickling because of their size. Peeling them can be a chore.
Scallions and green onions are very immature onions with much milder flavor. Their green tops can be substituted for chives. To the average cook and for most purposes, scallions and green onions are identical, but there is a technical difference. True scallions are completely bulbless and younger, whereas green onions are harvested just after a bulb has begun to form.
Spring onions are young, delicately flavored onions with a mild flavor. They are a welcome addition to stir fries and salads.
Shallots are the sophisticates of the onion family, long associated with French haute cuisine. They have a delicate flavor that is suggestive of both sweet onions and garlic. Quite pungent when raw, shallots truly taste best when lightly sautéed or used in sauces.
Regardless of variety, choose onions that are dry and solid all over with no soft spots or sprouts. The skin should be dry and shiny and tight around the neck. Due to higher moisture content, sweet onions will not be as hard as storage onions. Large onions are best for slicing in salads and sandwiches and are a better choice for peeling or chopping. Small to medium onions are best for recipes such as stews where they are used whole or cut into wedges. Color is a poor guide to flavor and texture because an onion's pungency or water content is highly dependent on the soil and climate in which it was grown.
Storage onions should be kept in an open space that's cool and dry, away from bright light, which can make them bitter. Do not store them under the sink or anywhere that may be damp. Due to higher levels of sugar and moisture content, sweet onions require more care than storage onions; they can keep up to four or five weeks if stored properly. Rough handling and bruising can shorten their storage life dramatically. If you want to refrigerate them, store them in a single layer on a paper towel in the crisper; at room temperature, hang them in a single leg cut from a pair of pantyhose (tie a knot in the pantyhose in between each onion) or place them on an elevated rack making sure they do not touch one another. Cut onions should be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for no more than two or three days. Cooked onions can be refrigerated for up to five days in tightly covered glass or plastic containers. Do not store cooked onions in metal containers because they will become discolored.
To remove onion odor from your hands, try sprinkling salt on your palms and then rubbing them together under running water. Another method is to wash your hands and, while still wet, rub them on stainless steel, such as a cooking pot or steel sink. Onions make people cry because of the reaction of enzymes to the air as they are sliced or chopped. Here are a few tips that can reduce the tears:
Chill the onions. The enzymes in onions don't react to the air as quickly when they're cold.
Use a sharp knife, lessening the amount of enzymes exposed to air.
Chop or slice onions on a cutting board under your stove's exhaust fan, or set up a small portable fan to blow the fumes away.
Renowned chef Julia Child found that wearing swimming goggles was the most effective. Contact lenses also help.
Burning a candle near the cutting board works for some people.
Onions are a rich source of phytochemicals that may promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They are also a source of vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, folate and manganese. Green onions and scallions are more nutritious than other types; their green tops have higher amounts of vitamin C, folate, calcium and beta-carotene than regular onions.
To naturally eliminate onion breath, try eating an apple or chewing on fresh parsley, citrus peel or roasted coffee beans.
Look for well-shaped, small, firm parsnips. Large, older parsnips require more peeling and have a woody core.
Like carrots, parsnips will keep for weeks in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
Parsnips should be scrubbed rather than peeled. Take care not to overcook them or they will become mushy. Parsnips have a mild celery-like fragrance and a sweet, nutty flavor. They are one of the most versatile for cooking and add complexity to stews, soups and mashed potatoes. They also make excellent "chips.”
Unlike carrots, parsnips contain no beta-carotene, but they do provide fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, Vitamins C and E, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and B6.
There are three main types of peas that are at their seasonal peak in spring: Sugar snap peas have edible pods and are filled with plump, sweet peas; these should be fat and very green; avoid those that are pale, flabby or damp. Snow peas have flat, edible pods and they are harvested young before the peas inside fully form; fresh ones will be small, translucent, straight-sided and have very small peas inside. Garden peas (English peas) are what most people know as standard peas in a pod. They are used for canning and freezing; the pods are inedible. When buying fresh garden peas, look for rounded pods that are usually slightly curved in shape with a smooth texture and vibrant green color. Garden peas actually have more nutrients and more calories than snow peas or sugar snap peas, but they require more work to prepare because they have to be shelled.
Snow peas and sugar snap peas should be used as soon as possible after purchase. They both lose flavor and structure when stored. In top condition, you may be able to store snow peas in the refrigerator for a few days in a loosely closed paper bag or perforated plastic bag. Garden peas are sweet and succulent for three to four days after they are picked, but turn mealy and starchy very quickly after harvesting.
Sugar snap peas and snow peas can be eaten raw, but cooking improves their flavor. Both require very little cooking (steam snow peas for just three minutes and sugar snaps for about four minutes). Overcooking ruins their character. Shelled garden peas can be eaten raw or gently cooked and added to recipes. Sugar snap peas, with their edible pods are great for snacking; garden peas, when shelled, are wonderful steamed or in soups, salads and grain dishes; and snow peas are an essential ingredient in stir-fries.
