Get the best of fruits and vegetables

By Radhika Sangam

 

Want to come home with the pick of the harvest? Here's how
to get the freshest produce, every time!

How and where

Carry several cloth or jute bags for your vegetable shopping.
Putting each vegetable in a separate bag will save you the time and the trouble
of sorting when you get home. Get two kinds of tomatoes-the large hybrid or
"Bangalore"
tomatoes for salad, and the small, tart, local or "desi" tomatoes for your curries. Each type of tomato
(especially the squishy local variety) should go in a separate bag, with nothing
else in it.

Half a kilo of most vegetables will comfortably feed a family
of four for one Indian meal, with the usual addons.
Get one week's stock at a time, except for the staples such as potatoes, onions
and garlic. But if you have the time, buy and stock for two days at a time -
whatever you do, buy only veggies and fruit you will consume before they
rot.

Make sure your refrigerator is large enough to stock veggies
properly - consider getting an additional small one if you can afford it and
have the space. (If your kitchen is big enough, explore the possibility of
getting a freezer installed. This helps you stock all sorts of food for
longer.)

Where you source your vegetables from is also important. A
farmers' market is always a good option. You're guaranteed fresh veggies and
fruits. And not only will you save money buying straight from the grower, you'll
reduce your carbon footprint, since your food isn't being flown in from halfway
across the world. 'I love going grocery shopping.

But I never decide what vegetables I'm going to cook
beforehand. I like to go to the market myself and see what fresh vegetables are
available and buy them. My home menus are based mostly on seasonal vegetables,'
says Gitanjali Rai, 42, homemaker and spiritual singer
based in Pune. If you don't have access to the farmers
directly, you could visit the local subzi mandi; aim for the big ones if you have the time and means.
It's your next best bet. And when it comes to frozen vegetables and organic and
exotic produce, visit any reputed supermarket in your area.

Picking your vegetables

A rule of thumb is to pick the most
tender
vegetables you can find.

Onions: Never pick wet, discoloured onions. Here's a good way to test: Move the
onions in your hands - the outer skin should slide away easily.

Potatoes: Avoid green, muddy and sprouting potatoes.
Pick medium-sized potatoes in general, baby potatoes for dum aloo or other special recipes,
and large potatoes for baking.

Tomatoes: They usually go straight to the fridge, so
get fully ripe, firm red tomatoes.

Cauliflower: Hard, clean and
white cauliflowers with densely packed florets are best. No floppy, yellowish,
worm-eaten cauliflowers, please!

Cabbage: Tightly-packed heads of cabbage, whose leaves
don't peel off easily, are best. Small heads of cabbage are tastier.

Ladyfinger: Small, slim ladyfingers with small seeds
are best. Snap the end of one to test - it should be taut, and snap with little
effort.

French Beans: The snap-test works for beans too. Get
slim, firm beans, not thick, limp ones. fresh
Coriander: Shorter stalks and smaller leaves make for more flavour. Large, overgrown coriander leaves tend to be watery
and tasteless.

Lemons: Thin-skinned lemons with a bright, sunny hue
all over and no brown patches are best. They should give very slightly to the
touch, not be hard like cricket balls.

Spinach: Baby spinach is flavourful, without the characteristic bitterness that
spinach leaves sometimes have. Don't pick spinach with huge leaves. Button
Mushrooms: White, clean, firm button mushrooms with no black or brown slimy
patches or edges on the caps are healthy.

The good fruit

The smell-test is how you can differentiate ripe fruit from
unripe fruit. Watermelons, papayas and melons are good in case you are watching
your weight. Press the melon lightly on the top - if it's a little soft, it's
ripe, but if it's mushy, it's rotten. Melons should also smell fully ripe,
giving off a fragrance. Oranges should be firm, never spongy. A
wine-like smell means that the orange is halfway to becoming hooch! Smell
pineapples for a rich, ripe fragrance. Pick the yellow pineapple that has the
ripest, sweetest, and strongest aroma, but without any hint of a fermented
smell.

The most delicious green grapes have a yellowish blush on
them. The best variety of banana is considered to be the speckled banana. This
slim banana should have brown spots (like a giraffe) on it, and it should pull
away from the stalk easily. If the bananas are falling off the stalk, they're
perfectly ripened and ready to be eaten at once.

Apples should be hard and smooth. Depressions in the skin
which look as though someone's pressed their thumb onto the apple skin and
pushed it in slightly, are a sign of apple-blight.
Yellow golden apples are slightly softer, rather sweeter and almost never
waxed.

Always look at the colours of each
fruit. Strawberries need to be dark maroon, never red. Slightly wrinkled ones
(like the Californian variety grown in Maharashtra) are said to be the sweetest. Ripe
plums are dark purple, almost black. Peaches should be nice and soft, and not
tough or with bruised brown patches on them.

Reproduced
From Good Housekeeping.
© 2010. LMIL. All rights
reserved.

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