Usually, when we pick fruits and vegetables, we look for the most attractive. But we pay a premium for that privilege. And what looks best in the store, is not necessarily the tastiest. I noticed three different types of produce being sold for a ...

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Don’t Judge a Fruit by Its Peel and more...

Don’t Judge a Fruit by Its Peel

very ripe tomato, pepper, avocadoThis post is dedicated to my brother Sholom Wacholder, who died last month at the age of 60. A dedicated reader of this blog, he loved nothing better than a good rabbinic quote. 

My visit to the store last week reminded of the Jewish saying, “Don’t look at the container, but at what is inside it.” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:2). Roughly translated into English, this means, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The Talmud references it regarding an ugly man who is very wise and knowledgeable. And it can apply in the kitchen too!

Usually, when we pick fruits and vegetables, we look for the most attractive. But we pay a premium for that privilege. And what looks best in the store, is not necessarily the tastiest.

I noticed three different types of produce being sold for a discount: Tomatoes, avocados, and sweet peppers. As you can see from the pictures, the tomatoes looked dented and spotted, the peppers wrinkled (you may need to look closely), and the avocado skins mostly black. My adult son, who came along to help, was especially skeptical about those avocados. I told him that we might have to throw out 10-20% of the produce, but it would still be worth it.

But when I got home and sliced open a sample, the quality of the produce spoke for itself. I paid about 20-30% of the cost advertised for the higher-quality items in the same store. I had planned to cook the peppers, but they were sweet enough for salads after cutting out a black spot here and there. Those tomatoes were the best we’ve had in months.

Some tips of the avocados could not be saved, and I had to throw out two whole ones. But they were small and most were delicious, with a perfect ripeness and color. And they have kept well in the refrigerator.

Produce quality peaks just when it is about to go soft and spoil. But that is too late for the store, which risks losing the produce to spoilage. If you can use of the fruits and vegetables the store can’t sell within a reasonable time, I suggest taking a chance.

It’s fun to gamble and win! Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by sorry-looking produce?

You may also enjoy:

Guide to Choosing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Spicy Beans with Coriander and Garlic

fresh-coriander sprigsRemember those black beans I posted about recently? And how I planned to keep a container of beans in the freezer? Well, I defrosted the container in the refrigerator overnight Thursday. On Friday, my vegan son came home, and added beans to the rice and mushrooms he cooked for the Sabbath. He took the leftovers with him for Rosh Hashanah.

But he didn’t use up all of the defrosted beans. All during the holiday, I heard those beans whispering at me, begging me to use them up. Fortunately, we had a vegetarian couple coming for lunch on Tuesday, and I suspected they would like spicy fare. I started the beans with some extra water, because they were still on the firm side.

After they were soft, I couldn’t decide whether to mash them or not. In the end, I decided not to. After all, whatever is mashed, cannot be unmashed.

Spicy Black Beans with Coriander and Garlic
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
Author: Hannah Katsman
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Flavorful bean recipe, great as a appetizer or side. Can be served hot or cold. Mash the beans to make a dip, or leave whole. Serves 4-6.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans, with enough cooking water to cover
  • 5-10 sprigs fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • A little salt
  1. Saute onions in a saucepan for 5 minutes.
  2. Add cumin seeds and garlic to pan, stir for one minute.
  3. Add beans and water. Bring to boil, cover, and lower heat to a simmer.
  4. Stir frequently. You want to reduce the liquid, but avoid scorching.
  5. Add the coriander and other seasonings.
  6. Stir and continue cooking, just until the beans are about to stick. Turn out into a bowl and serve.
  7. Garnish with fresh tomato slices or coriander.

More recipes and cooking tips:

How to Cook for a Family with a New Baby

Healthy and Tasty Summer Salads

Should You Cook Fresh, or Freeze in Bulk?

10 Great Reasons to Cook Fresh Black Beans

The kids are back in school, and while the heat hasn’t let up, the smell of routine is in the air. I just finished cooking a pot of black beans, and am enjoying anticipating how I will use them.

