Currin Family

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Prepare a Salad to Last All Week for Just a Few Dollars

How to Prepare a Salad to Last All Week for Just a Few Dollars

A Fresh Salad Every Day of the Week With Little Effort

Nothing says fresh and healthy like a salad. But if your life is a little hectic and you find it difficult to find the time to prepare a salad among other items for dinner, you’re not alone. Even if you do have time, how do you keep the salad fresh? You don’t want to deal with soggy lettuce or stop at the store a few times a week just to keep fresh produce on hand, so it’s helpful to know how to prepare a salad in advance so that it won’t lose freshness and keep you from making multiple shopping trips.

So, I’m going to share with you how I prepare salad here at our house. This requires just 5 to 10 minutes of initial prep time, will feed my wife and I all work week, if not longer, and it keeps fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week. Even better, all of this ends up costing less than $5 a week.

The Benefits

One of the main benefits of preparing a salad in advance is that you’re much more likely to eat it. We’re all trying to eat healthy these days, and while we have good intentions, if there is a lack of time or if it requires more work, we’re far more likely to skip the salad and opt for something else, which will probably cost more, and be even worse for you. Being able to just go into the fridge and have a salad in your bowl in 30 seconds is great.

It’s also cheap. For just a few dollars, you can create a first course for each dinner during the week that will allow you to buy fewer more expensive ingredients. Even better, this whole process can be applied when entertaining a crowd. Not only will you be preparing a salad to feed your family for a week, but it can make one big salad that can entertain a crowd.

The Process

Let’s start with what you need. The ingredient list is pretty simple. You can put whatever toppings or dressing on your salad you want, but we’re mainly focused on the greens and how to prepare and store them so they last. This is the cost of the items I picked up earlier this week. Your prices may vary depending on location and the season.

Organic Red Leaf Lettuce: 0.83 lb @ $2.49/lb = $2.07
Organic Romaine Lettuce: 0.81 lb @ $1.99/lb = $1.61

Total = $3.68

Salad Greens

As you can see from the picture above, it’s as simple as buying two average size heads of red leaf and romaine lettuce. Now, you can certainly get cheaper varieties of lettuce such as iceberg, but there’s virtually no nutritional value. You really get the most bang for your buck with dark green leafy varieties.  So, if you’re going to eat a salad, you might as well get as many nutrients as you can out of it. Feel free to substitute, but I’fe found that both romaine and red leaf store pretty well and you should have no problem getting it to last a week.

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Starting with the romaine lettuce, I chop off the bottom. This is another topic of controversy, as some people insist that lettuce will go brown faster if you use a metal knife. Honestly, I’ve been cutting lettuce with a knife for years, and I haven’t noticed any rapid browning. But, if you really want, feel free to tear the lettuce by hand, it’s up to you. But I find the knife is very quick and doesn’t produce any adverse effects.

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After you’ve separated a few of the leaves, give them a good rinse. With the romaine lettuce, I will stack 6 or so leaves on top of each other with the center stalk pointing down. Then, I just cut the leaves in half lenghtwise. It doesn’t matter if you cut directly through the thick stalk or go just to the side since we’re really just looking for smaller pieces to work with.

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Then, I stack all of the pieces on top of each other. From there, it’s just some quick slices across the stack. I usually keep them no more than about one inch wide so they are easy to eat. Once you’re through chopping, throw them into a collandar, or my personal preference, a salad spinner.

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Moving on to the red leaf lettuce, again, just chop the end off. 

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As with any lettuce, you’ll then want to give them a good rinse. Just like the romaine, I start by stacking the leaves on top of each other. 

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Since the red leaf lettuce is a lot wider, I usually make two cuts to separate the leaves into three strips. Depending on the size of your leaves and how small you want your pieces, you may find that you need to cut them into four strips. There’s no right or wrong answer. And again, once you have your strips, go ahead and stack them all on top of each other and cut crosswise into bit sized pieces.

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Above, I mentioned you should place your cut pieces into a collander or a salad spinner, and this is actually one of the most important steps if you want your lettuce to keep in the fridge. Moisture is the enemy in your fight to keep lettuce crisp for more than just a few days. When moisture is trapped against the lettuce while it’s being stored, it will make it wilt and that isn’t something you want to eat. If you don’t have a salad spinner, use the collander to shake any excess water, and then use paper towels to soak up any lingering moisture.

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If you look at the picture above, you’ll see the true benefit of a salad spinner. Even after rinsing the leaves in the sink, I shook off what seemed like all of the excess water before chopping, but as you can see above, after a few quick spins, there is a lot of excess liquid on the leaves still. You might not see it on the leaves, but it’s there, and all of this water spells disaster for long-term freshness. So for me, a salad spinner is the best $20 you’ll spend in your kitchen. 

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Once all of your greens are dry, it’s time to put it all into a big bowl. As you can see, those two heads of lettuce that came in under $4.00 makes a huge bowl of salad. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is enough for my wife and I to eat every day on Monday through Friday, and occasionally into the weekend.  One thing I do before putting the salad in the fridge is grind some fresh black pepper into the mix. A quick 10 to 12 turns from the pepper mill will do just fine, and it makes all the difference in taste.

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Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is storage. So, how do you keep this all fresh? Remember, the key is to keep moisture from resting against the leaves. So, what I do is take a single paper towel and place it on the top of the lettuce, and then cover everything with thin clear plastic cling stuff, but if you have a bowl with a tight fitting lid, that’s just as good. What you’ll notice is the paper towel will slowly absorb some of the moisture, and you’ll probably want to replace it with a fresh one every couple of days.

In addition, each time you take some lettuce out of the bowl, give everything a good shake or stir before putting it back in the fridge. The moisture can also start to collect on the sides of the bowl, and you don’t want everything touching the bowl to go soggy. If you dry your greens thoroughly from the start, place a paper towel in the bowl, and regularly mix things up in the bowl, you should have no trouble keeping this fresh for a week.

Finishing the Salad

The possibilities are endless. For example, my wife likes to top the salad with some dried cranberries and walnuts, while I usually sprinkle some mozzarella cheese and top with tomatoes and croutons. You can top it with leftover grilled chicken and make it a meal, or do whatever you want.  The good news is that this is a very basic mix of greens that can be topped with almost anything so you can mix it up at home. So, experiment with it and find out what you like best.

 

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