Don’t waste those winter veggies

Don’t waste those winter veggies

At this time of year my garden doesn’t seem very productive and I can easily waste what little it has growing. That’s the worst kind of waste – growing something then not using it! The heads on the spouting broccoli are sparse, salad leaves are full of holes and the carrots are questionable. I can’t rely on a quick dash to the garden each night – I need to get into the garden a couple of times a week, get amongst the ugly and sometimes sad vegetables and get prepared.

If your garden is the same here’s my four tips to not let garden produce go to waste –

  • Pick from your garden once or twice a week
  • Wash everything
  • Prepare and store the vegetables
  • Make ahead salads
winter garden forage

PICK from the garden

Whatever the size of your garden it’s not as luscious and prolific as it will be in spring and summer. After work the garden dash means a few salady leaves, one or two carrots or beetroot, some herbs and a whole lot of kale.

This sad looking garden is full of meals – it just needs to be approached in one or two hits rather than day by day.

My first tip is – pick a few days, even a weeks worth in one go. Sunday is a good day because it sets me up for lunches and meals for the start of the working week. I would then do another forage mid week. You might be different so do this when suits.

This is what I’m picking now in autumn/winter –

  • Salad greens – lettuce, cress, mizuna, rocket, beetroot leaves, bunching onion leaves.
  • Herbs and flowers
  • Kale and chard
  • Brassicas – never prolific for me. I’m picking sprouting broccoli, Asian cabbage, bok choy and tatsoi. The one or two cauliflower and cabbages are long gone and I’m still waiting for the Romanesco broccoli to form heads.
  • Root vegetables – carrots, beetroot, potatoes, yacon.

WASH the produce

Wash everything first. While your produce may have been grown organically contact with soil or wildlife may introduce harmful pathogens.

PREPARE, STORE and USE the produce

This might seem obvious but the best way to make sure you use your maybe not so beautiful looking vegetables is to prepare them. Dumping them dirty and tired looking into the veggie crisper isn’t inspiring and is likely to result in their demise – you might as well have dumped them straight in the compost bin.

Salad greens

Prepare – Don’t cut or take them off the central rib at this point, they will keep longer left whole.

Store – pack whole leaves into a container or bag and keep in the fridge. A moist paper towel in the bottom of the container will help keep them for longer.

Use – in fresh salads.

Flowers and soft herbs

Don’t forget about edible flowers at this time of year. Doing a forage once or twice a week is a good way to pick some to add variety to what you’re eating. Soft herbs are parsley, basil, coriander and mint if you’re lucky enough to have any of these growing.

edible flowers

Store in a container – they can go in with the salad greens or on their own. A moist paper towel in the bottom of the container will help them last a few days in the fridge but most herbs and flowers won’t last the whole week.

Use – fresh in salads or make into pesto to use up those that are looking a bit tired.

Hard herbs

Prepare – with a quick wash

Store – rosemary and thyme by popping them in a small jar on the window sill. This is my lazy way of having dried herbs on hand! I struggle to grow sage but would treat it the same way.

Use – chop finely and throw into slow cooked meals or soup, use whole sprigs in a roast.

Leafy vegetables

Kale, chard, silverbeet, spinach bok/pak choy, tatsoi. Even though these last ones are brasiccas I’ve included them in this group as they are more leaf like than the brassicas below which have a head.

washed vegetable leaves

Prepare – don’t take them off the central rib or chop them up at this stage, they will keep longer left whole.

Store – in a container with a moist paper towel in the bottom, wrapped in a moist tea towel or in a plastic bag. Keep in the fridge.

Use – slow cook into soups, bolognaise, stews, pasta meals or stir-fries. The Asian vegetables eg bok choy can also be used raw – slice thinly and include in a coleslaw or salad. Kale can be made into kale chips. Is it a thing?

Brassicas

According to Instagram most people grow wonderful cabbages and cauliflowers but for me it’s mostly broccoli – the regular and sprouting kinds are now both giving me quite a few small sprouts.

sprouting broccoli

Prepare – clean up by cutting away eaten or slightly rotten bits.

Store whole in the fridge in a container or plastic bag. Cabbage can be sliced and stored in a container.

Use – tender broccoli and cauliflower just need a quick steam. Cabbage can be used raw in coleslaw or cooked in a stir-fry. Overgrown brassicas are best in a stir fry, pasta or cheese bake. Don’t forget the stalks can also be eaten. Taste test a bit raw if you’re not sure – sometimes they’re too woody.

What about bitter vegetables?
Some vegetables start tasting bitter as they go to flower. This is probably a defence mechanism to protect themselves from being eaten and I suspect it’s where the coriander hating began. Some people are also genetically predisposed to being sensitive to bitter tastes (coriander!!).
If in doubt taste some raw – cooking won’t improve the taste.

Carrots and beetroot

While I’m finally managing to grow both they’re often not perfect or a decent size and could easily get ignored in the garden.

Prepare – they need a good scrub to get rid of the dirt and can still look uninspiring in the veggie crisper.

carrots

Store – having them whole in a plastic or paper bag in the fridge will keep them fresher than just loose.

Use – the fuggly carrots are more usable grated up and included in salad, coleslaw, soups and stir-fries. Grated beetroot also goes well in a salad.

Store the grated mix in a container along with other grated vegetables. Keep the beetroot separate if you don’t want everything red.

Yacon

I have loads of this. I only lift one plant at a time as small and damaged tubers don’t keep very well.

Prepare – Yacon oxidises (turns brown) once peeled or grated so can’t easily be prepared in advance.

Use – it can be grated and mixed with beetroot or cover it in loads of lemon juice to stop it oxidising. It can also be grated, squeezed to drain juice and mixed with yoghurt for a tzatziki type dressing – this will keep for a day or two in the fridge.

Potatoes

In our Auckland garden potatoes grow most of the year but some seasons are better than others. What I have now are tiny and if left in a dirty pile I’m unlikely to be bothered when in a rush with dinner.

Prepare – give them a good scrub and dry before storing. If you have a good haul of decent sized potatoes they don’t need the same scrubbing – just brush off excess dirt.

Store – once washed and scrubbed store in something with airflow. A cloth bag is good. They don’t need to be in the fridge at this point.

Use – roast or cook for salad.

Tomatoes

In autumn you may still have tomatoes growing – they can be picked and bought inside to ripen on the windowsill before the mice get to them!

Use – they don’t have the same flavour as a summer ripened one but are fine diced into anything cooked eg a stew.

MAKE your uninspiring harvest into meals

Coleslaw type salad

Use your prepared grated/sliced vegetables – carrots, cabbage, parsley, pak/bok/tatsoi.

Make – dress with yoghurt, mayonnaise or an Asian dressing. Only add dressing to the amount required.

Grated beetroot salad

Use your grated/sliced vegetables – beetroot, yacon, carrot, mint, parsley. Add grated apple or pear.

Make – dress with yoghurt, lemon juice, vinegar or oil to suit your taste and meal. Only add dressing to the amount required and keep the rest for further meals.

Fresh green salad

Use your washed salad leaves and also grated carrot, cabbage, yacon. It’s a chance to include flowers, herbs, ‘weeds’, fruit, beetroot leaves and whatever you can find in the garden at this time of year. Sometimes it’s nice to have something fresh and raw after so many stews and slow cooked dishes.

Make – add dressing if required. I don’t always dress my salad – it depends on what else is included in the meal. If you have another oiled or sauce component then salad leaves don’t always need more dressing.

Now bundle up and go and forage in your garden.

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