Beans take a while to prepare, although less than you might think because soaking isn’t strictly necessary. If you’re new to cooking beans, check out my Guide to Cooking Dried Beans from Scratch.

I find cooked dried beans one of the most versatile foods to have around. They keep well in the refrigerator, adapt themselves to a wide range of flavors, and even the pickiest eaters can find something to love. My son won’t eat chickpeas plain, but he will eat falafel balls or chumus.

So what will I do with these beans? Let me count the ways.

  1. Eat them plain. They are one of my 11-year-old daughter’s favorite snacks, and I know she’ll be pleased to finfreshly cooked containers of black beansd them today when she gets home from school.
  2. Tonight I plan to serve them as an option for make-your-own tortillas. Along with the beans, I’ll offer rice, shredded carrots and cabbage, tomatoes, homemade salsa, yogurt sauce I serve with last night’s chickpea-tuna patties, and some hard cheese.
  3. Tomorrow, I may try this Southwestern Black Bean Dip from Epicurious.
  4. Or I’ll add them to Spanish rice or add them to rice I’ve already cooked for the tortillas.
  5. Maybe I will add the beans to a refreshing summer salad.
  6. Too bad avocado is not in season, or I would make my friend Gladys’ Avocado Bean Salad.
  7. Bean patties are always an option. So what if we had them last night?
  8. If there are any left on Friday, I may add them to Vegan Cholent (Sabbath Stew).
  9. Or, I can add them to a soup along with whatever vegetables, herbs, or cooked grains I want to use up. That way I can make good use of the cooking liquid. I’ll mash them first to fool the picky eaters.
  10. I’ve already set aside one container of beans and liquid to freeze for another time. It’s always handy to have cooked beans around, especially when your vegetarian and vegan children may turn up without notice.

Have I inspired you to put up a pot of beans? What is your favorite way to use them?

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Review: Vegan Start Passover Cookbook

passover-vegan-chocolate-dessertI’ve been stressing about Passover cooking. My 18-year-old son became vegan a few months ago, and I’m afraid my usual menu plan might leave him hungry. Because of the prohibitions against seeds and legumes (kitniyot) in the Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish Passover tradition, vegan staples like lentils, beans and sesame are off the table.

Fortunately, my friend Rena Reich came to the rescue with the publication of her new cookbook, Vegan Start Passover Cookbook. You can read my interview with Rena from a few years ago.

The recipes in this vegan cookbook do not contain animal products such as eggs, dairy, fish, or meat. They also contain no seeds or legumes. Although many Ashkenazim today do eat quinoa, Rena decided to leave that out too. So these recipes will be acceptable to most Passover-observant guests you are likely to host.

Several of Rena’s recipes answered questions I have been asking myself. How can you make vegan matza balls (kneidlech) that won’t fall apart? What about kugels (vegetable pudding), mayonnaise, and matza brei (French toast made with matza)? Rena provides solutions, without eggs, for all of these.

Vegan Start Passover Cookbook includes a vegan Seder menu, with ideas for vegan substitutes for the egg and bone on the Seder plate. I found the recipes for soups, sides and salads to be similar to those throughout the year, since most vegetables are kosher for Passover. She bases the main course recipes on mushrooms, and potatoes, and other vegetables, like Mushroom Burgers, Gnocchi and Ratatouille. I suggest adding herbs to spice up some of the savory recipes.

Passover desserts create a special challenge for vegans, but Vegan Start Passover Cookbook does not disappoint! Choices include Apple Cake, Almond Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Torte, and Chocolate Truffles. The chocolate mousse contains a surprise ingredient.

Two specialty recipes that I definitely plan to try, or have my son try, are almond milk and mayonnaise. These high-priced items are expensive when ready-made, and often full of additives. Rena’s mayonnaise is based on oil and almond milk (or another vegan milk).

