If so, you should read this article from The New York Times, plus a slide show with vegetable-storing tips:

Raw Panic



HERE’S a dirty little secret of summer.

What should be a beautiful and inspiring sight — your kitchen, overflowing with seasonal produce — is sometimes an intimidating tableau of anxiety. The knobbly piles and dirt-caked bunches are overwhelming. Already the peak-ripe multicolored peppers are developing soft spots; the chard is wilting and the race is on.

“People often feel overwhelmed in the kitchen, and when all this produce suddenly arrives, they panic,” said Ronna Welsh, a chef in Brooklyn who teaches workshops on, among other topics, produce management.

Vegetable anxiety can strike anyone at this time of year: C.S.A. subscribers, compulsive farm-stand stoppers and even vegetarians. “All this produce arrives with a deadline,” said Benjamin Elwood, a lawyer in St. Paul. “It’s like when a DVD comes from Netflix. You feel like you have to watch the movie ASAP in order to get your money’s worth, but the pressure makes you not want to watch it.”

Some cooks who think nothing of grilling a whole chicken or decorating a three-layer cake are daunted, even defeated, by regularly getting a vegetable dish on the table.

This could help explain why, in a 2009 survey of hundreds of thousands of Americans, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans ate no more vegetables than they did in 2000, despite all the public education about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and despite the availability of a far greater variety of vegetables. A market research firm, the NPD Group, says Americans eat an average of a little more than a cup of vegetables a day and a little more than a half-cup of fruit, or about a quarter of what the government recommends.

To help her students truly embrace vegetables, Ms. Welsh says that she has learned to address kitchen psychology along with cooking skills: less-experienced cooks have a persistent sense of responsibility toward the expensive, carefully raised produce that they buy and the corresponding feeling of guilt when that produce isn’t used to its full potential.

“There are all these expectations to perform complicated tasks that they have no training in,” she said. “They are set up for crushing failure.”

In the face of vegetable anxiety, what’s an aspiring omnivore to do?

At her school, Purple Kale Kitchenworks, Ms. Welsh counsels her students to cook vegetables the day they come into the kitchen, peeling and roasting them separately in plain olive oil and salt. “If you mix them together, you’ll have a great side dish for one day, but it won’t be so appealing the second day, and on the third day you’ll hate it.” Try to shop in stages, or schedule a C.S.A. pickup when there are a free couple of hours at the end of the day. Set the oven to 375, use large half-sheet pans and fill the racks of your oven to capacity.

Already-cooked vegetables are the key to a refrigerator filled with usable, tamed ingredients that can immediately be turned into other dishes: pasta sauces, pizza toppings and composed salads, to name just a few. Raw, they are just slouching toward rot; cooked, they are tools you can use.

If cooking everything in advance is not feasible, keep these points in mind before blindly stuffing the refrigerator: remove any ties or rubber bands on vegetable bunches; the closer they are packed, the faster they will rot. Trim off the leafy tops of vegetables like carrots and beets, but leave an inch of stem on to prevent them from drying out. And don’t store any vegetables in airtight plastic bags: poke holes in the bags if necessary to keep air circulating.

Greens should be washed before storing in lots of water (not running water; fill the sink, swish the greens and let the dirt float away to the bottom). But soft herbs like basil and soft produce like berries and mushrooms shouldn’t be washed until just before they are used; the water will speed deterioration.

Vegetables and fruit should be stored separately, because the ethylene emitted by ripening fruit can damage vegetables. Some produce will continue to ripen if left out on the counter: stone fruit (not cherries), melons, mangoes, apples, pears, avocados and tomatoes. But some will not: bell peppers, grapes, citrus fruit and berries only deteriorate. Bananas not only will ripen quickly, but their presence will speed the ripening of nearby fruits, so check the bowl often.

One group has recently poured dedication and creativity into making vegetable recipes accessible: the authors of a new crop of cookbooks for children. These are practical books that treat vegetables as tasty in their own right, not something to be concealed in a brownie or transformed with a paring knife into winsome bunnies and elephants.

Any home cook can benefit from the solid advice of Katie Workman, author of “The Mom 100 Cookbook,” who took as her motto for a vegetables chapter: “They can’t eat only raw baby carrots for the rest of their lives.” She is of the belief that reasonably lavish applications of fat (bacon bits, butter, cheese, oil) make vegetables instantly palatable, and she is right.

