Dear Frugal Upstate,
Good morning! I need some advice. I have several bell peppers that are close to going bad, but I won’t be home to cook dinner tonight or tomorrow. Is there a way to preserve them?
What a good question. I really find it frustrating when food spoils and has to be thrown out (or composted) simply because I don’t use it up soon enough! I’ve got a few great ways for you to save that last bit of pepper–and it works just as well for onions and celery as well.
1) Freeze it!
Pepper, onion and celery are all vegetables that can be frozen without blanching–which makes them super simple. You simply cut them up (I like mine diced), spread them on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper, and stick them in the freezer. After an hour or two, pull them out and transfer them into a freezer storage container (freezer bag, plastic container or even a washed out soda bottle) and then pop them right back into the freezer. That’s it! Just don’t forget you have them in there and use them up before they get freezer burn–I’d recommend 8 months or less in the deep freeze, more like 4 in your refrigerator’s freezer.
A couple of notes on this technique. The first step of freezing the items on a cookie sheet is referred to as “flash freezing”. You are doing this to keep everything from freezing into a solid clump. When items are individually flash frozen they stay separate–and that means you can just take a few out at a time to use in cooking.
I mentioned that pepper, onion and celery don’t have to be blanched. Blanching is a technique where you very briefly cook an item–just long stop the enzymes inside of the food from being able to change the texture and color of the food when you freeze it, but not long enough to actually cook the item. Then you plunge the item into ice cold water to stop the cooking action, drain and freeze. For something like green beans blanching would involve boiling water, cooking the beans in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then draining them and plunging them into ice water. Finally you’d drain them and then freeze them. So being able to skip the blanching step is a huge time saver!
2) Dehydrate it!
Personally my first choice would be to dehydrate the pepper , but I realize that most people don’t have a large dehydrator permanently set up in their kitchen. . . so I listed freezing first. I like dehydrating vegetables because they are so easy to store. Dehydrated vegetables are light weight, take up so much less room and are shelf stable. Many of the foods you would use dehydrated pepper, onion and celery in would be very good to rehydrate vegetables–think soups and stews where you can toss them right in and not even worry about rehydrating them first! Otherwise you need to make sure you start rehydrating the veggies about 1 hour before you cook in some warm water to get the best results.
3) Cook it!
If you can’t use the fresh vegetable up in the next day or two, but will be able to use it up within the week, just cook it! Cooking vegetables stops the enzymatic reactions and will give you a few more days protection against spoilage. So sautee or steam that green pepper up and put it back in the fridge–just makes sure you use it up soon.