One beet, two beet, canned beet
October 4, 2008 8:42 PM   Subscribe

After months of diligently shopping healthier, I have come to the realization that I just cannot get through the fresh vegetables I buy in a timely manner. Having decided to go back to cans (except for cabbage and onions), tell me what I should be on the lookout for, in terms of great-tasting things to try.
posted by parmanparman to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You're not a failure -- I have the same problem. I would suggest going to a farmer's market on Saturday and at least getting a few things, if at least to eat on the weekend and first part of next week. Other vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, garlic, cabbage (as you noted above), last a long time and you can safely stock up. I've found that zucchini, summer squashes, and winter squashes (like acorn or delicata) also last a long time.

But that's not answering your question. I haven't ever found any good canned vegetables, except for maybe corn. Frozen vegetables, however, can be fine (even good). Frozen peas, broccoli, edamame (you can buy them pre-shelled; they go great in stir fries but are also good treated like Western-style beans and put into salads, etc), and some of the frozen "stir-fry veggie" mixes are usually good bets.
posted by rossination at 8:51 PM on October 4, 2008

I would recommend frozen foods over canned ones. Frozen usually tastes better and preserves more of the nutrients. THe selection is usually limited but try out the foreign markets to find others kinds of vegetables.
posted by metahawk at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2008

Beetroot and tomatoes are the only things I find acceptable from a tin. Even then, the tomatoes need a pinch of sugar and are only good for sauce.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:55 PM on October 4, 2008

Seconding frozen veggies, which taste fresher, especially when steamed.
posted by amyms at 8:55 PM on October 4, 2008

Definitely go with frozen. When veg are out of season, frozen can actually be better for you than fresh, because the frozen ones were harvested at the peak of the season.
posted by sugarfish at 9:11 PM on October 4, 2008

I'll nth the frozen vegies suggestions.

I deal with the spoilage problem by only buying fresh vegies that I have iron-clad plans to use in the next day or two. I don't buy some cucumbers "because they are healthy" — they only go in the shopping cart if there is an actual plan for their use.

The practical meaning of this is that I keep plenty of frozen vegies in the freezer, and swing by the grocery story a couple of times a week to pick up perishables for the next couple of days. Grocery shopping is really fast, even in a big store, if you are picking up three vegies, some milk, and one or two other things, so it doesn't take much time out of my day.

Canned, I buy tomatoes and beets, and that's it. (Unless you are counting canned beans as part of this, in which case I buy plenty of those, too.) All the other canned vegies I've tried are mushy and taste weird, compared to fresher options.
posted by Forktine at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I totally have this problem too. I second the above answers -- canned foods have limited utility; tomatoes for sauce, canned garbanzos for hummus, etc. Kidney beans are actually okay if you cook them Indian-style; I wouldn't eat them without heavy flavoring if their home was aluminum.

My solution to the bigger problem, however, is to buy the veggies I want, use what I need, and just freeze the rest myself. The cheap tupperware (Gladware, thin Rubbermaid, store-brand knock-offs) are great for these. You can buy a whole set for like $8 these days.
posted by spiderskull at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2008

Just piling on, frozen green peas are about 1000 times better than canned green peas. I find that frozen vegetables are usually pretty close in taste when compared to cooked fresh vegetables, were as canned vegetables are often nowhere close.

Frozen chopped spinach can be dropped into just about any tomato sauce without effecting its taste very much.
posted by 517 at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2008

Your profile doesn't explicitly say where you are; the mom&pop/Asian produce stores are fantastic where I am. A lot less expensive than the supermarkets and generally fresher.

Is there something on your way back from work to home where you can stop and pick up some fresh veggies? Those places also allow for buying small amounts of produce - I picked up two small bell peppers and a single Shanghai bak choi Friday. Cost 11, 12, and 18 cents - each. Had the bak choi Friday and the peppers tonight. Dropped a couple of quarters and got a nickle and 4 pennies back.

When I was living in the middle-of-nowhere Iowa during undergrad, yeah, it was harder. I used to get the bagged frozen cut carrots/brocolli/cauliflower/beans mix. Ok for stirfries. Green Giant used to be my friend. If you're handy, it's possible to grow your own vegetables even if you don't have a land plot; there are commercial small-scale hydroponics for sale (usually for herbs) that can be easily modified for lettuce. If you don't mind spending the electricity for lamps, tomatoes, peppers, and squashes can easily be grown indoors.

