Salad Greens — How to make them last

Salad greens are such a delight — versatile, delicious, and nutritious. As long as they’re fresh, that is. The moment those green leaves start to wilt and discolor and get wet and slimy (that smell — ugh!), they instantly plummet to the bottom of my favored foods list. Problem is, sometimes this seems to happen quickly. And I don’t know about you, but once I smell one rotten leaf, I’m on high alert and close to discarding the entire batch of greenery.

Some tips for keeping your salad greens fresh:

When shopping

• Keep in mind that some greens are heartier than others. Kale, Swiss chard, endive, radicchio, watercress, and spinach will last longer than butter lettuces, for example. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t buy that lovely Boston Bibb! Just keep in mind that you may want to use it quickly.

green lettuce head tops

• Take a minute to check the purchase-by dates on packaged greens and choose the latest. (And still look them over to make sure they’re the greatest.)

• Always check to make sure that greens have no wilted leaves or discoloration.

• Remember that whole heads of lettuce will keep longer than bagged salad greens. You can even continue to use the inner leaves if you have to discard some bad outer leaves. 

• If you’re buying greens in a clamshell package (those clear, solid plastic containers), check to see that there’s no condensation inside the package.

Once at home

There are dozens of suggestions for keeping greens, many of them contradictory. Here’s the system I’ve tried with success. It’s based on the (tweaked) conclusions of cooks who have conducted experiments with different methods. 

Best storage method:

  1. When you get your salad greens in from the garden or home from the grocers or farmers’ market, wash them. (If they’re labeled pre-washed, you can skip this step, although I usually wash them myself anyway.) One easy way to wash greens is to swish them in a bowl of cold water. Don’t wash them in your sink unless you’re sure it’s spotless; most sinks definitely are not!
  2. Dry the leaves well (whether or not you’ve washed them yourself). Use a clean dishcloth, a paper towel, or a salad spinner.
  3. Place a clean dishcloth or a paper towel in the bottom of a bowl or container. The towel will absorb any liquid that condenses in the container, keeping the leaves from becoming soggy.
  4. Place the greens on top of the towel. Don’t pack them in tightly. Keep things loose!
  5. Put another towel on top of the leaves, then cover the bowl or container with a lid. (I use a dish or bowl cover over my bowl.)
  6. Place the bowl or container in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. 
  7. For maximum freshness, replace the towels every day or so (or whenever they seem wet/yucky).

Other storage options:

a person holding a bouquet of salad greens in front of their face

• If you buy your greens in a clamshell container, you can rinse and dry the container and use it to store your cleaned and dried greens. Simply add a clean towel or paper towel to the bottom and top of the container (as explained above) when you put the clean, dry greens back in.

• Wash your greens, then dry them with a salad spinner. Place the entire spinner (with greens) in your refrigerator. If you don’t have a salad spinner, you can place your clean, dry greens in a colander in the refrigerator. I’ve found this method — which takes quite a bit of fridge space — works best for greens you plan to use up in a day or so.

• To store whole heads of lettuce, wrap in a clean dish towel or paper towel, then place in a container or bag, seal, and put in the crisper.

Whatever option you choose, always store greens at or below 40 degrees F., according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Plan to use them up within a week, though with the methods above, they may last even longer!

What’s your favorite way to store salad greens? What’s your favorite way to eat them? I especially like mine tossed with other garden-fresh and grilled veggies, grilled tempeh, and a generous helping of homemade dressing. (I first wrote “drizzle of dressing,” which sounds perfect but just isn’t true.)

You might also like: How to store cheese, Better berries longer, and Spud storage.

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