Previous Next

Photo by kaktuslampa

Here’s how to turn those soggy, old vegetables into something delicious.

It happens to all of us. You go shopping with the best of intentions. Then a week passes. Two. Maybe even three, and you find yourself with a drawer full of old vegetables. They’re still edible, technically, but no one really wants to dig into their soft wrinkly skin.

Some ideas of what you can do with instead of throwing them away.


From kimchi to kosher dills, pickling has been preserving food for centuries. You can read about the science of pickling and compare notes with other picklers at the Exploratorium: Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception.

Pickling works best as a preemptive strike. Say you went to the market, got all excited and ended up buying more than you need. It’s simple, quick to prepare and has a long shelf life.

A Simple Pickling Recipe

Photo by biskuit

3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
¼ cup salt

Then add whichever spices appeal: dill, whole allspice, whole raw garlic, celery seeds, mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns.

Use this liquid to preserve just about anything from tomatoes , cucumbers, carrots and peppers to fruits like mango and peaches. Store in the refridgerator.

Boil It Into A Jam Or Sauce

Chutneys, preserves and sauces provide ample opportunity to hide imperfections.
Sautee garlic, onions and spices before adding your old tomatoes. Cook them until saucy. You can also throw in any other vegetables or even fruit pureed or whole for additional flavor. Jams are also easy in that you simply heat your old fruit with water and sugar and cook until thick.

Chutney, a more savory type jam, works on a similar principle as pickling except where pickling is cold, chutney is heated. Throw in fruits like mango, apples and peaches with vinegar, sugar and spices and cook.

Spicy Apple Chutney

Photo by Clara S.

4 apples, peeled and quartered
2 tbs vegetable oil
Whole mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 tsp fresh ginger
1-2 chillies of your choice, sliced. Include seeds for a spicier.
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine or apple vinegar
1 cup water

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add mustard seeds until toasted. Then add onion, and salt and cook until onions are translucent. Add garlic, chile and ginger and cook another minute. This releases the flavor of these last ingredients.

Add remaining ingredients and cook over moderate heat until everything is soft. Takes between 30-45 minutes depending. Stir occasionally to keep from burning.

Roast Them

Salvage your root vegetables – potato, yam, carrot, turnip and the like – by roasting.

Batatas Bravas

Chop whatever you have into bite sized pieces, coat generously with olive oil, salt and powdered chile pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at about 375F/200C until soft. Then turn oven to broil and let cook until everything turns crispy. Add more oil if you see the pan drying out.

These are incredibly spicy and go perfectly with beer.

Hide It All In A Soup

Again, the boiling principle comes to the rescue. Just about any vegetable can be salvaged by a pot of water, vegetable stock cubes or tomato sauce and spices.

Vegetable Soup

Photo by rusvaplauke

3 tbs olive oil
4 cups of whatever vegetables you want to add, chopped into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp rosemary
1 16oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 16oz cans of water
4 tbs dark soy sauce (also called sweet soy sauce)
4 tbs regular soy sauce

Heat oil until it runs like water in the pan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and rosemary and leave on heat for another minute. Add rest of vegetables and cook.

When the vegetables just begin to soften, add crushed tomatoes and water and cook covered for half an hour. Pour in both kinds of soy sauce and cook uncovered for another ten minutes. You may want to add additional soy sauce depending on your preference.


What are your favorite food preservation recipes, tips and tricks? Share them in comments below. Then check out Matador’s Food and Travel page where two favorite past times unite.



About The Author

Leigh Shulman

Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red

  • Shreya

    Yum, these are awesome! thanks for these.

  • Hal Amen

    Very cool. My wife likes to toss it all in the juicer. I’ve had juice of just about every color, and it’s usually delicious.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Good one, Hal. Yes. Juicing and also drying — sort of what Susanna says below.

  • Susanna

    Oooh, very good ideas! We have recently had the revelation that sometimes, old, wrinkled apples (not moldy — just oldy) taste fantastic, like their sweetness is condensed as the liquid slowly evaporates.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I have to admit, I’m squeamish in that sense. Very particularly about how I’ll eat fruit and veg raw.

