8 Hacks for Freshening Up Your Quarantine Meals

The best ways to keep your meals feeling fresh without going to the grocery store for produce every other day

Photo: Ben Mater via Unsplash

Most of us are limiting our trips to the grocery store these days. Although you can still technically get groceries anytime, it’s better for your health and for protecting others to be out in public as little as possible. The downside is that perishable foods like fresh vegetables and fruits are necessarily less prominent in our quarantine meals. You may have fresh produce for the few days after you do your grocery run, but after that, you’re most likely going to be relying on starches, pulses, beans, frozen meals, and canned foods. You are going to miss the bite and flavor of fresh ingredients.

Here are some ways to ways to shop, preserve, and cook to keep your meals tasting fresh during this time:

1. Turn fresh herbs into chimichurri or pesto

Herbs never last long anyway, so this is a handy trick whether in quarantine or not. Making a chimichurri or a pesto is a great way to use any quantity of herbs. To extend the life of your herbs, when they’re close to turning bad, grind/whizz them up with some oil and nuts for pesto, or with some oil and vinegar/lemon juice for a chimichurri. Because the oil will preserve them, they’ll last longer in your fridge and add amazing flavor to any meal in the coming days. Herbs are full of nutrients and this is an easy way to eat a lot of them, deliciously. These sauces will jazz up any sandwich, are delicious on avocado toast, and are so good in pasta.

2, Cabbage and carrots

If you buy them whole, these vegetables last a long time in your fridge, even up to 3 weeks. There are so many ways to cook them, but having them shredded raw into a slaw is so refreshing this season. You can add apples, too. Make a simple dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and salt — and the best thing about this slaw salad is that it gets tastier the longer it soaks in the dressing. Make a big batch and you’ll have a delicious and crisp salad for 2-3 days.

3. Blanch your spinach and freeze it soon after buying

People are discovering their freezers right now and it’s a good thing. Greens like spinach are great to freeze. The trick is to blanch the leaves before you freeze, which will help keep their texture and flavor when frozen. Dunk them in boiling water for about a minute and then immediately transfer them into ice water, this stops them cooking any further. Then dry them completely before placing them in sealable freezer bags, letting out all the excess air. When it’s time to cook them, you can add them frozen to your soup, stir fry or curry.

4. Pickle/ferment your vegetables

Photo: Laura Vincent

Pickling is a centuries-old method for preserving your fresh produce. You can pickle or ferment just about any vegetable and it will add some welcomed sharpness to your meal later on. If you choose to ferment, it will also be beneficial for your gut health, as fermentation produces probiotic bacteria that improves your digestion and helps your body absorb nutrients better. Some good choices are cucumbers, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, radishes and celery. Do this right after your grocery run so that you have your pickles in a few days when your other fresh produce runs out.

5. Buy frozen fruits and vegetables

Frozen fruit and vegetables get a bad rap but are actually sometimes healthier (and cheaper!) than buying fresh. They are frozen at their peak ripeness, which means they have a high nutritional content, and when flash-frozen, that nutritional content is maintained. A big bag of mixed frozen vegetables can be quickly stir-fried or added to soup or curry. They will have all the bite of fresh vegetables and are so easy to use. Frozen berries are also a great frozen food. They’re packed full of vitamins and can be eaten as is, frozen or defrosted, added to smoothies and even make a delicious instant “ice-cream” when blended with frozen bananas and a milk of your choice.

6. Buy unripe fruit

If you’re able to find unripe produce, then get yourself some. You can eat unripe fruit in pickles or salads, but the best part is that they will ripen in your home and you can have them at a later stage when you’ve run out of the other fresh fruit you bought. For unripe fruit like green mangoes, bananas, plantains, papaya or avocado, keep them out the fridge in a bowl and check back in a few days. You will feel them getting softer and/or changing color when they are ready to be eaten.

7. Stock up on ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, marinated peppers, kimchi, or preserved lemons.

This uses the same logic as using pickles or fermented foods, but I’ve chosen these specifically because they’re flavor powerhouses. Just using a small amount of either of these ingredients will elevate your meal, adding a fresh hit of intense sweet and sour from the sun-dried tomatoes and marinated peppers, salty and sour umami from the kimchi, or a pleasing bitterness from the preserved lemons.

8. Use your food waste/vegetable trimmings in soups/stocks or tarts

Food waste is not only a huge environmental problem but in the midst of this tough financial situation, finding economical ways to use what you might have discarded, is going to be a useful skill. Save your peels, stems, leftover roast veg or any other off-cuts in a bag in your freezer. When you’re ready, boil to make a flavorful, fresh stock or soup. You can also add them to some pastry, brushed with some oil and seasoning to make a vegetable tart, giving you a whole extra delicious and nutritious meal out of what you would have thrown away.

An Egyptian food, politics and culture writer based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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