In Spinning Plates, cook and self-professed vegetable enthusiast Julia Sherman (you might know her as Salad for President) shares how you, too, can make your way in and around the kitchen with confidence.
At risk of being called a hypocrite, I’ll be the first to admit: On any given day, my refrigerator is an impenetrable coffer of loosely lidded jars teetering Jenga-style and a compulsive collection of rarefied produce on the brink of a silent death. This is an occupational hazard of a food writer and vegetable enthusiast—someone who behaves at the farmers’ market the way most women behave at sample sales. My goal for the year is to create systems around food storage, to effect less waste, and to get my money’s worth out of my perishable investments. (And to encourage my husband to find his way around his own kitchen once again.)
Even those of us who consider cooking a form of relaxation can be deterred by the chaos of an unruly fridge. How can we make it more inviting to eat at home and combat the impulse to order in rather than spend the evening decoding the mysteries of one’s own pantry? Any professional cook will tell you that the kitchen is a place where rules are taken seriously—and with a little method to the culinary madness, you can clear a path to creativity when you least expect it. Here’s my strategy for keeping things in order when I return home from the market.
The first commandment requires the most discipline and makes the greatest impact. Instead of waiting until five minutes before dinner needs to be on the table, I clean and prep my veggies the moment I return from the market. It can be a little painful to tackle it all at once (depending on the size of your haul), but ultimately, it cuts down on cleanup and prep time, since you’re only getting the salad spinner out once. It’s important to do everything in one go so there’s no question later as to what has been washed and what still needs attending to.
If there are items you know you like to prep a certain way, get ahead of it. I de-stem my kale and slice it in a chiffonade, so all it needs is a nice massage in oil and salt or a flash sauté. This time of year, I am stocking up on colorful heirloom radishes, like Purple Ninja and watermelon. I slice them into thin disks on the mandoline and store them in a glass food storage container submerged in water—just be sure to refresh the water every few days to prolong freshness. The icy-cold water keeps them hydrated and crunchy as hell for up to 10 days, and the minimal amount of prep means they are ready for salads or a crudité platter. To make them last even longer, pickle them with a quick brine of red wine vinegar, salt, sugar, water, bay leaf, and mustard seed. Just heat that mixture up and submerge the sliced radish, and they will keep in the fridge for two weeks or more.
The world (aka my world) is divided on how to store salad greens. The goal is to keep them from drying out but also from getting swampy. I wash and spin greens in my OXO salad spinner, using cold water and veggie wash. If your greens have suffered in a hot car on the way home and seem a little limp, just add a few ice cubes to the spinner water to soak before draining. I lay them out on a paper towel in roughly a single layer, and gently roll them up into a loose burrito. For storage, I blow air into a thin plastic bag and tie the ends into a loose knot (you should have a salad balloon).
I do my best to avoid paper and single-use plastic products, but for storing vegetables, damp paper towels and plastic bags can’t be beat. I reuse and wash grocery store produce bags, and I use a variety of reusable plastic bags to reduce waste.
Ripe Fruit and Avocados
I will lose my mind if you put my summer tomatoes or ripe berries in the refrigerator. But in the winter months, there are exceptions to my no-fruit-in-the-fridge rule. Citrus can sit on the counter for about a week, but it will begin to mold if left in a bowl without air circulation. If the peel starts to desiccate or shows signs of softening, I throw super-ripe citrus loose in the fridge. If I happened to be blessed with a glut of ripe avocados, they join the citrus in the fridge once soft—a wasted avocado is a tiny tragedy my heart cannot endure. Just be sure to bring both to room temperature before serving.
I spritz my herbs with a fruit and vegetable wash and rinse them well under cold running water. I shake them and let them dry on the dish rack for a few minutes, before wrapping them in a lightly dampened paper towel. I store delicate herbs in an OXO GreenSaver storage container. It’s designed with a replaceable carbon filter that absorbs ethylene gas (released by produce as it breaks down), retarding spoilage. It works.
Label It All
An invaluable tip from the professional kitchen: A Sharpie and masking tape should have a permanent home in your drawer. Label everything from glass jars and leftovers to those plastic bags with veggies camouflaged in paper towels. You would be surprised how much more inviting the crisper drawer can be when its contents declare themselves to you upon opening.
Keep Things in Place
Think of the fridge as your studio. If your tools are in their rightful place, you can maximize efficiency. With designated zones, you know where to look when searching for that particular ingredient you need right now. For example, I keep dairy (besides cheese) clustered together on the top shelf, and keep the bottom shelf designated for prepared food only. The top crisper houses delicate greens and ripe fruit (things I want to eat sooner rather than later), and the bottom is the home to hearty veg.