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Lessons in salad making; preparing the greens.

Lessons in salad making: preparing the greens The first step in making a great salad is to prepare the greens. This process is easy for youngsters to manage, and it provides a good lesson for aspiring cooks.

The basic routine is pretty much the same for all green--they need to be rinsed, dried, and crisped. But there are also specific ways of handling different types of greens. Here, we focus on leafy greens that most cooks use frequently: lettuces (such as iceberg, butter, red-leaf, romaine), spinach, chicories (including Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole, frisee, and radicchio), and parsley. The procedures can also be applied to any other similarly shaped greens and herbs.

Start by plucking out and discarding any bruised, old, yellowed, or tough leaves. If you aren't going to use stems or roots (as in salads with spinach or watercress), cut them off before washing leaves.

Rinsing: a cool bath

Just running water over loose-leaf greens doesn't do an adequate job of removing unwelcome salad ingredients like dust, dirt, sand, and insects that collect on greens as they grow.

Leaves need to be immersed in cool water in a sink or a bowl and swished about. Then lift the leaves from the water to drain rather than just pulling the plug or pouring the water from the bowl. Otherwise, debris you washed off will get stuck on the leaves again.

A cool bath also gives tender leaves the moisture they need to be crisp and flavorful. Even if they're a bit limp, they'll perk up after being rinsed and chilled.

To rinse loose-leaf lettuces like butter, romaine, or red-leaf, or greens like escarole, break leaves from core into cool water; wash other loose leaves such as spinach or watercress the same way.

To rinse loose heads of greens like curly endive or frisee, hold by the stem end and swish up and down in cool water.

To rinse bunched parsley or other bunched herbs such as fresh dill, hold by the stems and swish leafy ends in water.

To rinse tight heads of greens like iceberg lettuce, Belgian endive, or cabbage, you proceed differently. Core lettuce, run cool water into the cut and the leaves, then invert to drain (the water also makes leaves easier to separate). Just rinse heads of Belgian endive and cabbage under cool running water, or give them a good dip.

Drying and crisping

Because water left on leaves will dilute salad seasonings, you need to remove most of the moisture. To do this, you can shake the greens, whirl them in a salad spinner, or wrap them in towels (cloth or paper). Then, to crip the greens, they must be chilled.

Shaking leaves individually works but is time-consuming. It's efficient with greens that have stems, such as heads of curly endive or parsley; just hold, shake vigorously--and watch out for the spary.

A salad spinner is fast, but it bruises the leaves slightly, so you'll need to use them fairly soon. After a day in the refrigerator, fine bruise lines will begin to discolor leaves that have been dried in a spinner. A gentler alternative is to gather leaves in a towel, hold ends together, and swing the greens around.

Drying with towels is the gentlest way to remove moisture. Place leaves (in 1 or 2 layers) or heads of greens on towels and wrap them up gently.

To crisp the greens (dried by any of these three methods), wrap in towels, put in a plastic bag, and chill for at least 30 minutes. The bag must be loosely closed to allow greens to "breathe." Greens get crisper because the leaves actually "drink" the water, pulling it into their cells, which swell and firm.

The towels keep excess moisture away from the leaves (too much water makes them get slimy faster), and the plastic keeps the moisture from evaporating. Uncovered leaves, even in the refrigerator, wilt quickly.

How long will greens stay fresh?

Even in the best environment, greens won't keep forever. But as long as the leaves look and smell good, they're good to eat. And if portions discolor or decay, just break off and discard.

Tender greens such as spinach and lettuces may keep 4 days. Romaine lettuce lasts up to a week. Iceberg lettuce and parsley may keep 2 to 3 weeks.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1990
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