Good Intentions. I’m full of them! There are so many tips, tricks and recipes that I’ve been meaning to share with you. So many photos that have been sitting patiently on my hard drive, waiting to be paired with recipes, with stories, or at the very least a few words of explanation. So many recipes that have been written, tested, and tasted that are just waiting for that perfect photo.
I never write what I plan on writing when I plan on writing it. It just doesn’t work that way. I don’t work that way. I can tell myself that I want to share my mom’s Potato Leek Soup recipe, I can take photos of it, I can even begin to write about it. But it just won’t be posted until it’s ready to be posted! I really can’t even explain how my process works. Some days I just feel like writing about certain things.
But when I have ideas, I try to at least put them down on paper (you should see the piles of notepads that are scattered throughout my house!) so that someday, when I’m good and ready, I’ll get around to it.
Well, back in June, I decided that I had to talk to you about lettuce. There are a few things that I think everyone needs to know about how to wash, dry, and store lettuce. I thought it was so important that I actually took a series of photos so that I could show you exactly what to do with your lettuce. But, instead of sharing my tips about lettuce, I ended up writing about the lime and mint salad dressing I made that same day. And then I just sort of moved on and the lettuce photos have been sitting and waiting ever since.
So now it’s October and the food blogs are soon to be filled to the brim with pumpkin cheesecakes and apple pies but here in Sicily, summer is still hanging on. And today, finally, I’m going to talk about lettuce. So you can file this away until next summer or you can keep eating salads all year long. Either way, I hope it’s helpful!
The Problem: Not Enough Salads Eaten at Home
How often do you eat green salads at home? Is it a rare occasion? Do you buy lettuce at the store with the intention of making salads, forget about it, and then find a wilted mess in your veggie bin a week later? Do you try to solve the problem by buying the expensive pre-washed, bagged lettuce? Are you disappointed with the quality of that lettuce?
Ok, that’s a lot of questions. But I know that many people like to eat green salads with dinner but don’t. There could be many reasons for this but it’s usually related to time (or the lack of it). “Who has the time to wash and dry lettuce,” you might say, “and why bother? It wilts before I have chance to use it anyway!” You might have solved the problem by buying the pre-washed stuff and realized that not only is it expensive but the quality isn’t always that great. So, increasingly, it seems that dinner salads are more of something to be enjoyed at restaurants.
Not at my house!
Washing and drying lettuce doesn’t have to be that difficult and if you do it correctly, it can stay fresh and ready to be used for up to two weeks! That means that if you’re willing to give up maybe 20 minutes, once a week or every two weeks, you can have a ready supply of crisp, fresh lettuce that is ready to throw in a bowl at a moment’s notice.
The Secret Weapon Against Wet Lettuce
I have a lot of kitchen gadgets, some get used, some just take up space. Most are convenient but not essential. But the one thing in my kitchen that I really don’t want to live without is my salad spinner. A salad spinner is simply a contraption that dries your lettuce for you. But I really don’t think there is a quicker, more effective way to dry lettuce. And if you want to make a salad, there’s nothing worse than wet lettuce, except maybe wilted lettuce but we’ll get to that part soon!
I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t own a salad spinner and you enjoy eating salads, you need to buy one. That’s it. I don’t say things like this very often but I feel like it’s worth the money. There are different brands and different types, I don’t care which one you get. Watch out though because some of them are designed so that the water drains out the bottom and can only be used inside the sink. I prefer one that can be used wherever I want to use it.
I’ve had the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner for about six years now and it’s been wonderful. Don’t spend an exorbitant amount of money on a salad spinner, it doesn’t need to be stainless steel like the $50 version I just saw on Amazon. You should spend about 20 bucks for a quality salad spinner that will last.
So, after you go out and pick up the greatest kitchen gadget ever invented, you will need only two more things to keep your lettuce fresh and extend it’s life longer than you could ever imagine: gallon-size plastic bags (preferably zippered) and paper towels. That’s it!
How to Wash, Dry, and Store Lettuce
So this is how I wash, dry and store my lettuce so that it is fresh and ready for salad whenever I need it! I use this method for all types of lettuce (except iceberg, see the end of this post for information about cleaning and storing iceberg lettuce) and it also works for other types of greens and hearty herbs such as parsley.
1. Fill a sink with cold water, separate all the leaves of lettuce, place them in the water and swirl them around. If the lettuce is a bit limp, let it soak in the water for 30 minutes and it will miraculously come back to life.
