[ This article is part of our Save The Food series on how to make the most of your food ]
Can you still use your lettuce & lighter greens?
- The lettuce and lighter greens group includes all types of lettuce (Iceberg, Romaine, Boston, Butter, Arugula, etc.), mixed greens, and the "baby" version of hearty greens (Spinach, Kale, and more).
- This category of produce is notoriously fickle, with loose lettuce leaves and mixes usually lasting only around 7-10 days in the fridge. Note that intact, unwashed heads of lettuce can last 1-3 weeks.
- When lighter greens become soft, slimy, heavily discolored, or develop a foul odor then they have gone bad. For heads of lettuce it's often possible to simply remove and discard the outer layer of leaves until you find fresh leaves underneath, which you can still make use of. For mixed or loose leaves the exercise can become a bit trickier. If the majority of the leaves are still fine it's ok to remove the leaves that are past their prime and save the rest, but if there are a substantial number of leaves that are bad it's best to discard the entire batch.
- Greens that are wilting but don't display any other signs of decay can still be used. More on that below.
How to save lettuce & lighter greens
Revive: Wilting is common for lighter greens, but in the earlier stages it's also reversible. To revive lettuce simply place your greens into very cold water with ice cubes in it for 10-30 minutes. Lighter greens that have wilted but aren't too far gone will perk up like magic.
- Salad: Using lighter greens in a salad is the most common method of using them up before they cross the point of no return. For greens past their peak it's best to combine with multiple other ingredients and / or match them with stronger flavors. Things like a balsamic or citrus dressing, nuts, or goat cheese will become the star of the show so the sub-optimal greens become a supporting character.
- Other Dishes: Lighter greens with stronger flavors can be more easily added into other dishes. Arugula goes well on sandwiches or can be added on top of pizza. Baby spinach is perfect for stir-fry or fried rice dishes.
How to prevent lighter greens from going bad
- Consider storing your most perishable food items somewhere in the fridge where you can see them. While in theory the crisper drawer is the ideal place for lighter greens, if you forget about these items it does no good.
- For lighter greens the key is to allow them to breathe without drying them out. You want a container that allows airflow while still keeping the lettuce humid enough so as not to dry out.
- Store heads of lettuce still intact and don't wash them until you're ready to eat them. Remove any damaged or wilted outer leaves first and then wrap them in a few pieces of paper towel. Note that iceberg lettuce is the exception. Store iceberg in the original plastic wrap it comes in until ready to use.
- For greens that come loose it's best to remove any damaged or decaying leaves before storing. For those that come in a plastic container place a piece of paper towel over the top of the lettuce inside the container and then store the container top side down (so the greens lay on the paper towel). For greens that come in a plastic bag open the bag and place a rolled up piece of paper towel into the top, then reseal the bag using clips, ensuring there are still some holes for ventilation.
- Wrapping full heads of lettuce in aluminum foil, or taking loose leave greens out of the container they come in and then placing them into another rigid container with adequate airflow and a paper towel are other methods that usually work. We encourage you to consider the use of materials and which method is easy enough to stick with when deciding on the best storage technique for you.