Lettuce & Greens: Selection and Care 🥬
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One of the great inventions for home chefs in the past few decades has been the bag of prewashed lettuce. It’s convenient, well packaged, easy to grab and go - and doesn’t need washing.
With that said, there are some downsides to using bagged lettuce as the base of your salad. For one, the greens are typically stale by the time they arrive in your fridge. They were picked, processed, and usually placed on the shelves quite a while ago. This makes the leaves wilt & lose flavor. Unfortunately, no amount of dressing can rescue wilted, flavorless greens. Furthermore, since salads are served raw, you can’t use heat to develop the flavor. This means the taste and texture of the ingredients matter more.
With lettuce, you want to introduce sweet, spicy, or bitter flavors. You also want a little crunch for textural variety. To get this, you typically need to invest a tiny bit of work into your greens. While it is more complicated than ripping open a bag of lettuce, it pays off. Once you get used to the rhythm of prepping greens, you will likely rarely go back.
📝 Notes, Tips & Tricks:
If you have access to a farmer’s market, the greens there will be freshest and most in season (picked right at peak vs. earlier to account for shipping time)
The most common type of lettuce is “basic” or “all-purpose.” They are mild in flavor and a bit crisp (e.g., romaine, iceberg, baby arugula)
Softer lettuces: baby spinach, bibb, little gem, spring mix & delicate herbs (e.g., basil, mint, cilantro)
Crispier lettuces: cabbage, chard, kale, spinach
Peppery: arugula, endive, frisée, radicchio
When selecting, look for tightly formed heads, unblemished, crisp leaves, lack of brown or yellow spots or bruising
If the head is droopy, skip
A few brown spots aren’t going to make or break the salad - you can always cut them out
Washing & Drying:
Lettuce grows close to the soil so often has sand, dirt, & grit between the leaves. The goal of washing is to remove that debris so you don’t eat it. Biting down & feeling sand between your teeth is quite unpleasant.
Wash your greens as soon as you get home so they can revive & rehydrate while soaking in the cold water. Alternatively, just do this when you have a few extra minutes in the kitchen.
If you don’t have time to clean them right away, revive the greens before washing (e.g., soak them in some cold water).
To wash, fill a large bowl with cold water and submerge the leaves, swishing them around. Let the dirt settle to the bottom, gently lift the greens, and dump the water. Repeat until no sand is coming out.
Try not to direct concentrated spray from the water nozzle onto the leaves as it can bruise them.
For a more thorough wash, chop or tear the leaves before washing.
To dry quickly, use a salad spinner & work in batches to avoid crushing/bruising the leaves.
If you don’t have a spinner, gently blot the leaves with a clean kitchen towel or lay them flat to dry. You can also use the pillow-case method.
Wash & dry lettuce in advance of cooking for relaxed salad prep (1-2 hrs allows time to dry)
Store washed leaves in a damp towel (a paper towel works too) and place them inside a plastic bag (a clean produce bag from the grocery store works well). We love reusable silicone bags like these.
Plastic bags trap moisture & gasses that speed up the decay process. Ensure salad can breathe (e.g, don’t seal shut).
Store greens with a slightly damp towel, and ideally inside the “crisper drawer.” Salad greens wilt at room temperature, so keep them in the fridge where it’s cool and moist. The moisture helps keep the greens crisp & fluffy.
Washed & dried lettuce can stay in the fridge for ~ 3 -7 days, making it ideal for prepping ahead. You can trim away oxidized ends or conceal them with a creamier dressing.
Store greens and lettuces separately from toppings and dressings to ensure nothing gets soggy.
Don’t slice crunchy vegetables (e.g., radish, fennel, carrots) in advance as they will lose moisture and go limp. If you must, store (or revive) them in some cold water.
Regularly check greens for yellowing, slimy bits, or mold. Cut out those areas and use the produce right away.
Rescuing Wilted Greens:
Many greens wilt quickly. But this does not mean they are past their prime! Sometimes they are just a bit dried out & can be resuscitated in a few quick minutes.
For items with a stem or root (e.g., broccoli, kale), simply slice off the end and prop them up in a bowl or jar of water for about an hour.
For items without a root intact (e.g., celery, carrots), cut the items up and submerge in a bowl or dish of water. They can be stored this way for a few days to maintain crispness.
For fast lettuce revival, add ice to the water. If after an hour it isn’t reviving it might be time to toss it.
Bagged lettuce: cannot be resuscitated. If it smells funky or is yellow/brown, toss it.
🎓 Further Study:
Local Food Near You (Farmer’s Market Directory)
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