2. Drain the water, turn on the faucet, and briefly rinse each piece of lettuce as you remove it from sink and place in the basket of your salad spinner. If you use organic lettuce, just give each piece a quick once-over to check for clinging bugs and dirt. As you put the lettuce in the spinner, you can tear the leaves in half if they are large (such as full-size romaine).
3. When the spinner is full but not tightly packed, spin the lettuce until dry.
4. Spread two paper towels (still connected) on the counter and pile the dry lettuce in the middle. Wrap the paper towels around the lettuce and slide into a gallon-size zippered plastic bag. Squeeze the air out and close the bag.
5. The lettuce can now be stored in the fridge and should stay fresh for at least a couple of weeks. You can take out what you need whenever you want to make a salad or sandwich and then just reseal the bag. The plastic bags can also be reused!
A Word about Iceberg Lettuce
Notice I said that the above method works for all types of lettuce besides iceberg? That’s because I don’t separate and wash the leaves of my iceberg lettuce. They are so tightly wrapped that the dirt doesn’t have a chance to get all the way inside.
For iceberg lettuce, remove and discard the outside layer of leaves, rinse the whole head of lettuce well under running water, shake it dry (water can work it’s way inside when you rinse it) and wipe excess water off with a towel. Wrap the entire head in a paper towel, place in a plastic bag, and store in the fridge. Pull off leaves or cut off chunks of lettuce as you need them, rewrap remaining lettuce in paper towel and return to plastic bag. Iceberg will keep fresh for a very long time if you store it correctly!
Make Some Salad!
Now that you have this nifty new way of storing lettuce, what should you do with it? Make salads, of course! I usually buy two or three types of lettuce at once to add a little variety to my salads. If you wash and dry the lettuce as soon as you get home from the store, you’ll find that it’s simple to throw together a side salad to go with dinner anytime you want.
Salads don’t have to be fancy to be good. Just by using a couple different varieties of lettuce (even just a mixture of green leaf and iceberg), you’ve already got a good start towards an interesting salad. My standard dinner salad is lettuce, shredded carrot and cucumber. How hard is that? From there I might add a little red cabbage, corn, chopped apple, raisins, and/or sunflower seeds. Sometimes I throw in some cherry tomatoes. It just depends. Once you have the lettuce ready to go, the hard part is over. Have fun and be creative!
Here are some ideas for green salad additions:
- shredded cabbage (I love adding a touch of red cabbage for color!)
- carrots (chopped or shredded)
- cherry tomatoes
- red onion
- fresh broccoli or cauliflower
- corn (defrosted frozen kernels or drained, rinsed canned corn)
- fresh herbs
- chopped apple
- orange pieces
- chopped dried apricot
- drained and rinsed canned beans (black beans, garbanzos, kidney beans)
- sunflower seeds
- pine nuts
- sliced almonds
- crumbled blue cheese
- crumbled feta
- goat cheese
- shredded sharp cheddar
- crumbled bacon
- chopped ham
- shredded or chopped cooked chicken or turkey
These are just a few of the many, many possibilities. It only takes a few ingredients to make a great salad but you can add as many as you want. The only rule I try to stick to is the more color, the better!
Dress for Success
Just like the salad, dressings can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. Sometimes all a salad needs is a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper.
If your salads of the past have been little more than a vehicle to get more ranch dressing in your mouth, try putting together a salad that has flavors of it’s own and you’ll be less likely to want to drown it. Ranch dressing is great, but save it for a once-in-a-while treat (try making it from scratch when you do eat it). There are plenty of tasty and healthy options!
Experiment with different vinegars and use good olive oil, soon you won’t miss the bottled stuff from the store. But if you do have a particular bottled brand you like (I love Girard’s Champagne dressing), by all means use that!
Just eat more salad!
- Cilantro Caesar Salad
- Orange Cranberry Salad with Walnuts and Blue Cheese
- Lime and Mint Dressing
- Creamy Feta Dressing
Around the Web:
- How to Make Salad Dressing –from A Veggie Venture
- Restaurant Quality Salad at Home –from Kalyn’s Kitchen
- Peanut Sesame Dressing –from 101 Cookbooks
- My Father’s Vinaigrette –from Chocolate and Zucchini
- The Infinite Vinaigrette –from CookThink
- Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing –from TastingMenu
- Guacamole Goddess Dressing –from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
- On Loving Lettuce –from Farmgirl Fare