The complete guide to getting the most out of your summer vegetables

This summer, you WILL find a way to use all those vegetables.
This summer, you WILL find a way to use all those vegetables.
Image: Flickr
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Summer is officially upon us and that means it’s time to start enjoying lots and lot of vegetables. Whether you’re an enthusiastic farmers market shopper, a backyard vegetable grower, or, in the US, a member of a community supported agriculture (“CSA”) program, sometimes you just end up with too many vegetables.

(Not signed up for a CSA but want to be? Americans can use Farmigo to find a nearby CSA.)

It’s easy to get feel overwhelmed, even for seasoned cooks. Fall just a little bit behind on eating what you’ve got, and suddenly, everything green has wilted, your carrots have gone soft and takeout seems more and more appealing. But this can be the year where you not only keep up with your summer vegetables, but get the most possible out of them. Here’s how.

Soak those greens! Get out the dirt! (Credit: Flickr / J)
Soak those greens! Get out the dirt! (Credit: Flickr / J)

Wash, chop, and properly store your greens ASAP

Farmers markets and CSAs have tons of greens. Kale, spinach, escarole, baby lettuce, butterhead lettuce, iceberg lettuce, lettuce lettuce… There’s a lot of it. The easier your greens are to prepare later, the more likely you are to eat them. So when you get home with your goods, prep the greens immediately.

Properly cleaning your greens is easy, and there are a number of variations on the same tried-and-true method: Chop, soak in cold water, remove from cold water, dry. (Here’s an in-depth, step-by-step explanation from The Kitchenista for newbies.)

Next, store them. The best way for longevity is to keep them in  piece of tupperware lined with a paper towel. That should keep them fresh for more than a week, according to The Kitchn.

Store everything else properly, too

Vegetable storage can be surprisingly unintuitive. Potatoes go in the closet, keep cucumbers at room temperature, and tomatoes on the counter, unless you get them at their peak ripeness. ”And if you do bring them home at their peak state of ripeness, make sure you eat them that day,” says Greta Caruso, a co-founder of online farmers market Good Eggs, who recommends slicing them up and sprinkling them with a little salt for a quick snack.

This handy storage chart with the most common fruits and vegetables is helpful, as is this collection of Veggie Tip Sheets with storage instructions and recipes for everything from aji dulce (small, sweet peppers) to yukina savoy (a leafy green from broccoli and kale’s Brassica family), provided by Just Food, a New York-based food access non-profit.

Eat the greens hot, cold, and blended

Greens can be made into more than just salads: they are the fastest, easiest vegetable to sauté. Just heat oil in a pan, add some garlic if you’re feeling fancy, and add the greens, cooking until they are wilted. Add salt to taste. Voila! Delicious.

Make salads, too, of course. Just experiment with salad dressings (add fresh herbs when you get them!) to keep them from getting repetitive and boring.

Green smoothies are everything you’re looking for in a weekday breakfast: healthy, quick, and portable. The basic formula is just greens + fruit + protein, but you can always add to it. This chart offers plenty of variations.

Turning your greens into pesto is another easy, healthy, and tasty way to use them up. Even though standard pesto recipes use basil, you can make it out of almost any green. Kale, parsley, spinach, and even carrot tops all make great pesto sauces, which can (bonus!) be frozen and put away for later.

Get cooking with new recipes

Figuring out what to do with all the weird vegetables in your CSA box or at the farmers market (“what is a kohlrabi?”) is both the best and scariest part. But there are tons of resources to ease you in.

Bookmark Martha Stewart’s Seasonal Produce Recipe Guide, which for summer has 37 zucchini recipes, 22 heirloom tomato recipes, and 26 chile pepper recipes, to name a few. Check out BuzzFeed’s monthly recipe lists for more summer recipe ideas (here’s June, July, and August) including a peanut butter and rhubarb jelly hot French toast sandwich and and jalapeño pickle-brined fried chicken.

If you haven’t created a Pinterest account yet, now is the time. It has recipes for everything and anything you could ever find in that CSA box. Seriously, get on Pinterest.

See on Pinterest

Try to cook with everything. On top of the carrot-top pesto, you can also try Food52’s chard-stalk hummus, or mix beet greens in with your salads.

And of course, don’t feel tied to the particulars of any recipe. Add onions when you have them, use greens mostly interchangeably, and always, always, always feel free to double the recipe and put away leftovers for later.

Yes, you can pickle that!

Easy summer recipe: Make pickles, add to cocktail. (Credit: Jerry James Stone,
Easy summer recipe: Make pickles, add to cocktail. (Credit: Jerry James Stone,
Image: / Jerry James Stone

Pickling is the way people made their vegetables last longer back before refrigerators, and it still works. Lots of surprising fruits and vegetables can be pickled. This pickled red onion recipe uses just vinegar, sugar, and spices. These cocktail pickles (pictured, left) are also easy and can be made with any vegetables you have on hand, not just the ones in the recipe. Both recipes require only 24 hours of pickling time.

Here’s Bon Appetit’s quick pickling tips and a recipe list that includes preserves. Plus you can use your new Pinterest account to find pickling recipes for whatever shows up in your market or CSA box.

Grill, baby, grill

Barbecues are not just for meat. Eat grilled vegetables with your burger or instead of it. They’re perfect as leftovers, plain or added to salads or sandwiches.

For sandwiches or burgers, slice vegetables length-wise, marinate, and grill right on the grates for that crispy, charred flavor. Kabobs are another way to grill vegetables and include the added pleasure of food on a stick. Keep an eye on anything going right on the grates, though—it’s a thin line between charred and ruined, and thinly sliced pieces have been known to fall right through.

For fast clean-up, use a foil packet: Chop up your vegetables and toss with a dressing of your choice (oil, salt and pepper works just fine, too!). Divide them up between a few large pieces of aluminum foil, fold the edges, sealing the vegetables inside. Throw the packets on the grill (or gently place them, whatever) and check in on them after 15 to 20 minutes.

Sage, basil and garlic scapes, arranged by yours truly.
Sage, basil and garlic scapes, arranged by yours truly.

Think outside the plate

Don’t forget to use your vegetables and fresh herbs to make cold summer soups (also great for freezing), as well as cocktails, and even bouquets.

Clear out your fridge regularly

If you can’t see it, you won’t eat it. So make sure your fridge doesn’t getting overstuffed with old, rotting, or spoiled food. You want to be able to see what is fresh and ready to be turned into dinner.

Give away your leftovers

Don’t forget that you can always give unwanted food away! Instead of letting those extra vegetables rot in your kitchen, bring them to a neighbor, a friend, or your office. And of course, don’t feel compelled to take something from the market or CSA that you don’t want. Trade it out for something better or just leave it behind and call it a win for the environment. (CSAs will often allow you to donate the share if you’re out of town.)

When all else fails, compost

If you have a backyard, you can make the compost yourself. If you don’t, you can collect food scraps in a bag in your freezer and then arrange for compost pick up (but watch out, it usually costs money), or drop off at a compost collection site nearby. (This website can help you if you’re in North America.)

The featured image was shared on Flickr by Suzie’s Farm under a Creative Commons license. It has been cropped.