How to Rescue Vegetables Past Their Prime and Avoid Food Waste

For the holidays, my younger daughter and I drove to my brother Paul’s in North Bend, Washington. At the end of our visit, before we left, I went through Paul’s refrigerator and pulled out some of the produce I had bought up there since he said he wouldn’t eat it (Paul doesn’t cook much). After a two-day car ride in the trunk at freezing temperatures, the gigantic beet, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and apple looked fine. The wilted lettuce looked sad. Still green but sad.

limp lettuce
This somewhat photogenic lettuce looked worse in person

At home, I didn’t know what to do with this limp lettuce, so it stuffed it in the crisper and tried to ignore it. I had simply bought too much food for Christmas dinner (I have never claimed to be perfect…).

Writing this blog helps keep me honest though. If I tell people not to waste food (and thus water and all the other resources necessary to grow, harvest and transport that food), I better not waste it myself! So I attempted to resuscitate the lettuce. It worked! All I did was separate the leaves and soak them in a bowl of cold water for a couple of hours. (Perking it up takes less time than that but I neglected the lettuce—again—while I cooked a bunch of other stuff.)

submerged lettuce

revived lettuce
This revived lettuce made a delicious salad

It makes sense that submerging lettuce in water revives it. Lettuce consists of 96 percent H2OI’ve also used this method to breathe new life into celery, carrots and broccoli—other vegetables with high water contents. No wonder my arms feel as though they’ll fall off when I lug home my farmer’s market produce. I basically carry home several bags of water in fruit- and vegetable-shaped vessels.

This week’s (very heavy) farmer’s market haul

Other ways to rescue produce past its prime (i.e., edible but not rotting):

Cutting my waste has forced me to become more creative and resourceful (and save time and money)—just one of the many benefits of changing habits.

Yes, I did drive from California to Washington State at Christmas and yes, I realize that rescuing one head of lettuce hardly makes restitution for all that driving but I was up there anyway, so I thought I may as well take some food back with me.

I will now leave you with just one vacation pic rather torture you with the entire slide show. Paul lives in the town where Twin Peaks was shot and my daughter loves the show, so we toured a bunch of film sites. Snoqualmie Falls appears in the opening credits and in practically every episode.

14 Replies to “How to Rescue Vegetables Past Their Prime and Avoid Food Waste”

  1. I recently discovered a recipe using lettuce in a dish with white beans. It’s a lovely dish and another good way to use up wilting greens.

    1. That sounds tasty Becky. I made some vegetable soup this week with white beans and threw in some kale. So good.

  2. I bought a bag of lettuce on 2 Jan and it’s still doing well. As it came in a plastic bag I’ve kept it in there with a sheet of paper towel and it still seems crisp. Just find it hard to eat salad when the weather’s so cold…

  3. After the third year of participating in a CSA, finally realized that most greens can be revived even if I leave them in the fridge for better part of the week (we have a very good fridge). When I’m organized, tho, I do try to prep them as soon as I can–that day, if possible. I trim the bottoms of big leafy types like kale or collards and put them in glasses of water. (This also keeps them in sight every time I open the door!) If I’m really really organized, I wash & spin them and leave for next day’s meal. If water doesn’t revive them, btw, they can be composted. So nothing wasted!!! Thx for your leadership on this issue, Oh Zero One!

  4. When veg starts looking a bit tired or droopy we make an ’emergency curry’, stew, pasta dish, or anything where you can throw in lots of different veg. No dish is the same as we use what is in the fridge/cupboard and what needs rescuing first. 🙂

    1. Those all sound delicious Minna. I think this is how people used to cook. You would look at what you have on hand and throw something together. Tonight I’m making rescue soup but I also often make clear-out-the-fridge frittata. I have an egg subscription (one dozen per week) and need to use all those eggs up somehow.

  5. That’s a very handy tip for limp greens! On a slightly different note about Christmas leftovers. I found a (plastic… sorry-I do try!) tub of creme fraiche in back of fridge yesterday. It was to smear over Christmas pud, but never got used. Being a few days out of date didn’t put me off- smelt grand. I added some water to make it more runny and poured it onto 1Ib spelt flour & a touch of bread soda. After mixing it, gave a quick knead and cut into scone shapes & baked for 30 mins. Very nice. I may try kefir milk next time 🙂

    1. Yum! Your scones sound fantastic! What a great way to avoid wasting the creme fraiche. Kefir scones sounds delicious too. Wish I had one right now… Thanks for sharing your food rescue idea 🙂

  6. Lovely tip! I often use this method to refresh the cucumbers from my mother’s garden in the summer, because once picked they start loosing H2O little by little too. I’ve made it with lettuce too but it would work with celery, carrots and broccoli too. It’s a good idea and a good lesson for my girl how to avoid food waste. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Rose 🙂 That’s great you’re teaching your daughter to avoid food waste. And thanks for checking out the post.

      1. Rose Clarkson says:

        Thank you too! I love reading from you and your recipes are so inspiring 🙂

  7. I had skimmed this post, without really paying it much mind. However, I switched to my home-made cloth bags at the market last weekend. Last night, I pulled the lettuce out of the crisper and realised it was too limp for salad. It looked ready to be thrown away. Then, I thought, wait! Zero Waste Chef has a solution! I tried it and it worked! My husband was rolling his eyes as I raved about how crisp the lettuce was. Had to share with you 🙂

    1. Wonderful! Thanks for letting me know Alisa 🙂

Leave a Reply