Rena has offered to give away 3 copies of the book to readers. Here are three ways to enter:

  1. For one entry: Leave a comment on this post.
  2. Earn two entries: Share this post publicly on your personal Facebook profile, and leave a comment below with your profile name.
  3. Earn two entries: Share this post on Twitter and leave a comment below with your user name.

Giveaway ends Sunday, March 22 Wednesday, March 25, and winners will be chosen at random.

Update: Congratulations to the winners, Rachel, Aviva and Yocheved! Thank you to all who entered. 

You can order Vegan Start Passover Cookbook for your Kindle via Amazon, or as a PDF directly from the website.

Want more recipes for both vegans and carnivores? Check out Passover Recipes and Cooking Techniques.

How Risky Is It to Eat Questionable Leftovers?

meat-thermometer for food safetyOne of the most common questions on cooking sites and forums is whether leftover food should be thrown out. The best advice is to prevent these questions , by learning how to store food properly, estimate quantities, keep track of what you have, and use leftovers creatively.

But what happens if you fear your food has been hanging around for too long? You can look up storage times on various sites, but the recommendations tend to be overly cautious. So much depends on how the food was prepared, and the storage conditions. I suggest using those sites only as a general guideline. If the food looks and smells good, it’s probably safe. And if the food looks or smells off, throw it out even if the guidelines say it’s safe.

If you are new at this and don’t trust your judgment, put the questionable food back in the refrigerator and check it the next day. If you are still in doubt, that means it was fine yesterday. If it really stinks, next time you will not keep it for so long. Do this often enough, and you will gain confidence.

The bacteria that hang around our kitchen are usually not dangerous. But the ones that come into the house from the farm and store, can be. So if you are careful to cook food carefully, handle raw meat as little as possible, and wash your hands, dishes, and counters, you are unlikely to wind up in the hospital with food poisoning.

How risky is it to eat spoiled food? The bacterium Clostridium perfringens is the one most likely to infest cooked meat.

I read several websites on this bug, including the Center for Disease Control. C. perfringens is everywhere, so it quickly colonizes food. Once it multiplies past a certain point, it can cause illness—namely diarrhea with an onset of 6-24 hours after eating the food. The illness generally lasts less than 24 hours.  It is not life-threatening unless you are very young or very old.

I would not wish diarrhea or food poisoning on anyone, nor am I recommending that you eat food that has been questionably stored. 

And note this statement by the CDC:  Foods that have dangerous bacteria in them may not taste, smell, or look different. Any food that has been left out too long may be dangerous to eat, even if it looks okay.

You can definitely get sick from food that looks and tastes fine. However, when food was fully cooked to start with, the chances are low. Food that has been infected by large amounts of bacteria usually smells and looks bad. And I think it’s fair to assume that when food looks and smells fine, any illness you get from common air-borne bacteria will be milder than it would be when the food is obviously spoiled.

If you do unintentionally eat foods containing excess amounts of C. perfringens,  you will probably get diarrhea, and you’ll feel lousy, but you are unlikely to end up in the hospital.  The same applies to the other bacteria floating around your kitchen. The symptoms might be slightly different, but they are still unlikely to make you very sick.

I want to emphasize that the above ONLY applies when the food has been fully cooked. There are some bacteria, like salmonella or E. coli, that you should never play around with. And if you or someone in your household is pregnant, sick, very young, or very old, you will want to be more cautious.

There is a downside to throwing out food that is still good. Wasting food uses up all of the resources used to grow, transport, and cook the food. It creates problems in the environment. For some people, it may put a serious dent in their budget.

What’s the bottom line? Educate yourself and use common sense. Store food wisely and carefully, cook it fully, and use up leftovers quickly. Always examine food before serving. And make the decision that you are most comfortable with.

You may also enjoy:

Is This Food Safe to Eat?

Ten Tips to Cut Your Produce Bill

Evaluating the True Cost of Food

9 Tips to Help Food Last Longer

image: Robert S. Donovan

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