At the time of writing the world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are times when even grocery shopping can be quite risky. Like food delivery services online grocery shopping too have taken off in some parts of the country.
Online grocery shopping is a safer way to keep your refrigerators filled. Physical contact is minimal and only for a brief period of time unlike roaming around in a supermarket full of people. With online payment you even avoid handling cash that may be unhygienic (which was a worry long before the pandemic).
If you are one of those that do your weekly grocery shopping online you might notice that your favourite online grocery store has combo sets for vegetables and other produce. Bansan Penang offers sets of all sizes with recommended serving sizes ranging from a single person to a family of four. There is also a pattern in pricing that you might notice as well. The larger the set the more expensive it is, but the more savings you can get per item. The larger sets may even have more diversity.
If you are living alone then a family set may not be a sensible choice regardless of the attractive diversity and savings you can get from them. The set may last a family of four two to three days. For one person it could be wasteful. Having cabbage for 5 days straight can get boring and you might not even get through the 1 kilogram of cabbage. So it’s an impractical choice for a household of one. Or is it?
Stocking up on produce
Through your own experience you would know that most fruits and vegetables can only last for about 5 days. Within an airtight container and in a refrigerator with good temperature regulation you can expect them to last 7 days at most. After 7 days best case scenario is they would still be edible, but barely holding it together in terms of taste and texture. At worst (and it usually is) they would become dangerous to eat.
You can in fact make produce last a lot longer than 7 days. You can make them last for weeks or even months. We can share a few tips but there are prerequisites before you can start. These tips are also useful if you found yourself a nearby fruits and vegetables wholesaler and you wish to stock up on your favorites.
First you would need to do some planning. The most important thing is to know or even control how much you consume. Even a rudimentary weekly meal plan can help make your grocery shopping more efficient.
You do not need to have specific recipes ready or strictly follow your plan. You only need to pinpoint your eating habits, especially with fruits and vegetables. Your weekly grocery shopping list is a good start but also take note of any wasted produce you might have every week no matter how little they are.
Pinpointing and planning your fruits and vegetables consumption can help you divide your stockpile into two. One to preserve, and one to consume within their freshness period. Not all of your weekly shopping should be in long-term storage. You will find out why further into the article.
Research and learn
After you get a rough idea on your fruits and vegetables consumption it is time to put an effort into research. There are several ways to preserve that bulk purchase of fruits and vegetables. Some require a bit of preparation, while others are quite straightforward. At home there are two main ways you can preserve your produce - freezing and drying.
The first method is the most common for animal proteins and dairy, but it is very rare that you find people freezing their leafy greens. The rule of thumb for freezing produce is to choose ones with a lower moisture content, but that is not a strict rule. You can freeze almost anything, but most vegetables will not survive the freezing process without some preparation. Some of the items you can freeze include:
- Green beans
- Mustard greens (a.k.a sawi)
Peas and carrots are common ingredients in spring rolls and you can buy them in the frozen section. You would notice that even after being thawed they retain their color and most of their texture.The secret is blanching.
Blanching is a very brief period of boiling to scald the exterior surface before cooling them with a bath of cold or ice water to prevent cooking. Blanching “locks in” the color, texture, and a lot of the nutrients. Some vegetables and fruits fare better than others after being thawed out. We know that peas and carrots can do well. With the same preparation green beans, eggplants, and most leafy greens can survive freezing and retain most of their qualities.
Fruits should be poor candidates for freezing because of their high water content. The water in them can crystallize and expand thus ruining their texture and turn them into mush. But as we have established before you can freeze just about anything. Frozen fruits are usually not thawed and eaten as is but are usually used in smoothies. Frozen tomatoes and eggplants can be used to make soups and sauces. You may notice that these are leaning more towards Western recipes which a lot of Malaysians are not very well-versed in. But, if you like pasta you now have the excuse to learn how to make the sauce on your own and save more money.
Freezing is by far the most extensive, and arguably the most cost effective method of preservation. They require minimal preparation, no extra ingredients, and many frozen vegetables can be used as usual in cooking with minimal impact on taste and quality.
Do take caution. If your freezer has meat products isolate your vegetables as best you can from the meat to avoid cross-contamination. Store your vegetables in airtight bags or containers and place them in their own compartments within the freezer.
Drying is usually done with fruits. Drying removes moisture and with refrigeration dried fruits can last for 6 months. The most convenient way to dry fruits at home is by using an oven. But, as you can imagine it may not be as cost effective as freezing unless you use a gas oven. Using the Sun is practically free but quite inconvenient for most of us, especially in Malaysia where we have to constantly watch out for flies and other insects and it can rain any day of the week.
Dried fruits can be made into tasty and healthy snacks, such as dried thin apple slices. Thinly sliced and oven-dried banana pieces are healthier alternatives to the fried variety we can get from market stalls and supermarkets. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous you can try oven-dried mangoes as well. Almost any fruit can be dried, and as with freezing you just have to research and experiment.
Jumping straight into unfamiliar waters is a bad idea especially if it involves kilograms of produce. You should first sacrifice a few of your favorites in you regular purchase for experimenting with any of the methods above. Get a feel for the right procedure and preparation methods and try to cook with them and have a taste test.
You should also approach in stages. Choose to commit to a small batch first and learn how to use them in new recipes if required or desired. You may like tomatoes on a few occasions. If you are living alone a pack of 5 to 6 included in a vegetable set may be too much for a single week. Try drying half of the pack and use them in salads or sprucing up an omelette.
You no longer have to shy away from a good wholesale deal on fruits and vegetables. With a little knowledge you can enjoy the savings without the food wastage. You may even reduce the amount of shopping trips or online purchases you do every week. If you ever find a local produce wholesaler don’t be afraid to buy your favorite fruits or vegetables in bulk.