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4 common leftovers - no. 3 - salad greens

"If you have any in the fridge, the time to use them is now."

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I tend to think that the problem here is as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states. Really the thing is to learn how to prevent them going off rather than what to do with them - although I will come to that of course.

The real problem is this:

"One day you have an abundance of lovely leaves and the next, fermenting bags of chlorophyll." Sherri Brooks Vinton

And all you can do with 'fermenting bags of chlorophyll' is put them in the compost - the green stuff, not the bags. Not that there is anything wrong with compost. Compost is a very good thing if you are growing anything in the garden, or in a window box, but if you have no room for a compost bin, then put them in the green recycling bin and somebody else will make them into compost. And I'm pretty sure that the green bin stuff does get recycled, although I worry a bit about the general recycling bin. But that's a topic for another time.

I have noticed an increasing amount of bagging of salad greens of all kinds. Why is this? I always think they go off so much more quickly than a whole lettuce, or indeed, loose leaves that you can get in markets, but not in the supermarket these days. I know it's a convenience thing, although to be honest I don't see it that way. Even though they say you don't have to wash them, yes you should. They have often been washed in water with lots of chlorine, or maybe other stuff, and various websites seem to think that there is a high risk of food poisoning if you don't wash them. And the amount of water that is used is huge, so really not good environmentally speaking. Not to mention the plastic bags of course. Also:

"Pre-bagged salads are packaged along with a mixture of gasses known as modified atmosphere. This keeps them looking fresh and giving a shelf life of up to a week." Food Print

Now I don't know if that happens here, but it sounds creepy to me. And in this video you can see the whole process. Interesting. Lots of water - I think I counted three washes and two drying, maybe more.

But if you have them then there is another pain. Washing them yourself. That requires foresight because if you wash them you have to dry them - more equipment, more time.

In addition to that I always feel I need to go through the leaves to check that none have gone off, and that it's not all stems and no leaves. Or that they have gone brown at the edges. I often find myself pulling bits off and throwing them away. So, on the whole I avoid buying pre-packaged salad leaves although David is constantly buying baby spinach because he likes it in his salad. Occasionally I will buy rocket for a recipe that requires it, but really I should just grow some. It's pretty easy to grow. The trick is to not let it bolt, or to keep planting more so that when it does bolt you have a new supply.

Mind you the best tip I found for these packaged salad greens is to wash them, dry them in a salad spinner and then put them back in a plastic bag or container into which you have put some paper towels which will absorb any surplus moisture.

Personally I prefer to buy a whole iceberg lettuce which I use by peeling away the leaves from the exterior, leaving the basic structure intact. This works. An iceberg lettuce will last for some time like this. And no I don't wash them, assuming that they don't get quite the same treatment as the packaged stuff, although I'm a bit worried now. I know lots of people don't like iceberg lettuce, but I confess I do.

Then there's the salad that you make with the dressing. Be aware that once you have dressed a salad, then it won't last. It will wilt. Although this lady had a novel solution:

"Mix the leftover salad in a blender with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and some garlic or herb seasonings and you have the dressing for your next salad. I have done this several times now and the results are quite amazing. You have to try it. Just make sure you keep your seasonings handy." Everyday Cheapskate

Would it work? Would the decay keep going? It's probably simpler to just make the right amount of dressed salad, and don't toss it until the very last minute.

Anyway it seems that packaged salad greens are one of the top wasted foodstuffs, which is a crime, considering how much wastage there has already been in their production.

"The impact on the environment of throwing away lettuces is 100 times greater than the pack it came in." Rachel Kelly - The Guardian

A frightening thought. So (a) don't buy them and (b) keep a very tight eye on them and use them before they go off.

So what can you do with them as well as just adding them to your salad or your sandwich?

The simplest thing perhaps is to freeze them:

"Blend your herbs with a bit of olive oil and pop them into your favorite ice cube molds. Freeze them, then pop them out of the tray and store in the freezer until you need a quick burst of flavor! Use the olive oil infused with frozen herbs to start recipes like chili, pasta sauce and more." The Chopping Block

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that they will also get forgotten in the freezer. Well I would forget them. You might have a better organised freezer than I.

Woolworths, the original instigator of this brief series of posts suggested making Leftover salad greens pesto. And similarly somebody suggested making it into a salsa - or smoothies were frequent suggestions. Or a sauce perhaps. But even this has problems according to Bon Appétit.

"Be wary of blitzing delicate greens in a food processor—the machine can turn them gummy. But chopping them coarsely with a chef's knife and combining them with shallots, herbs, chiles, oil, and a little citrus zest will turn out a pretty excellent unconventional salsa."

That's where I found the idea for the salsa.

Then there's soup. Soup can be bland. I have made it in the past and it is tricky to make it interesting. But it is possible. Here are two: Lettuce soup from Epicurious and Chilled lettuce and radish soup from Rachel Kelly which rather depends on whether you like chilled soups or not. And why is it not green?

Just keep using them in your sandwiches was one piece of advice, even toasted sandwiches. With cheese - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests combining with cheese, crème fraîche, and potatoes, and lots of other people thought that toasted sandwiches were a truly great idea. And infinitely variable of course.

Pasta is another go to favourite and again Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall proffers this example: Pasta and greens with cheese. He's not alone in thinking this is a good idea of course, and again it's a fridge raid kind of dish with which you could have an enormous amount of fun.

Ditto for the stir fry brigade. Whittingstall suggests you can even use dressed salad leaves for this one which consists of beef strips, zucchini, beans, peppers, spring onions, chillies, with flavourings of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, coriander and mint with a touch of sesame oil and lime to serve. But again it's a fridge raid thing isn't it? You could put whatever you fancied or needed to use up into it.

A slight variation is to make a warm salad with larger leaves, garlic, mint and coriander and crispy bits of meat and then dress it with chilli, garlic, rice vinegar, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime. And looking at those larger leaves in this picture makes me think of the recent trend of splitting cos lettuces - the little ones, cooking them on a barbecue or a griddle and then dressing them with something exotic - usually involving nuts and chilli.

Fritters, omelettes, quiches, risottos, falafel kind of things, gratins, mixed with breadcrumbs for crunchy toppings. Maybe you could even mix them into pastry cases. So many different things you can do with them. They are not that nutritious and let's be honest, not that tasty - it's more the texture, when fresh than anything isn't it? A palate cleanser. But if you treat them like a herb, shred them and throw them into things - mostly near the end of cooking - then you will at least use them up and lessen the waste problem.

Or better still - don't buy the packaged salads at all. Grow your own. Go to the market or stick to the stuff that isn't in a sealed plastic packet. Then maybe they'll stop selling them this way and return to loose salad greens. Don't encourage the supermarkets, and then you won't have to deal with one of the most revolting gone off things you will find in your fridge.

The fourth item in the most wasted foods was bananas. Now I'm not going to do that, because I've done it before. It's a problem in this household because if David buys them he buys too many. They go off so fast. And I rarely make cakes or desserts. Again the real answer to this problem is canny buying. Just buy as many as you are going to eat before they go off.


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