As regular readers of my blog know, I recommend including a tossed green salad with every main meal as an easy and sure way to help guarantee that you are getting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables and the vitamins and minerals necessary for health.
I learned about incorporating salads into menus from my Mom, who was truly ahead of her time in promoting nutritious eating for her family.
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Many people don’t eat salad because they find the prep very tedious. But it really doesn’t have to be. I think the method I use here is pretty simple and quick. It can be used for salad greens, or any kind of greens you might use in your recipes, such as Swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, kale, etc.
Here’s how to make sure your greens are always free of any garden residue:
Money Saving Hint - I recommend buying salad greens in whole heads, rather than the plastic containers of leaves. The price of head lettuce, such as romaine, or red or green lettuce, or escarole is often 3-5X LESS than the packaged, loose leaf lettuce, so you get much more for your money.
The other option is to grow your own. Greens are actually very easy to grow, even in small places. It's a very satisfying vegetable to start with in a beginner's garden.
Time Saving Hint: For salad, I recommend washing the greens before you start to cook the meal so that they can drain while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
The washing procedure is essentially the same for any kind of green, whether it will be used in a salad or in the recipe you are making.
For tossed salad, calculate 1 large leaf per person of head lettuce, such as romaine, green, and/or red lettuce, or 2 smaller leaves, or a large handful of loose leaf greens, such as spinach, per serving.
- Remove the leaves from the head or the bag, or remove the tie or rubber band from the bunch, and inspect them for any brown or damaged parts. Remove any of these parts by hand by tearing them gently off.
- If you are preparing mature greens such as collard greens or kale, you might want to remove the leaves from the stems by running your hand firmly along the stem. Discard the stems. But I also often cook them with the stems. It depends on their condition and how coarse/tough they might be. For baby greens, definitely skip this step.
- Then cut or tear by hand the rest of the leaves into pieces about 1-inch in size.
- Place the greens in a large bowl.
- Fill the bowl with enough water so that the greens float.
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- Swish the greens gently around for a few seconds to loosen any loose dirt or sand.
- Allow the leaves to sit for several seconds so that any sediment can settle.
- Scoop the leaves carefully out of the bowl with your hands and put them in a colander to drain.
- Empty the water from the bowl and rinse it.
- Transfer the salad greens from the colander back into the bowl.
- Often, a second or even third washing is necessary for garden fresh salad greens that might have a lot of soil clinging to them. In that case, refill the bowl and repeat the washing 1-2X, as needed, emptying and rinsing the bowl each time.
- Scoop the greens into the colander and give it several good shakes to remove excess water from the leaves.
- Leave the greens to drain in the colander while you move on to the rest of the meal.
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About 10 minutes before you are ready to serve the meal, give the washed greens in the colander several more good shakes to remove any remaining water. The greens do not have to be absolutely dry, but you do not want so much moisture that it will dilute the salad dressing.
Scoop the washed salad greens into a dry salad bowl.
Cut up ½-2 cups of other ingredients, such as carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, red cabbage, etc., and add them to the greens to give the salad extra color and texture (and vitamin content). Try cutting up a small amount of fresh fruit, such as pears, grapes, tangerines, apples, etc., for a touch of sweetness and extra flavor in the salad.
With these strategies, you can help ensure that you and your family get the suggested 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
I recommend always measuring the dressing to avoid waste and a puddle of unused dressing at the bottom of the salad bowl. For example, for a single serving salad, or one for two people, 1 tablespoon of dressing is enough. For a larger salad for 3-6 people, 1-2 tablespoons are fine.
Alternatively, you can measure oil and vinegar directly onto the greens in a ratio of 1:1 oil to vinegar, or in a ratio to your taste. You’ll figure that out with a little trial and error.
For 1-2 servings of salad, 2 teaspoons of oil and 2 teaspoons of vinegar make enough dressing. For larger salads or groups, use a tablespoon to measure the same proportion of oil to vinegar (1 tablespoon of oil to 1 tablespoon of vinegar, for example).
Once you have measured the oil and vinegar over the greens, sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them and toss everything thoroughly to mix the dressing well. This step is important. Thorough mixing of the dressing allows you to get by with less.
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In any case, the key is to make sure the greens are very well drained and as dry as possible before storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Wet greens simply do not store and keep very well. Some people put a folded paper towel in the bottom of the bag to help keep the lettuce dry.
If you use this method of advance greens prep, then when you need the greens, simply scoop out a couple of handfuls of greens from the bag and put them directly into your salad bowl. Finish the salad by adding any additional cut up vegetables that you would like and dressing it, as described above.