I’ve come across many versions of this tip over the years. Keeping one’s greens fresh and happy seems to be the culinary equivalent of keeping one’s skin young: it’s a losing battle, but everyone hopes to find the magic technique.
Wash, don’t wash (we’re talking about greens again now; we’ll address personal hygiene another time), wrap in plastic, cloth, or a paper bag, keep on the counter or refrigerate, and even this one: put the herbs upright in a glass of water and place on a shelf or in the door of your fridge. (That gave my French-sized refrigerator a good laugh.)
I’ve experimented with those ideas to varying degrees of success — mostly on the lower end of the scale — and after throwing out enough wilted herbs to start a compost heap, I’ve finally found the M.O. that works for me, so I thought I’d share.
When I get back from the greenmarket on Saturday mornings, I put my purchases away, sit down for a cup of coffee, then get to work.
Every week I get one bunch of leafy herbs — flat-leaf parsley, chervil, cilantro — and one paper bag’s worth of small salad leaves, which I prefer over a head of lettuce. These days it’s a mâche fest (pictured above), but I’ll switch to arugula, baby spinach, or mesclun (mixed greens) when they’re in season again.
I start with the herbs: I remove any elastic or string tying them, and rinse them in a shallow bath of cold water in the bowl of my salad spinner. I drain the herbs, rinse them again if the water was a little brown, and spin them as dry as I can. I lay a clean dish towel flat on a work surface, arrange the herbs on top, and leave them out for 15 minutes, or until dry.
I line the bottom of a medium plastic container with a paper towel and, using kitchen scissors, snip the top of the herbs (tender stems + whole leaves) into the container, discarding the stems, or freezing them for soups and stews. I place a second paper towel on top, close the lid of the container, and place it in the fridge.
Then, over the next three or four days depending on the type of herb, all I have to do is open the container, take a handful of ready-to-use herbs, and add them to salads or sprinkle them on dishes. Bliss, I tell you.
While the herbs are laid out to dry (two paragraphs ago), I turn to the salad leaves. If it’s mâche I’m dealing with, I take three or four tiny bouquets at a time, cut off the roots, and place the leaves in the empty salad spinner. For other kinds of greens, I simply sort through them to make sure none of the leaves are wilted or browned.
I then rinse the greens in just enough cold water to cover, drain, repeat (mâche typically requires three baths, the others just two), spin them dry dry dry, and leave them in the uncovered salad spinner to dry for about 20 minutes, shifting them around every now and then.
I line a large container with a paper towel, and arrange the salad leaves over it — they should not be packed too tight. I top them with another paper towel, close the container, and put it away in the refrigerator, ready to be used in a pinch over the next three or four days.
The power of paper towels is that they absorb the moisture, preventing the greens from turning limp and moldy. And the power of prepping the entire bunch in one go is, of course, that you don’t have to do it again every single time, thus saving some of your energy, and a bit of the planet’s water resources.
And while we’re on the subject of environment, I should note that once all the herbs or salad leaves have been eaten, I leave the paper towels out to dry — they’ll be just a little damp — and reuse them.
And this is my technique. What’s yours?