Chef Solo: What to do with wilting greens
The half box of lettuce taunts me from the back of the fridge like an unloved puppy. I know I should finish it, but I just don’t feel like a salad and, to make something interesting would require all that chopping and clean-up. I buy greens with the best intentions but, as a solo-householder, I just can’t seem to finish them before that been-in-this-box-too-long smell.
What’s a single cook to do?
Don’t buy lettuce, which despite some chefs’ suggestions, tastes best raw.
“Think about buying greens that you can use for different options,” Courtney Shea, MMHC RD LDN, Cape Cod Healthcare’s clinical nutrition manager, said. “Like, a bag of spinach. You could have that as a salad and cook it up the next night or throw it in some scrambled eggs in the morning.”
Indeed, I mostly buy greens other than lettuce – kale, spinach, arugula, bok choy – that can be eaten raw or cooked. For one, they are more nutritious.
“Basically, what we tell people, the more color it has, the more nutrient it has,” Shea said. “Your baby spinach is dark green and is going to have a lot more vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce.”
Darker greens make better leftover options, according to Shea. Throw kale or spinach in a smoothie. Use leftover arugula on warm pizza or pasta. Throw bok choy into a stir fry with some peppers and your protein of choice.
Or try this idea:
I’ve adapted this recipe from food writer Mark Bittman.
Stir fry almost any dark green with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a bud or two of chopped garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. Shape it into a nest and crack an egg in the center. Add a tablespoon of water, cover and let the egg poach. Give it a dusting of parmesan and serve on toast.
This time of year, however, it’s hard not to be seduced by the fresh lettuce and fragile baby greens in the stores and farmer’s markets. So, if you want to go for it, try these strategies from Shea:
- Shop at stores or farmers’ markets that offer greens in bulk. You can buy just enough for a couple of salads.
- Split a box or package of greens with a friend or neighbor.
- Buy a salad’s worth of lettuce from the store salad bar. If you’re thinking this is more expensive, consider this: A 5-ounce plastic box of greens was recently on sale at my local supermarket for $2.99. That equals $9.57 a pound. The salad bar at the same store was $6.49 a pound. (A 22-ounce bag with three heads of romaine was $3.99.)
Once you have spent money on greens, take care of them. Wash them when you get home, drain or use a lettuce spinner to dry, and store in an airtight container or plastic bag. Make yourself do this as soon as you get home and you’ll be more likely to eat them! If your greens look tired, revive them by soaking in very cold water for about 30 minutes.
Here are a couple of other ideas for leftover greens from “The Book of Greens” by Jenn Louis, which is like an encyclopedia of greens with some luscious recipes – many of them more complicated than I would do for myself.
This arugula pesto, however, is easy and fresh. If traditional pesto tastes like summer, then this tastes like spring – green with a dash of bitter. I tried adding the traditional nuts and cheese to this recipe but liked it better without. (You can dust on cheese later.) When I made it, I adapted the ingredient ratios to fit the half-bag of leftover arugula in my fridge. You can freeze this in small portions and use it on pasta, chicken or fish after it’s frozen.
Makes one cup
- 6 ounces arugula leaves (that’s about a supermarket bag)
- 1 small clove garlic
- ½ cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
Combine the arugula and garlic in a food processor or blender until the arugula is broken down into small pieces. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil and process until it’s the consistency of a thick dip. Season with salt.
This chicken salad, also adapted from Louis’s book, is a bit of a reversal, since most of us think of bok choy as something to eat cooked, not raw. But I like it raw chopped into salads. It has the crunch of celery but with better-tasting leaves. Bok choy is a bit pricey but high in calcium and rich in vitamins A and C.
Think of it as a deconstructed chicken salad. You can adjust the amounts to what you have in the fridge. This recipe can be easily adjusted to feed one or two. Instead of buying and poaching the chicken breasts, I made it with leftover rotisserie chicken. And I used scallions instead of shallots because I had some.
TENDER BOK CHOY SALAD WITH CHICKEN AND ORANGE
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Chicken stock
- 12 ounces small bok choy
- 1 small shallot
- 4 oranges, peeled and segmented
- ½ cup roasted cashews
- Kosher salt
- Mild vinaigrette dressing (recipe below or just use oil and vinegar)
Place the chicken breasts in a pan and add enough chicken stock to just cover. Bring to a very gentle simmer over high heat, then decrease the heat to low, so that the stock doesn’t bubble, and gently cook the breasts. After about 3 minutes, when the breasts are firm on the outside but still tender on the inside, remove from the heat. Keep the breasts submerged for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, until firm and cooked through.
Cut the white stalks of bok choy crosswise into pieces about 1/4 inch wide; keep the green leaves whole. Combine the bok choy in a bowl with the shallot, orange segments, cashews and chicken. Season with salt and add vinaigrette to taste just before serving.
This is my favorite salad dressing and comes from the back of the Bob’s Red Mill wheat berry bag. You can make less or let it keep in the fridge a week or so. Finely chopped mild onions or scallions are fine instead of shallots, which I’m unlikely to have on hand.
- ½ cup olive oil or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (fresh)
- 2 tablespoons white wine or any mild vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon honey mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
I usually mix everything except the oil and then whisk that in slowly; or put it all in a jar and shake. To add some Asian flavor to the bok choy salad, use soy sauce instead of salt and add a ½ teaspoon or so of ginger.
Susan Moeller is an award-winning former newspaper editor and writer who has covered health, aging and the environment, among other issues. She has three grown children, one granddaughter and one rescued dog. She is active in several Cape community organizations, plays in a handbell choir and loves travel, bluegrass, British detective novels and listening to a good story.