They need more than a squirt of lemon juice to bring out their fullest flavors, and there’s no fun in treating vegetables as only low-fat nutrient-delivery systems.

Her default technique (“just a fancy word for a cooking method”) is to sauté a shallot in butter, turn the vegetables in the pan until they start to soften, then cover tightly and let them cook in their own steam, testing them often.

And although most cooks now know better than to let vegetables cook to mush, “people forget there is carry-over cooking in vegetables, just like in meat,” she said. In other words, take them off the heat just before they are done.

Jenny Rosenstrach, the author of the blog and cookbook “Dinner: A Love Story,” has a different motto: when in doubt, put it on top of a pizza (she uses the Jim Lahey no-knead method), cooked in the oven in a shallow sheet pan; or, better yet, turn it into pizza. “Bread it and fry it, put tomato sauce and mozzarella on it, and everyone will eat it,” she said.

Deb Perelman, whose popular Smitten Kitchen blog has generated a cookbook, coming in the fall, uses a light batter to turn cooked vegetables into fluffy, crisp fritters. Topped with fried eggs or garlic-spiked sour cream, paired with salad, they make a painless vegetarian dinner.

Boiling and steaming, often the default, “Joy of Cooking”-era methods used by American cooks, are generally the least flavorful ways to cook vegetables, according to Michael Natkin, author of the new book “Herbivoracious” and the corresponding blog documenting life as an ambitious vegetarian cook and father of two in Seattle. To stay away from that watery rut, he keeps a list of verbs on his computer screen (sear, purée, sauté, grill) as a reminder.

That’s how he ended up searing sliced, salted shiitake mushroom caps over high heat in a cast-iron skillet instead of using them raw in salad or making soup. “They are like these crispy umami bombs,” he said, noting that almost 30 years of eating as a vegetarian have trained him to make vegetables play many different flavor and texture roles.

He also does lots of “ribbon salads” at this time of year: shaved zucchini, yellow squash, beets, peaches and melon, with additions like nuts and cheeses, make light but substantial dinner salads. “A cheap mandoline is a great substitute for knife skills,” he said.

Knife skills, of course, are where the rubber meets the road in vegetable cookery. If Americans are still not eating their vegetables, in many cases it’s not because they don’t like the taste: it’s because vegetables are implacably time-consuming to peel and cut. Protein is still at the center of the nation’s plate, and many cooks have little energy left for vegetables.

(In many other countries, and in restaurant kitchens, many vegetables arrive already peeled and cut. From the shopping lists at Baldor, the Bronx-based restaurant supplier, chefs can choose among more than 50 ways to have their potatoes delivered, cut into pearls, balls, à la Parisienne, julienne and so on.)

It’s that need for technical support that prompted the installation of a full-time “vegetable butcher” at Eataly when that glamorous food emporium opened in the Flatiron district in 2010: an employee whose sole job is to trim, peel and cut produce to order.

Joseph Nieves has held the position since the opening: he breaks down about 200 pounds of produce a week for customers who are too daunted, time-pressed or unskilled to do it themselves. Celery root, he said, is the vegetable that confounds people the most. “It looks like an alien head,” he said.

Some markets, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, sell precut basics like carrots, celery and onions. But cooking vegetables is no longer a simple matter of baking potatoes or boiling beans; now we want to master bok choy, sunchokes, garlic scapes, amaranth and baby turnips.

Vegetable ignorance, if not anxiety, is especially rampant among young cooks, who may have been raised on a steady diet of cooking shows, but whose home cooking experience is often confined to choosing a flavor of Hot Pockets for the microwave.

“Among people my age, vegetables were a punch line,” said Harry Rosenblum, 35, an owner of the Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. “In our demographic” — the neighborhood is packed with people in their 20s and early 30s — “we get people in who love food and going to restaurants but can barely cut an onion, much less sharpen a knife.”

The store’s knife-skills workshops have expanded from 1 per month to 10 since the store opened in 2006.

Mr. Rosenblum’s advice on knives for vegetable prep novices is to spend on one big chef’s knife, but save on paring knives; even good quality ones, like those from Messermeister, can cost as little as $5 and can be replaced whenever they become dull. The shop stocks celery, carrots and onions that customers can use to test drive any knife before buying it.

“I’ve seen some very strange attempts,” Mr. Rosenblum said, with sympathy. “If you think about it, an onion is a sphere. It has layers, it has a root end and a stem end. It’s not easy to turn that into even pieces if you haven’t been taught how.”