Spinach, swiss chard, kale, romaine, lambsquarter… leafy greens are the most nutritious things you can eat. We’ve spent a lot of time learning how to prepare them in ways that make them enjoyable to eat. But they are delicate, and we only go to the market on Saturdays. Wilted, soggy, rotting greens are nasty. How can you keep them fresh for a whole week? Here is what we have learned…
The overarching strategy:
- Immediately get rid of any bad leaves, because it’s true that one bad apple ruins the bunch, due to Ethylene.
- Keep the greens whole, unless you are using them in the next day or two (see #5).
- Get the greens as dry as you can and help them stay dry.
- Store the greens properly.
- Sequence your meals around the shelf life of your greens, e.g.: fresh salads first, sautés last.
Here are the details:
When we get home from the market on Saturday morning we spend time (up to an hour if we have a lot) sorting, trimming, washing, and sometimes even prepping all of the greens that we bought for the week. It’s a pain and we hate doing it, but it makes cooking for the rest of the week much quicker and easier.
Even so, the real reason we do it is that it makes the greens stay fresh much longer than just shoving them in the fridge and dealing with them later. We do something similar for root vegetables (we remove greens and scrub dirt), but that’s a separate post.
- Go through the greens and discard any leaves that don’t look good. As they age and wilt, fruits and vegetables release Ethelyne, a gas which triggers other fruits and vegetables to ripen / wilt / rot faster. If there are any in the mix that are already pretty far gone, they will kick off the wilting process as soon as you store the bunch in the fridge. Tossing these will delay the process by a few days.
- Trim off any stalks or other pieces that you won’t be using, such as the ends of stems or stalks.
- Make sure that your sink is empty of dishes. Give it a quick cleaning and fill it with water. Throw in the greens, one type at a time. Agitate them around to shake off any dirt or sand. Then let them sit for a few minutes so that the grime falls to the bottom as the greens float on top. If we have a smaller amount of greens, we will do this directly in our salad spinner instead of filling the whole sink.
- Remove the greens from the sink while being careful not to agitate the water and stir up too much dirt. If you have more greens to clean, leave the water in the sink. If you washed the greens in the spinner, just lift up the basket and dump out the dirty water. Spin them in a salad spinner, in batches if necessary. We usually spin once, pour out the water and shuffle the leaves around, and then spin a second time.
Optional: If you are going to use the greens in the next day or two, you might as well chop them now. If not, they will store better whole.
- Lay out a thin (clean) towel (we have these really terrific, big tea towels / flour sack towels; paper towels also work in a pinch). Spread the greens out in a thin layer across the towel. Try not to go any more than two or three leaves deep in any spot. If necessary, fold the towel over and add a second layer.
- Roll the towel up tightly and secure it with a rubber band. This process not only dries the leaves now, but storing them in the towel will continue to wick away moisture the entire time the greens are stored in the fridge.
- Place the rolled-up towel of greens into a bag. We use green bags. I know, I saw these on TV too and thought they were a joke. But they really do let Ethylene escape, extending the life of whatever produce you store in them. Regular bags, especially Ziploc, trap the Ethylene and accelerate the aging.
- Finally, we use our greens, when we can and when we think of it, in an order:
- If we’re planning to eat any of the greens raw, e.g. in a salad, we do it early in the week. As greens age, they get more bitter and less tender.
- If we’re planning any recipes where cooked greens are the star of the show, we make those by mid-week. The greens can wait a little longer, since they’re cooked.
- Finally, if we have any greens left at the end of the week, we cook them and use them as an accent, e.g. pizza topping or frittata.
As an example, here’s a meal plan for one week in May:
- Mixed green salad with sunflower thyme pesto (Monday)
- Swiss chard with pinenuts and grain (Tuesday)
- Herb salad with curry dressing (Wednesday)
- Asparagus with “cheezy” sauce (Thursday)
- Mashed sweet potatoes with ribbons of collard greens (Friday)
Two related points that I should have made:
- We have been reusing the green bags for about one year now and they are still going strong. We wash them inside and out with dish soap and rinse thoroughly. After a while we invested in a bag drying rack to make things easier.
- For shopping at the market, we initially used the green bags, but that wasn’t a good system because the market-fresh produce got the bags dirty, so where to put the produce after we’ve cleaned it?! We found a better set of market bags: washable fine mesh bags.
They can get wet, are machine washable, and you don’t need to worry about plastic bags at the market. They weigh next to nothing, so if you are paying by the pound it won’t hurt.