[This is the fifth post in a long series. You may wish to start at the beginning. Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week. Just that I will eventually finish it, someday. Unless I get hit by a bus.]
So at this point we’ve raided our produce section for the base veggies for our salad. But that doesn’t mean we’re done here in produce. On the contrary, there’s a good deal of other bits and bobs we’ll need for extras, dressings, etc. Let’s break it down.
Fresh fruit is awesome, and you should probably buy lots of it. I don’t add it much to salads though. I generally eat it straight, mostly in a desperate attempt to use it to replace sweets. Sure, eating sugar-packed fruit is not necessarily the best choice you can make, but compared to eating candy, or cookies, or that sort of crap, it’s easily the better choice.
The biggest problem with fruit is keeping it from going bad. So you not only have to buy fruit that you like to eat; you also have to make sure it’s going to survive in your fridge for a week. ‘Cause, let’s face it: you’re not going to go to the grocery store more than once a week. Maybe you want to, maybe you even should ... but you’re not gonna. You just don’t have time.1 So concentrate on stuff you can both eat out of hand and keep around for a week without rotting. My favorites are bananas, apples, grapes, and pineapple. But pineapple only because my local TJ’s2 sells it precut. There’s no way I’m going to chop up my own pineapple. Way too much effort.
All this will last just fine for a week, all in the fridge except the bananas. At the end of the week, whatever I have left over I freeze, or just toss out for the birds and squirrels. (If you compost, that’s also a great choice.) Never be afraid to throw out food and get fresh stuff. Of course, some stuff will last two weeks: the grapes and apples generally will,3 and bananas I buy green as hell every week and let them ripen throughout the week while I work on last week’s bunch. At the end of two weeks, though, into the freezer they go. Pineapple, strawberries, blackberries, and cherries can only stay for a week.
Now, we will need a fresh fruit accent for one of our salads. In a perfect world, I’d use pears. But here’s the problem with pears: they don’t keep all that well, and I don’t like to eat them out of hand. So, if I were to use pears, I’d only be able to have this salad toward the beginning of the week, and, if I missed my opportunity, I’d end up with pears lying around and nothing useful to do with them. So I use apples instead. Apples are just as good as pears, really, and much more likely to get eaten for other purposes. And they last longer.
Get organic apples, and look for sweet varieties. My TJ’s has recently started carrying opals, and I think they’re amazing. (So do my kids.) So that’s almost always what we buy these days, when they’re available. Other good choices are pink ladies, galas, or honeycrisps.
You’re also going to need lemon juice, so buy some lemons. You won’t need these every week (or even every other week, most likely). I like to buy a bag of organic lemons, which generally contains about six or so lemons, and juice ’em all at once. This will last anywhere from two weeks to a month before I need to buy lemons again, and, generally speaking, the lemon juice will last that long. In my experience, lemon juice doesn’t go bad: it just gets extra sour. But it’s so acidic anyway that I dunno if bacteria can live in there. Keep it in small tupperware containers (I keep mine up in the butter area at the top of the refrigerator door), and, if it gets a bit cloudy, just skim off the white bits with a spoon.
You can substitute limes here if you prefer, or maybe Meyer lemons. Mainly what we’re going to use it for is making mayonnaise, so, you know: however you want your mayo to taste.
Don’t be tempted to buy bottles of lemon juice though. That crap almost always contains sulfites, which is not good. I’ll show you how to juice lemons so it’s not a huge chore. Promise.4
I always buy a bag of organic yellow onions, which I will cut up along with my base veggies. But, strictly speaking, we won’t need those for any of our salads. I just like to do all my veggie chopping for the week in one go.
On the other hand, we will need garlic. I also buy organic garlic, which happily will last basically forever. It’ll sprout, eventually, although I rarely keep any around that long. And, even after it sprouts, most of the garlic is still good. If you do manage to keep garlic around for more than, say, a month, it’ll get soft, and I consider that a sign that it’s time to toss. As long as it stays firm, it should be fine.
I also love garlic, so, fair warning: I will advise you to use lots of it for those dressings where we need it. If you don’t dig garlic as much as I do, you can tone down the amounts. As I say, I buy organic, but that’s mostly on principle. Garlic is actually one of the few items of produce that I can’t really taste any difference between organic and non-organic varities.
I suppose jalapeños aren’t technically aromatics, but I threw them in this section anyway.5 We’re going to make some cilantro dressing which needs a bit of heat, and jalapeños are an easy way to provide that. Now, cutting up fresh jalapeños is a giant pain in the ass, although I will try to offer some tips to make it as easy as possible. I used to buy them in little cans, pre-cut, but my TJ’s stopped selling them. So I bit the bullet and started buying fresh. TJ’s sells a small package containing about 3 or 4 peppers, which is enough to make 4 batches of dressing. So what do you with the other 3 batches? Simple: you freeze them. And, since one batch of cilantro dressing will last a week and a half to two weeks, you only have to go through this giant pain in the ass once every six to eight weeks. I can live with that.
I’m not huge on fresh herbs. I’m perfectly happy with buying powdered or ground or pummeled whatever from the spice section. But there’s one area where you really do need to buy fresh: cilantro. If you can manage to grow it yourself, bonus for you. But for me, TJ’s sells it in little flat plastic packs that’s a perfect amount for a single application (either cilantro dressing, or aloo gobi, which are the two things I use fresh cilantro for). I also sometimes buy it at my local farmer’s market, but the smallest amount I can buy there is about 3 to 4 times what I need to use at a time, so then it becomes a challenge to keep it from going bad. But I’m working on getting better at that.
So far I’ve not seen any organic cilantro. (Although my local farmer’s market6 grows their produce using generally organic means, they don’t choose to get certified organic, so their products don’t have that label.) Certainly if I saw it I would buy it.
That’ll do it for us in the produce department. Next time, we’ll move on to nuts and dried fruits.
1 If you do, I doubt you’re reading this anyway. You don’t need tips from me.
2 Remember how I said I was going to be a walking advertisement for Trader Joe’s?
3 Apples will in fact last much longer than two weeks if kept properly. But they generally won’t last that long.
4 Although I will admit to using the bottled crap sometimes when I’m feeling lazy. It does last forever. But that’s primarily because it’s chock full of sulfites. So I try to avoid it as much as possible.
5 Primarily because there’s wasn’t anywhere else good to put them.
6 Which, honestly, is not all that local, which is why I don’t go that often.