In retrospect, I should have grown my own greens as the places I rented had yards. I also managed to score a bunch of seeds-of- a whole bunch of different Asian vegetables and 'loaned' them to a famer-cum-teaching assistant and ended up with a good Summer/Autumn of vegetables otherwise unavailable in Iowa.
posted by porpoise at 9:24 PM on October 4, 2008

Make your own frozen bananas. Buy ripe bananas at the store, and as soon as you get them home, peel them and wrap in Saran Wrap and pop in freezer. Take out and thaw just ever so slightly in the microwave and use in smoothies.
posted by marsha56 at 9:28 PM on October 4, 2008

My favorite in the canned food aisle is Progresso Hearty Tomato soup, a delicious and easy lunch!
posted by jschu at 9:29 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've found that wax beans can be pretty tasty from a can, if you can find them in your area; I also adore the canned tomatoes that Muir Glen Organics sells, which are a bit pricey but taste unbelievably good. I don't especially like canned foods or tomatoes (or organics), but these are incredible. I've had people remark how good the tomatoes were in recipes I made, and are always amazed to hear they're from a can.

Frozen, asparagus is pretty good, though it's pricey; broccoli (especially baby broccoli) is good if you fry it up with spicy garlic paste and a little sesame oil.

And while I realize you didn't ask about fruit, grapes are delicious if you clean them, pull them off their stems, and freeze them.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:35 PM on October 4, 2008

From a purely nutritional standpoint I agree with the frozen vegetable recommendation. However, frozen vegetables rarely taste as good as fresh and if eating was all about nutrition we could just take pills or something. Eating is at least as much about gustatory pleasure as it is about nutrition. It is also a way to connect with friends and family and even there a better tasting meal beats highly nutritious pablum. Go with fresh vegetables for taste. Those ethylene gas absorbing bags "as seen on TV" and as likely available in your grocery store actually work. They are not perfect, they only slow a rampant ripening process, but for many vegetables that go bad over a week or so since purchase that is the main cause.
posted by caddis at 9:41 PM on October 4, 2008

Since I am in a situation with very little freezer space and very little money, I go for the canned vegetables. The key is in the seasoning. Garlic salt/powder, onion flakes, bacon bits, chicken broth, cheese, etc. It really makes a difference. Experimentation is key. Just blend all the flavors you enjoy and you can't go wrong.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:41 PM on October 4, 2008

Okay, not answering the exact question, but helping nonetheless:

When you *do* buy fresh vegetables, and you realize that you're not going to be able to use the remainder before they go off, here's what you do. Keep a jar/empty milk carton/ziploc bag in the freezer. When said veggies (or veggie trimmings) are evicted from the fridge, put them in jar/carton/bag, along with enough water to keep them from being exposed to air.

Once your jar/carton/bag is full, defrost it, boil the contents, and bingo -- automatic vegetable stock. You're not wasting anything, and you have a whole new product on your hands.

Veggie stock can be frozen and thawed as needed.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:28 PM on October 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

I keep veg-all and extra lima beans on hand, and throw them together (2 cans veg-all and 1 limas) with jarred korma sauce from Trader Joe's, and eat it with their frozen naan. But if you're going there, you should just buy a ton of frozen veg.

Canned beans make a fine fast three bean salad, just italian dressing and thin sliced red onions, and I also enjoy canned green bean casserole, with french fried onions and cream of mushroom soup, with lots of pepper!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:29 PM on October 4, 2008

Fresh vegetable shopping takes a fair amount of experience and time, but sometimes it's worth it. I'd suggest buying some vegetables frozen and others fresh. Lately I've been loving roots and they don't spoil very easily. Sweet potatoes, parsnips, fennel, beets, etc. Also, don't forget about winter squash.

Right now I live in a place with a TERRIBLE selection of frozen veggies, but back in the states I loved frozen cubed butternut squash, but they are so much easier to use than their fresh counterpart.
posted by melissam at 12:46 AM on October 5, 2008

What mudpuppie said...and to use up all that stock, make soup. Homemade soup will freeze and it's much better for you than anything out of a can (no sodium overdose for one thing).