A member of the legume family, peas are an excellent source of folate, vitamins A and C, and a good source of zinc.
Look for potatoes that are firm, smooth and the color they should be for their variety. Avoid potatoes that feel soft or have a green tinge or wrinkly skin.
Popular Potato Varieties
smooth, creamy texture
Red Bliss and Red Dakota
dry, flaky, sweet texture
roasting, potato salad
Russet or Idaho
starchy, dry texture
tender, buttery texture
moist, flavorful potato
roasting, particularly with other juicy vegetables
buttery, creamy flavor
tender, buttery texture
versatile: roasting, baking or mashing
Potatoes will keep well in a cool dry place for a number of months. Exposure to direct sunlight may turn them green and make them bitter. Green potatoes and potato sprouts are high in the alkaloid solanine, which can be toxic if eaten in large quantities. Green potatoes should not be eaten and sprouts on any potatoes should be removed before cooking.
Potatoes provide an energizing supply of carbohydrates, as well as important vitamins and minerals, including potassium, niacin, vitamins B6 and C, and manganese. Eat them with the skins to boost fiber intake.
When choosing fresh pumpkins for cooking, avoid the large carving varieties, which are thin-walled, stringy and tasteless. The best cooking varieties are small but heavy for their size, about 5 to 7 pounds. Make sure they have at least an inch of stem (the longer the better) and have no blemishes or soft spots. Shape is not important. As a rule of thumb, for each pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin, you'll get approximately one cup of purée.
Store pumpkins up to one month in a cool, dry place such as a spare room or covered porch. The flesh tends to become stringy at temperatures above 60°F. And, if you can spare the space, they may also be refrigerated for up to one month.
Pumpkins can be diced and steamed as a side vegetable; mixed with fruits, such as apples, pears or rhubarb; used in pot pies, soufflés, salads and soups; combined with grains for delicious casseroles; or made into cakes, breads, muffins, custards and pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins are 90% water. They are high in vitamin A and a good source of fiber, vitamins C and E, and many other essential vitamins and minerals.
As of 2004, the world's largest pumpkin weighed in at a whopping 1,446 lbs.
There are several varieties of radishes, the most common being oval-shaped and red-skinned. Daikon is an oriental radish that resembles a fat, white carrot. Look for radishes with unblemished and brightly colored skin (in the case of red ones), a firm and compact texture, and short, bright green leaves.
Radishes will not keep as well with their tops left on, so remove the tops before storing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Radishes are most often used in salads or as a garnish. Daikon radish is also often used in sushi rolls, and is delicious braised in a bit of sesame oil.
Red radishes are a great source of vitamin C and are rich in minerals like sulphur, iron and iodine. Daikon is even better with vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and folate, as well as sulphur, iron and iodine.
Common varieties of rhubarb range in color from pale green to pink to deep red. Color is not an indication of quality or flavor. Look for rhubarb that is firm, crisp and glossy. Avoid limp, dull-colored stalks. Stalks more than 1 ¼ inches thick may be tough and fibrous, though some green varieties are tender at even larger dimensions. There are two main types of rhubarb found in markets: field grown and hothouse. Field grown is available from April through September and has more intense flavor and color. Hothouse, or greenhouse, rhubarb extends the season at both ends and can be found nearly year round in some areas. Hothouse rhubarb is a bit sweeter, more tender and the stalks are not quite as firm.
Fresh rhubarb stalks will keep in the refrigerator for four or five days, but it's best to use them as soon as possible, before they become flaccid. Rhubarb freezes quite well; simply cut it to a size appropriate for the container and place in the freezer. Frozen rhubarb will keep for up to nine months.
Rhubarb is always sold with the leaves cut off, but if you grow your own or get it from a neighbor, be sure to completely remove all traces of the leaves, since they contain oxalic acid, a corrosive toxin. Before cooking with rhubarb, remove any trace of the leaf and cut off about 1 inch of the bottom along with any discolored areas. Rhubarb is extraordinarily tart and sour and is always used in conjunction with a sweetener. Rhubarb’s earthy tartness can be incorporated into savory dishes as well, turning stews or ordinary chicken or pork dishes into an extraordinary flavor experience. One simple method is to cook rhubarb in sugar and use the resulting sauce as a marinade, serving sauce or stew ingredient.
Rhubarb is a source of magnesium, fiber, vitamins C and C, calcium, potassium and manganese.
For all varieties of summer squash, they should be heavy for their size with glossy, unblemished skins. Soft, thin skins are also an indicator of freshness and quality. Hard skins are over-mature with fibrous flesh and hard seeds.
