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Salad Part I: Greens

by Jane Wangersky | June 6th, 2014 | Cooking Basics
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green-19690_640We got a quick preview of summer this year, before it turned back into plain old spring. During those two hot days, we dug out a couple of things we hadn’t used since last summer: the barbecue (even though we had no burgers, only sausage patties, and I was going to have to bake up some homemade buns) and the salad spinner.

Sure, I could buy bagged salad, but that would be paying someone else to do something I could do myself during a couple of commercial breaks, and you can guess how I feel about that. Besides, bagged salad is cut in such small pieces it’s hard to tell the carrots from the lettuce, at least by taste.

(Bagged spinach is the exception — leaves still intact, minus the tough stems, gotta love it.)

Lettuce, spinach,whatever, green salad starts with greens — clean, dry greens. Yes, they have to be dry, or the salad dressing won’t stick to them. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to wash and dry them; if you start early enough, you don’t even need a salad spinner, you can just wash them and leave them on a clean kitchen towel to air dry. But salad spinners are handy and not a big ticket item. For nearly 20 years I’ve been using one I got at the Salvation Army. Over that time I’ve learned not to overload it with wet lettuce (half full is the limit), to spin each load twice, to put in a paper towel to soak up some of the water, and to empty the rest of the water between loads (not needed if you have a flow-through spinner, but we’re not so fancy at our house).

Once the greens are clean and dry, you can store them for a few days in a nylon mesh bag, or even a clean plastic bag with a few holes, in the fridge. Not only will you have an almost instant salad, you’ll have lettuce handy for sandwiches. Word to the wise: Don’t tear up the greens till you’re making the salad. When greens go brown, it starts at the edges, so the fewer edges the better. Besides, you may decide not to tear them up at all, but to lay out whole leaves on a platter with the other ingredients on top for a salade composée.

We haven’t even gotten to the other ingredients in a salad, the ones that really give it all its taste — but they’ll get their turn later.

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