Also, learn how to store veggies as well.
posted by salishsea at 2:52 AM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've gotten by without a freezer or reliance on tinned goods (save chopped tomatoes) for years. Some fruit and veg you can store for longer and can buy larger quantities of (carrot, onion, potato, etc.); other items get purchased on a buy-as-needed basis. A lot of stuff can get used up if you get in the habit of making soups (e.g. bought half a cucumber, used a little up in a salad – make a cucumber-based soup).

This may offend some foodies, but my general experience is that you can make decent soup out of almost any combination of vegetables that you have to hand with seasoning, herbs, and spices. Getting into making soups and a small investment in a hand blender (so quick and easy) really changed my habits in terms of eating healthier – and it's a great way of making a meal out of whatever is around.

Also, growing a small basic selection of herbs is not difficult and makes culinary life much easier.
posted by mandal at 3:28 AM on October 5, 2008

When keeping fresh veggies in the fridge, I've found the two main issues are too much moisture, or getting dried-out. Ziploc makes vegetable bags intended for the fridge to keep veggies fresh longer. They're perforated with tons of tiny holes so that excess moisture can get out, but at the same time helps keep enough moisture in. I've found they help, although don't perform miracles.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:03 AM on October 5, 2008

Again, not answering your question (although frozen is better than canned, usually), but my secret to using fresh vegetables quickly is to immediately, as soon as I bring them home from the store, wash/cut/prepare them for cooking and/or eating. Then it's just as fast to put my pre-washed, pre-cut green beans in a pot as it is to put canned or frozen ones in a pot.

For greens, go ahead and fill the sink up with water, then put the greens in the water and swish them around a bit. This is much more effective than rinsing the leaves under running water, and uses less water. Bonus: you can re-use the sink water for watering plants or similar.
posted by amtho at 4:40 AM on October 5, 2008

Nthing the frozen over canned, however--if it's possible without significant extra travel each day, I strongly recommend a daily or every other day trip to the market. If you're buying the veggies (or other fresh food) the day before or the day of the meal, they don't have time to go bad. We've discovered that shopping several times a week vs. once a week has meant we eat more fresh foods, a more balanced diet, and a wider range of foods.
posted by elfgirl at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2008

Best answer: Canned:
• Tomatoes in various forms (e.g., diced, pureed, sauce, paste)
• Various beans (especially if you don't have a pressure cooker - some of the larger beans take forever to cook)
• Corn, in a pinch. Creamed corn, surprisingly, makes a nice Chinese egg drop soup with a can of chicken broth - mix both and heat to a near simmer, season to taste with soy sauce, beat an egg or two with a little water, then gently stir the soup over low heat while slowly pouring in the egg. Long ribbons of cooked egg will form, and the soup is already thickened by the creamed corn. (I once had a roommate from Taiwan who showed me how to make this - it's apparently a cheap quick favorite over there.)
• Various Chinese and other international vegetables that are not readily available fresh, like bamboo shoots.

Other than that, I'd stick with frozen if you can't/won't get fresh.

But to go beyond the scope of the question a little, maybe you need to revise your shopping habits rather than giving up on fresh vegetables. I know a lot of people, like my Mom, go to the grocery store without a fixed idea of what they're going to cook, and just buy stuff based on what's on sale or looks fresh. This either results in a lot of waste, or in cooking the same 4 or 5 dishes over and over. Ugh.

I take the opposite approach: I choose the dishes I want to cook for the week and make a shopping list based on that. And that's all I buy for the week. Yes, I miss out on a lot of special sales, but the reduced waste makes up for it, I think. I plan menus based on seasonal vegetables, which doesn't take as much thinking as it sounds, and if I see some short-season delicacy in the market one week - like asparagus or sweet corn - I make note to cook it next week. It will still be there.

Try planning your meals for the week before you go shopping and see if that helps you buy enough vegetables without overdoing it.
posted by Quietgal at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2008

Seconding quietgal's suggestion. If it's perishable, buy it *only* if you are going to cook it that night, and you know exactly what you're going to make. I've thrown more stuff away than I care to admit because I thought in the store, that looks good, but then it sat untouched until it grew mold or turned black.

Then again, it's a valuable skill to be able to improvise a meal with what's in the pantry. Soup. Stir fries. If you've got eggs, there's frittata. Or an omelette.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:16 AM on October 5, 2008

« Older Help me figure out an escape plan.   |   Is Bi-Monthly Really Better? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.