Most often when you go shopping on weekends for vegetables and salad leaves you tend to fill up your cart with farm fresh organic greens out of admiration for their natural-grown freshness. You then reach home and immediately stuff them into your refrigerator’s vegetable box to retain their freshness. However, the smug satisfaction that you are a budding organic food freak fades as the week progresses and you realize that those once fresh organic vegetables have become a withering mess that has to be trashed urgently.
So, out goes the organic food freak and in comes the practical person who chooses an easier way to shop for greens by going for those attractive supermarket bags filled with pre-packed mixed salad leaves that simply seem to call out to you to buy them. They offer variety, convenience and the allure of something a little different than the fresh individual bunches bought off farms.
I guess, you might have wondered at least once why vegetables and greens from supermarkets last longer than the ones bought fresh from local farms. The answer is obvious: modern supermarkets rely on a chain of production technologies to keep their produce crisp for as long as possible. Production of many of these convenient bags of mixed leaves come with a heavy environmental cost. Significant amount of pesticides have gone into ensuring the freshness of those salad leaves, and large volumes of water, as well as chlorine, were employed in washing and cleaning those leaves.
So as usual, when faced with the dilemma that makes my head hurt, I often compromise. When confronted with having to choose between long lasting, supermarket greens with a sprinkling of pesticides, and farm-fresh organic produce with short shelf life, I stick to buying just one head of farm fresh lettuce where I can, trying to remember to use it all up before it goes soggy, and also pick pre-packed bags of mixed salad leaves from supermarket shelves.
But the truth is you do not have to compromise, there are a couple of simple things you can do to try and prevent salad leaves from deteriorating, or at least prolonging its life a little longer until you got around to using it.
For a whole head of lettuce, take it out of any packaging and wrap in a tea towel, or take the lettuce apart and layer the leaves between sheets of kitchen paper in a lidded container. Do not pack the leaves in too tightly as this encourages rot too. In an earlier age they used to wrap lettuce in newspaper and leave it in a cool larder to extend its lifespan.
For bagged salad, slip some paper towel into the bag as this will absorb any moisture that adds to the rotting process.
Leaving salad leaves in a bowl of cold water for several hours can also help to repair damaged and dehydrated cells, as a good soak can help to pump up the most dried-out or wilted leaves.
Also separating your lettuce leaves and putting them in a bowl of water, which is then stored in the fridge helps keep them fresh.
However, if you still end up with a few bunches of soggy greens that do not contribute to a bowl of crisp salads, or add to the whole idea of using fresh aromatic garnishing to a wonderful dish, all is not lost. They will not go to waste if you use them for making a vegetable stock. The trick is to make sure that the moment you see a bunch of your greens become a little dry and lackluster, separate them from the fresh ones and put them in a plastic bag for use in stock.
Make your own vegetable stock: To make tasty stock, keep a clear poly bag with a quick-clip in the kitchen freezer. Put all those tired stems when preparing herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary etc and the tough green parts of leeks, base plate of onions and any clean off-cuts of vegetables into this bag as you go along. Boil up this glorious mix to make tasty vegetable stock, without salt if you wish. It will taste much better than any cube.
Uses for overripe tomatoes: Another ingredient used in everyday cooking are those marvelous red juicy tomatoes that everyone loves. Often these tend to ripen too fast and become squashy. However, you could make a spicy soup out of them. If you have a small amount of tomatoes, then blend them with a good dollop of tomato puree; add seasoning and use as a tasty pizza topping. Just spread it on a pizza base and top with whatever else you choose.
If you find that you have got a lot of tomatoes that have become too squashy for salads or sandwiches, blitz them in a blender and use in place of tinned tomatoes in pasta dishes or chilies.