      But what you’re saying is the same principle as dried fruit, right? The only thing that pops to mind now is the Ron Popeil food dryer — in which I’m told you can dry anything — but I’m sure it can be done in the oven too.

      Will have to go look that up and try it.

  • Candice

    My roomie and I will often roast our leftover veggies! We’ll coat them with a bit of oil, sprinkle with rosemary and pepper, and they taste delish.

  • Nancy

    Great tips at a perfect time: I’ve been guiltily staring at the wilted chard and kale in my fridge, wondering what to do with it.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I love both of those, and they work really well in the soup. Roasting also, but my favorite thing to do with both those greens is sautee garlic in a good amount of olive oil, throw in the chopped greens, let them cook a little.

      Then at the end, you just add salt to taste and squeeze half a lemon on top.

      Greens are always funny in that way. At least with us. For whatever reason, it just feels like more work dealing with them so they end up sitting around longer.

  • Reeti

    Fantastic, Leigh! Looks delicious and makes my mouth water :D

  • Tim Patterson

    That stew looks delicious.

  • Gabriela Garcia

    Thanks Leigh, I love this! I never realized it was so easy to pickle. And probably way healthier, too.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Yep. It’s pretty straight forward. Pickling actually works on a similar principle as making some tinctures and such in herbal medicine, except you’re using vinegar instead of alcohol.

      Pickling, canning and syrups were how people kept healthy in the pre-allopathic medicine days. It doubled as both food as medication and food preservation.

  • Gray

    Wow, I’ve always thought that pickling and canning went hand-in-hand, and it seemed like too much of a hassle to me. How long does the pickled whatever stay fresh in the fridge using your recipe above?

    • Leigh Shulman

      Most recipes I’ve seen say up to two months, but the reality is vinegar and salt are age old methods of food preservation. My guess is you can keep them for much, much longer.

      I can’t say for sure, though, because when I make them, they’re not really around for more than a few days after being ready. Especially pickles. And chutney and jams tend to be eaten the same day, often when still warm.

  • Marie

    Great suggestions, Leigh! I love finding great bargains at markets, but then hate if the stuff goes to waste.

    I was a bit overzealous with the Korean cucumber buying last week when I thought I would make Japanese pickles. Time got on and I realised that I’d never gone to buy the salt (it takes kilos) so they have now been sitting in my fridge for two days in salty vinegar. They’re pretty nice, but I’ll try your recipe in future since I, stupidly, didn’t watch the proportions of what I was throwing in this time.

  • Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson

    I have loved this ever since I found it. It I feel so guilty throwing away food and now I don’t I soak wilted veggies until they are hydrated again and am now cooking two week old tomatoes (not rotten just dried out). We have to relearn how to use everything to its fullest and conserve! Just like our ancestors before us.

    • Mn Sparrow

      Keeping cut celery in a glass of water in fridge makes it last so much longer. There is always composting too for things that are beyond salvage.

    • Faye Sleeper

      I won’t be tossing them out any more. Thanks.

Fabulous, disgusting and awe inspiring websites that will take your culinary imagination...
Neha Puntambekar escapes the traditional Indian kitchen and learns to love cooking with...
There's no better way to start the day than with cup of strong, excellent coffee and a...
The simple magic of Vermont maple syrup to a Canadian teaching in Istanbul.
Macau and Canton are especially known for their almond biscuit bakeries.
Wishing you a happy Holi day filled with flying color, bhang thandai and all the vadas...
Winter days bring thoughts of long, dreary boredom for many. Find out how professional...
No more nibbling, gnawing and navigating your way around tiny chicken bones. Suddenly,...
Sara Clarke shows you how to make your own cheese.
Changing the world's unhealthy eating habits, one burger joint at a time.
If you've tried these foods, we would love to have your input.
Find out what a phuchka is, where to find them, how to eat them like a local and how you...