Popular Summer Squash Varieties
Tips for Selecting
similar to a cucumber in shape
small ones are more tender than large ones
yellow skin, slender, curved neck, slightly sweet, meaty
choose those under 10 inches in length
light green or yellow color
small ones are more tender than large ones
Scallop (Patty Pan)
small, disk-shaped, scalloped edges, sweet, tender
should be harvested young
Store unwashed summer squash in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for no more than three or four days. Do not wash until you're ready to prepare them since moisture promotes decay. The flesh may be diced or grated and then frozen for long-term storage, but freezing breaks down the texture. Unless you intend to use frozen squash for baking, it should be blanched for two minutes prior to freezing.
Peeling is not necessary. Larger squash and crookneck varieties may need to be cut in half and the seeds removed with a spoon prior to slicing. Due to its high water content, summer squash may need to be drained before being used in recipes where additional liquid is not desired. To do so: After cutting, salt lightly and place in a colander in the sink for about 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Summer squash is versatile—amenable to steaming, grilling, boiling, frying, sautéing or stir-frying regardless of variety. It is a good addition to vegetable medleys, complementing tomatoes, onions, peppers and okra. Light summer ratatouilles are an especially good use for fresh squash. Large, over-mature zucchini may be used in cakes or other baked goods to add moisture to the recipe.
Summer squash varieties are a source of fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Sweet Potatoes, Yams
There are two basic types of sweet potato: Moist (orange-fleshed) and dry (yellow-fleshed). The moist-fleshed potatoes are often called "yams.” (The true yam is large—up to 100 pounds—and is grown in Africa and Asia, but rarely seen in the western world. However, common usage has made the term "yams" acceptable when referring to the orange sweet potato.) Look for firm, medium-sized sweet potatoes that are tapered at both ends. Skin should be smooth without brown spots.
Sweet potatoes spoil faster then regular spuds. Store them at room temperature with good ventilation (for instance in a single layer in a wire basket). Use them within two to three days or one week at the very most. Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, but do well in dry, dark conditions around 55°F.
Always use a stainless steel knife when cutting a sweet potato. Using a carbon blade will cause it to darken. When peeling, be sure to go deep enough to remove the hard layer beneath the skin.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, as well as fiber, protein, vitamin C, iron and calcium.
Turnips come in an astonishing range of shapes and sizes, depending on the age and variety. The flesh can be white or yellow, but most turnips have white flesh. Look for small turnips with smooth skin and firm flesh. Avoid those that are misshapen or have soft, spongy, forked or branched roots. Attached greens (if any) should be bright and fresh.
Store turnips in a cool, well-ventilated storage area for up to two weeks, or wrap them tightly in a plastic bag and refrigerate them up to one week. Cut off turnip greens, bag them separately and store them in the refrigerator crisper; they will keep for about a week.
Turnips can be used much like potatoes—boiled, roasted, shredded or mashed. Turnip greens can be cooked a variety of ways; one of the most widely known is Southern-style, boiled in water or stock with various flavorings added until they are thoroughly cooked and silky smooth.
Turnips are a source of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper.
Winter squash, also known as hard squash, are available in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Choose winter squash that are firm, heavy for their size, and that have hard, tough skin with no cuts, punctures, sunken spots or mold. A tender rind indicates immaturity, which is undesirable in winter squash.
Popular Winter Squash Varieties
small, deep green or pumpkin-colored
bake and stuff or drizzle with butter, maple syrup and cinnamon
great for stuffing
round, green, firm
delicious with fruit stuffing or add chunks to soups
high in vitamin A, mash, bake, add cubes to stews
small, cylindrical, striped skin
ideal for baking or whipped with applesauce and brown sugar
tiny pumpkin shape, firm, sweet, buttery flavor
cook before cutting
large, mottled skin
cook, mash and mix with sautéed garlic, leeks and sage
green rind with light streaks
bake, steam, remove seeds before cooking
bright orange, hard shell
hearty, firm flesh is ideal for less sweet recipes
semi-soft, yellow, round, sweet
boil, bake or steam, add to pastas and salads
light, dark green, firm, sweet, rich flesh
bake and stuff with sautéed peppers and goat cheese
bright orange color, fairly sweet
bake, mash, purée, steam or stuff, popular as ornamental
Winter squash can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry place for a month or more. After cutting, wrap it tightly in plastic and refrigerate.
A 1 ½-pound trimmed squash provides about four servings. Similar cooking methods can be employed for most types of winter squash. To bake, cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place each half cut side down in ½ inch of water. Roast it by peeling and cutting it into chunks. Purée winter squash and use it to thicken soups and sauces. Winter squashes generally pair well with cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, toasted nuts, raisins, apples, onions and parmesan cheese.
Most winter squash are a good source of vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C, niacin, phosphorus and potassium.