Although it’s common knowledge that you should eat five portions of vegetables a day to stay fit and healthy, few of us abide by the rule. Many of us still quiver in fear at the thought of going to the local supermarket and being confronted by two hundred different varieties of vegetables, with no idea how to spot a good leek in a pile of unripe leeks. But help is at hand!
There’s no secret to identifying what is good to eat and what you should avoid, you just need to tap back into your sense of smell and your sense of touch that used to guide our ancestors to instinctively grab the ‘ripe-looking’ food first. Here’s a guide to the most common types of vegetables and what to look for in order to get a good one.
The three most common varieties are roma (elongated, typically very firm), vine (usually on the vine and very expensive) and plum (large and round, beefy-looking). To choose a ripe tomato, avoid any that have any yellow or green areas on them. A ripe tomato should be firm but not hard. It should be a rich red color, with no soft or bruised areas. An unripe tomato is green or yellow at the top.
Great in salads, celery is a popular finger food, but is often sold unripe to prolong shelf life. The secret? Look for a bunch that is light green, not dark green. The darker green in color the celery, the less ripe it will be. The sweetest stalks are almost white in color. Also, try to pick the thickest stalks in the pile (an indication they are well-aged and not unripe). Unripe stalks are thin and shorter.
Popular in stir-fries, peppers are just as tasty and healthy to eat raw as they are cooked. They are commonly offered in red, orange, yellow and green. Red peppers are the sweetest. Yellow and orange taste similar and have a medium sweet taste. Green peppers are usually used for cooking as they are more bland tasting, but still crisp and juicy. Generally, the deeper the color of all varieties, the more ripe and flavorful they are. Avoid any that have soft spots or visible patches of blue or black mold on the stalk at the top.
Yes, we know you can buy it frozen, but if you’re craving corn on the cob, you’ll need to learn to pick out a good ear of fresh corn! Most farmer’s markets and grocery store produce sections sell whole ears of corn in the summertime, as cheaply as four for a dollar. The trick is to peel back the green ‘husk’ about an inch at the top, and sneak a quick peek at the corn inside. Corn grains should be large and shiny and be a nice rich yellow or white color. Any ear that has grains which look dry, brown or have caved in (dehydrated) should be avoided.
Let’s face it – iceberg lettuce is crunchy and fun to eat, but it has almost zero nutritional value, making it the vegetable equivalent of white bread. Instead, try butter lettuce (similar look and taste, but better nutrition), romaine lettuce (crisp, slightly acid taste, making it great to use in Cesar salads), red-tip lettuce (delicate flavor), curly endive (mildly bitter flavor, but very good for you) or even some raw spinach in your salad.
Ignore the pre-bagged lettuce, as once it is cut the lettuce will go soggy in just a couple of days. A whole lettuce with its white central core intact will happily last in your fridge for up to a week.