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Fresh produce will abandon you in quarantine. Here’s how to keep it and waste less

Courtesy Chase Purdy
Blanch your way out out of food waste.
By Chase Purdy
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

So you’ve stocked up on food for self-isolation—the beans, the canned soup, the rice, the oats. All staples that’ll keep for a long time. You’ve also no doubt meandered through the grocery store produce section, a good choice for packing all sorts of nutrients into your home-cooked meals.

But there’s an ugly truth about vegetables: Colorful and healthy as they are, they’ll eventually turn on you. Some of them will stick around for a week or more; potatoes, carrots, and onions are hearty. But some, the leafy greens, cucumbers, and zucchini, can go bad within days. If you stock up on 14 days’ worth—the amount of time you should self-isolate if you’ve been exposed to Covid-19—expect a lot to go to waste.

One option is to pick up frozen veggies. But as people gear up for long-haul self-isolation to stop the spread of Covid-19, some have noticed the freezer section of the store has been left barren.

If you can’t find frozen vegetables and you find the produce march of death intimidating, consider taking a few minutes to take care of your vegetables so they last longer.

You can extend the life of your leafy greens—along with parsley, cilantro, green onions, and celery—by trimming just a tiny bit off their stems every few days, soaking them in warm water for about 10 minutes, and soaking again in cold tap water for five minutes.

Much of the other stuff you can prep for freezer storage. It’s not as easy as buying the pre-packaged kind, but it’ll extend the life of your fresh foods for a long time.

This process is called blanching, and you only need a couple basic kitchen items and freezer-friendly zip-lock bags to do it. It includes scalding vegetables in steam for a short period of time (duration varies per vegetable), tossing them into cold water, draining them, and then freezing them. You’ll need a large pot, a steamer, a little water, and your vegetables.

Step 1

First you need your veggies. We started with a head of broccoli—great on its own, drizzled with cheese, tossed into a stir fry. We rinsed it and then broke it into smaller pieces.

Step 2

Cut the broccoli florets into small, bite-sized pieces. We also did this with cauliflower.

Step 3

Pull out your equipment. Steamers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but here’s the one we used alongside the pot in which all the magic happens.

Step 4

Fill the bottom of the pot with a shallow layer of water. Load the broccoli into the steamer basket and set it in the pot. There should be some space between the water and the actual vegetables—try to make it about 2-3 inches (about 7.6 cm).

The science around this process is pretty simple. Vegetables naturally release enzymes that communicates to the food—and vegetables around it—to start the process of rotting. They begin to lose flavor, color, and texture. Blanching stops those enzymes in their tracks by deactivating them. There’s actually some very interesting technology developed to help grocery stores and their suppliers manage food by detecting the release of fruit and veggie enzymes.

Blanching is also going to clean the surface of the vegetable, clearing it of dirt and tiny organisms that make their homes on foods. Sure, it’s going to slightly soften the veggies. But the steaming will brighten their color, and it will also slow down the rate at which they lose vitamin content.

Step 5

Set the stovetop heat on high and when the water begins to boil, stick a lid on the top of the pot. This is the only (slightly) complicated part of the process. Not all vegetables need to be steamed for the same amount of time.

For broccoli it’s five minutes. Brussel sprouts take four. Small, diced carrots take two minutes.

Step 6

Remove from heat and get those veggies into a bowl of very chilled water. This quickly stops the vegetable from cooking.

Once chilled (it only takes a couple minutes), drain the bowl of water. You don’t want your vegetables to be super wet before loading them into your freezer-safe zip-lock bag or container. And that’s it. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, removes the stress of empty grocery freezer sections, prevents food waste, and provides you with healthy, fresh vegetables for many months.

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