While overripe fruits and vegetables may not be ideal for many dishes, that doesn’t mean they’re unusable. Instead of tossing them in the trash, there are lots of creative ways to use overripe fruits and vegetables.
If you don’t want to contribute to the 38 million tons of food thats wasted each year in the U.S. alone, start by using up what you’ve got.
Having an abundance of fresh produce on hand means you may not get to enjoy them all in a timely manner. If your fruits and vegetables are starting to lose their appeal, consider using them in any of the following ways:
This photo and at top: Hannah Kaminsky
To use up mushy tomatoes, simply chop them and use them to make a pasta sauce. You can either eat it right away or keep it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. You can freeze the sauce for up to 6 months. You can also use tomatoes to make a fresher-tasting ketchup or as a base for a homemade bbq sauce.
Citrus fruits last a long time (anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks), but if you’re pushing that 2-week mark, you can still make use of every part. You can grate the zest off the outside (the parts that aren’t brown) and freeze in a resealable bag for a later use. Citrus zest makes homemade baked goods taste amazing!
Next, you can squeeze the juice out of the fruit. In the fridge, that juice will last at least a few more days. If you know you won’t use it before then, freeze the juice in an ice cube tray. You’ll have portions of citrus to add that zing to soups, sauces, or your famous iced tea.
You’ll know this fruit is tired once some of the individual grapes on the stalk start to go soft. When this happens, wash and dry them, take them off the stem, and freeze them. Frozen grapes make for the perfect healthy snack. You can even put them in sangria or other cocktails to cool down your drink, without the watering down effect of ice cubes.
For berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, freeze on a tray and then transfer them to a resealable plastic bag. Once frozen, you can use tired berries in smoothies, to make a quick jam, or you can thaw and serve on ice cream or any kind of cake.
Overripe strawberries can be glazed in agave for a sweet and tasty topping to cake, brownies, and ice cream. They can also be mashed and blended with vegan butter or nondairy cream cheese to make a sweet and savory spread. To make an adult version of strawberry sorbet, freeze strawberries, agave, vodka, and lemon. You can also combine strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette and extra virgin olive oil for a mildly sweet salad dressing.
Apples have a very long shelf life, so it’s often hard to know when they’re almost to the end. When they start to get mealy, tired apples make the best applesauce. You can find lots of simple recipes by doing a search online.
Photo: Hannah Kaminsky
We all know brown, mushy bananas are the best when making banana bread, muffins, or pancakes. But when you’re not in the mood for banana bread, you can peel and mash them, then transfer the mixture to a freezer bag and freeze it.
Use frozen bananas for smoothies, daiquiris, or even homemade organic baby food. You can also freeze and blend to make a nice creamy batch of banana ice cream. Overripe bananas can also be used as an egg substitute for baked goods.
Peppers, Cucumbers, Carrots, and Radishes
These tough veggies last awhile in the fridge. Once they start to go tired, its pickling time! Trim them, taking off any brown spots, and slice them, not too thick. In a small saucepan, heat up 1 cup of vinegar (preferably white or ACV), one-third cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons salt. Add garlic, spices, and even red pepper flakes to the liquid when you’re simmering for an extra dose of flavor.
Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool slightly and place the sliced vegetables in a container. Cover the veggies with the warm liquid. If there’s not enough to cover, add a little water. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours — though the longer you let them stand, they’ll develop better flavor.
You can use these pickled vegetables in salads, sandwiches, or even by themselves as a good-for-you snack. They’re a perfect companion to veggie burgers. You can store them in liquid in the fridge for two weeks.
If you’d like a specific recipes, see our Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickles, which you can use with many types of vegetables.
Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
To know when it’s almost time to toss this vegetable away, squeeze it. If the skin starts to give, then it’s a tired vegetable. You can slice them up, toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, and either grill or roast until they’re golden brown and just tender.
You’ll only need to grill them for about 3 to 4 minutes, whereas if you were to roast them, it would take about 15 minutes. Use in pasta salads, rice bowls, or add to a veggie stir-fry once all the other vegetables are done.
Another great way to use up zucchini and summer squash when they’re nearing the end is to spiralize them if you have a spiral slicer. Make a raw salad with them, or blanch them briefly and use in place of pasta.
Herbs are past their prime once they get that sad, floppy look. Once they reach that stage, you can puree them with oil and freeze for up to 6 months. Use an ice cube tray for perfect individual portions; wrap the whole tray tightly with plastic wrap before placing in the freezer. Thaw an individual cube or two a hint of fresh herbs in sauces, dressings, and even marinades.
Or, if you want to use your tired herbs all at once, make pesto! There are few preparations that make such good use of a large quantity of herbs, and few things that make pasta taste better.
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Larrisa Pope is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in International Business and Public Relations. She is passionate about food and loves to expand her horizons on ingredients and techniques.