Asparagus Look for smooth, dark-green spears and closed, dense tips. Asparagus is perishable, so use within a day or two of purchase. Store in the fridge, with the cut ends of the spears submerged in a pitcher of water.
Bell peppers Red peppers are riper, sweeter versions of the green, and both contain a number of disease-fighting chemicals. Look for smooth, heavy peppers, and don't be afraid to shake one. If you hear seeds rattling, the pepper is past its prime. Once cored and seeded, peppers can be stuffed and baked, roasted or pureed to use as a spread. Those past their prime can be diced, sautéed in oil and added to a casserole.
Broccoli Look for bright, compact heads; avoid those that look bruised. The bud clusters should be dark green or green with a purplish cast. The buds should not be open, which is a sign of overmaturity. Microwaving broccoli retains more nutrients than boiling. Leftover broccoli is delicious in a salad topped with an Asian dressing of peanut oil, rice vinegar or fruit juice, and a dash of dark sesame oil.
Cabbage Choose cabbage with a dense, heavy head and with red or green leaves. Cabbage will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. If you make coleslaw, vary the ingredients by tossing in some chopped almonds, diced apples, shredded carrots and pineapple chunks. Besides traditional slaw dressings, cabbage also pairs nicely with a blue cheese dressing.
Carrots Look for firm carrots with a rich orange color; avoid those with soft or flabby roots. Store carrots in the veggie bin, where they'll last for a few weeks. Slightly limp carrots are fine for soup or stew.
Cauliflower Look for compact curds and don't worry about green leafy bits throughout the bunch. Avoid heads that are discolored or blemished. If the cauliflower still has its green outside leaves, you can bet it's fresh. Store cauliflower in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper, where it will last for up to a week. Puree leftover cauliflower and serve as you would mashed potatoes.
Corn Look for corn with green, moist-looking husks; avoid brownish husks. When you peel back the husks, the kernels should be plump. If you apply slight pressure to a kernel with your fingernail, juice should squirt out; this is a sign of freshness. Corn on the cob should be used soon after buying. Leftovers can be stirred into casseroles and used in Southwestern-style dishes like quesadillas.
Cucumbers Select hard cucumbers; avoid those that appear yellowish. Cucumber skin has a natural sheen to it. Cucumbers will last for a week in the fridge and are excellent cut into thin strips and tossed with rice vinegar, sugar and toasted sesame seeds.
Mushrooms Before buying mushrooms, look at the underside to make sure the gills (the row of paper-thin tissue located under the caps) aren't open, a sign that the mushrooms are past their prime. Chose those whose gills are lighter in color. Remember, raw mushrooms don't freeze well, so cook them first.
Potatoes Store potatoes in a cool, dry place. If you use a plastic bag, poke holes in it so air can circulate. Baking potatoes are good baked or mashed. Red-skinned potatoes make great hash browns. Use leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes. Mix with an egg, milk and chopped garlic. Panfry in olive oil until golden-brown on both sides.
Spinach Fresh spinach has healthy-looking, dark-green leaves; avoid those that are wilted and discolored. Get rid of sandy residue by soaking then gently rinsing in cold water. If you're making a salad, wash only the amount of spinach you plan to use. Spinach that has wilted in the veggie crisper is best served sautéed.