Let me begin by apologizing for my semi-long hiatus; I have been moving, and we all — or those of us who live in New York, at least – know how that goes. I’m now installed in an apartment with a great kitchen and much better lighting, however, so I should now be back on track and better than ever.
And with that, I thought I’d bring back a series of posts that I also let go on hiatus: the Building a Better Kitchen series. We still have some big things to cover (the spice rack, oil and vinegar, etc etc), but for now a short but sweet post on an oft-overlooked kitchen category: the vegetable (fruit) bowl.
Commonly referred to as a “fruit bowl,” I’ve named it a vegetable bowl here, because I keep vegetables in it, for the most part. I don’t want to set off a semantic conversation here about whether tomatoes and avocadoes are fruits or vegetables. Yes, they are technically fruits. No, I don’t really think of them that way. So yes, I am calling this a vegetable bowl, as opposed to a fruit bowl, which for me summons up images of oranges and bananas and pears, as opposed to various forms of the Alliaceae (onion) family.
So here, without further ado, are the few items I try to always have, and keep in one big bowl, and NOT IN THE FRIDGE!
– Garlic: Duh. You must keep garlic on hand. At ALL TIMES. I keep 2-3 heads, usually. They keep for a very long time, and even if they do eventually go bad (become powdery and gray), then you’ve lost maybe 50 cents. And yes, they are fine with the green sprout; you can just chop that up, too. Garlic, my friends, makes everything better. It is the bacon of the vegetable bowl. You should always have it, and if a dish is ever missing anything, you can probably add it and make things better.
– Yellow Onions: A close second in “duh” status to garlic. I try to keep 2-3 onions around as well. They also don’t go bad very quickly and most everything (or everything good, anyway) starts with sautéing garlic and onion. And again, you’re losing out on all of a handful of change if an onion does go bad on you.
– Red Onions: These only really half count, as a red onion will really spend more time in my fridge than in the veggie bowl. Reason being, I don’t use very much of a red onion at a time, and once cut, it lives in a Ziploc bag in the crisper drawer. It is good, however, to have red onions on hand, to be served raw and chopped as a garnish on soups/chili or an ingredient in its own right in salad. I have noticed that red onions go bad much more quickly than yellow onions, however, so don’t let those babies sit for too long.
– Shallots (optional): If I really had my wits about me, I’d keep shallots on hand at all times as well. Unfortunately, I don’t, and I forget. Shallots are kind of like the Lepidus of the Alliaceae triumvirate; they’re important, but everyone ultimately forgets about them, overshadowed as they are by powerhouse players like garlic and onion. To continue the simile, they’re also milder and sweeter than yellow onions (and certainly than garlic). Okay, simile over, back to food. You can use shallots just as you would use onions anywhere you would like a more delicate flavor (my mom, for example, always sautéed chopped shallots to top green beans). You can also use shallots raw, typically minced up in salad dressing, with olive oil and lemon juice and maybe a little white wine vinegar.
– Tomatoes: This is going to be a controversial one, based on local politics and seasonality. I like to keep tomatoes around. There, I said it. As long as you recognize their seasonal limitations (you will probably only want to use them raw in the summer, but you can roast them or put them in sauce in the winter), then they’re great year-round. But that said, this year may be the first year I really commit to local produce, and these red juicy globes of delightfulness lose their permanent place in my vegetable bowl. We’ll see. I doubt very highly, however ignoble it may be, that they’ll lose their occasional place on my shopping list. And when they do make it into your kitchen, locally sourced or no, they should NOT BE KEPT IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR! Tomatoes will go mealy much faster in the fridge than they will on the counter. If you’re really buying them ahead of time, though (which you should not be doing), then you might consider the fridge. Also, they do go in the fridge once they’re cut (I frequently end up using only half a tomato, and saran wrap the other half).
– Avocados: I like to always have an avocado around, which isn’t to say that I actually always do. But in my dream world I do, and it sits right next to the shallots. You will be out a little more money if you buy an avocado and waste it, but I can’t say that’s ever happened to me, as being forced to eat an avocado is a punishment I don’t mind at all. Buying avocados seems to be a pretty puzzling thing for most people. If you are going to use it immediately (that day), then you want it to have some give when you press on it, but not an incredible amount (then it’s over the hill). The best is to buy avocados a few days ahead of time, as you can never guarantee that the ones in the store will be at the right ripeness. Here’s an interesting little blog post from our man Mark Bittman on how to buy an avocado. Again, keep at room temp in the vegetable bowl (if you’re desperate to ripen it quickly, you might try putting it in a paper bag – not sure if that will work). Once cut, avocados go in the fridge.
– Other optional items that pop up occasionally:
- Mango: For some reason, there’s an interloping mango in this photo. All I can say is that must have been a particularly well-stocked week in my life. But yes, mangos should be kept at room temp.
- Bananas: I’ve basically stopped buying bananas because I can’t stand how rapidly they go brown, especially in New York humidity and heat. But if you are still going for them, they should be at room temp.