What You Need
• Artichokes: Choose globes that have tight leaves and feel heavy for their size. The leaves should squeak when pressed against each other.
• Asparagus: Choose firm, smooth, and brightly-colored stalks with compact tips. Avoid limp stalks. Choose stalks of equal thickness to ensure even cooking times.
• Avocados: Choose avocados that feel slightly soft to the touch. Firmer avocados may be ripened at home, but avoid rock-hard ones. Also avoid avocados with cracks or dents.
• Beets: Choose firm beets with fresh stems and slender taproots. Avoid beets with wilted leaves, scaly tops, or large, hairy taproots as they may be older and more woody.
• Bok Choy: For mature bok choy, look for dark green leaves and bright white stalks. Baby bok choy should be light green in color.
• Broccoli: Choose broccoli with firm stalks, tight florets, and crisp green leaves. Avoid yellowed or flowering florets.
• Brussels Sprouts: Choose firm, compact, bright green heads. Avoid sprouts with wilted or loose outer leaves.
• Cabbages: Choose firm, compact heads that feel heavy for their size. Check that the stems are also fresh and compact.
• Carrots: Choose firm, smooth carrots without rootlets.
• Cauliflower: Choose heads with tightly packed, creamy white florets. Avoid yellowed, spotted, or flowering florets.
• Celery: Choose firm, unblemished stalks. The stalks and leaves should be green, not yellow.
• Celery Root: Choose firm, hard roots that feel heavy for their size. Any attached leaves should be fresh and green.
• Corn: Choose corn with bright green husks and moist but not slimy silk. Peel back the husk to ensure the kernels are plump and not dry.
• Cucumbers: Choose cucumbers that are uniformly green (not yellow).
• Eggplants: Choose eggplants that have smooth, naturally shiny skin and feel heavy for their size. When gently pressed, flesh that gives slightly and then bounces back indicates ripeness. Unripe flesh will not give, while overripe flesh will remain indented. Also, smaller eggplants tend to have fewer seeds and be less bitter.
• Fennel: Choose fennel with white, firm, unblemished bulbs as well as firm stems and fresh leaves.
• Garlic: Choose firm, plump heads. Avoid heads with soft spots or green sprouts.
• Green Beans: Choose slender beans that snap rather than bend. Avoid bulging or dried pods.
• Jerusalem Artichokes: Choose smooth, firm tubers. Avoid those with green spots or sprouts.
• Kale: Choose crisp, deeply-colored leaves. Avoid yellowed leaves. Smaller leaves tend to be more tender.
• Leeks: Choose firm leeks with tightly-rolled tops. Slender leeks tend to be younger and more tender, while larger ones with rounded bulbs tend to be older and more woody.
• Lettuce, Spinach, and Other Leafy Greens: Choose greens with fresh, crisp leaves. Avoid any that are wilted or slimy.
• Onions and Shallots: Choose dry, firm bulbs that feel heavy for their size. Avoid any with soft spots or green sprouts.
• Parsnips: Choose firm, ivory-colored roots. Large roots may be fibrous, so choose small and medium ones for better texture and flavor.
• Peas: Choose crisp, green pods. Avoid bulging, dried, yellow, or white pods.
• Peppers: Choose firm, naturally shiny peppers that feel heavy for their size.
• Potatoes: Choose firm, smooth potatoes. Avoid those with bruises, green spots, or sprouts.
• Radishes: Choose radishes with fresh, green tops and firm, unblemished roots.
• Rhubarb: Choose firm pink or red stalks. Green stalks tend to be stringy and sour.
• Rutabagas: Choose rutabagas that feel firm and heavy for their size. Avoid any with holes or bruises.
• Scallions: Choose scallions with crisp, green tops and firm, white bulbs. Avoid wilted or browned scallions.
• Summer Squash: Choose squash with naturally shiny, taught, unblemished skin. Avoid squash that appear dull or have soft spots.
• Sweet Potatoes and Yams: Choose potatoes with firm, unwrinkled skins and no bruises or cuts, as they are highly perishable.
• Swiss Chard: Choose chard with crisp stalks and shiny, bright, unwilted leaves.
• Tomatillos: Choose green tomatillos with green husks. Avoid yellow fruits with brown husks.
• Tomatoes: Choose tomatoes that are fragrant, smell earthy at the stem end, and feel heavy for their size. Avoid tomatoes with wrinkled skins.
• Turnips: Choose turnips that feel firm and heavy for their size. Smaller turnips tend to be sweeter and more tender than larger ones, which may be woody.
• Winter Squash: Choose squash that have stems intact and feel heavy for their size. Avoid squash with cuts or soft spots.
Do you have any other tips to share?
(Images: Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Kathryn Hill, Flickr member Clara S. licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Flickr member Dey licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Faith Durand, Flickr member Esteban Cavrico licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Flickr member smcgee licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Flickr member Svadilfari licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Faith Durand, Flickr member jslander licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Faith Durand, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Flickr member Clay Irving licensed under Creative Commons, Kathryn Hill, Kathryn Hill, Flickr member bhamsandwich licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Flickr member nataliemaynor licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Kathryn Hill, Emily Ho, Flickr member Darwin Bell licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho)
(Originally published February 9, 2010.)