Mis-en-place: Prepping Bulk Produce

Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, PROVIDED you actually use all the stuff you buy before it takes a turn. With stable items that are frozen, canned or otherwise shelf-stable, this isn’t generally a problem. But what about fresh produce?

Two of our favorite items from the warehouse store, Costco, are the fresh bagged spinach and the sweet peppers. Thing is, both come in 4 lb.quantities which is a lot for one household to use quickly unless you’re expecting a crowd. The photos above show the full quantities of each item after their vinegar washes.

For the spinach, the biggest problem is simply space. That volume of spinach just won’t fit in the fridge in our kitchen. We don’t eat a lot of raw spinach, though T. will occasionally make a spinach salad. The rest will be flash-cooked so it’s ready to use in a variety of dishes: omelets, dressed in sesame or garlic dressing as a side dish, added to pan-fried noodle dishes, topping for ramen or soba, filling for a pie or lasagne. One of the most time-consuming chores when using fresh greens of any kind is washing it, so by doing the whole quantity at once you’ve saved yourself valuable prep time for the rest of the week. My 16” wok will fit one colander-ful of cleaned spinach so it takes 3 turns on the wok to cook all the spinach, but with only 5 minutes cooking for each panful. Drain the cooked spinach, pressing lightly to remove as much water as possible, cool, and store.

Most importantly, valuable fridge real estate is preserved when those 3 colanders of fresh spinach now fit in 2 flat quart-size containers that stack neatly. Cooked spinach will also keep a bit longer than fresh, but I would still use it up in 4-5 days. After 2 days, I make it a point to re-heat the spinach thoroughly either in whatever it is cooked with or to the point of steaming in the microwave if used as a side dish or topping for noodle soups.

The sweet peppers we love for their wonderful sweetness, and they’re great for snacking on just by themselves. But with their rich colors, they’re also a welcome addition to stir-fries, stews, fajitas, omelets, and just about anything that would benefit from their color and sweetness. We probably use about half the peppers fresh, then I clean and trim the remaining peppers, vacuum seal them and freeze until needed. Most are cut into strips, but I like to leave a small quantity in halves so I have the option to do other things with them — cut into chunks for stews, or leave in halves and stuff for baking. When we have a filling leftover from making potstickers, gyoza, or even last year’s fried olive delights (remember those?…. so good…), pepper halves make perfect vessels for baking off the leftovers and treating yourself to a nice light lunch or an appetizer.

So whether you’re shopping at a warehouse store, or your local grocery is having a too-good-to-resist sale on your favorite produce, or your CSA box comes with loads of veggies you don’t plan to use right away, set aside an hour or two to prep them the more delicate, perishable ones right away, even if you’re not certain what you will do them later. Knowing you have them on hand and ready-to-use, will make it more likely that you will find creative ways to add them into your week-day meal planning or last-minute brain-storming.

Happy Cooking, Everyone! And remember, “Cook food, but serve Love.”