Few foods hold both as much promise – and potential for guilt! – as fresh, leafy greens. So many of us tend to buy greens with the best of intentions, only to discover the leaves have wilted or turned brown and slimy before we’ve gotten a chance to use them.
But with a little forethought, preparation and know-how, you can maximize greens’ lifespan, keeping them fresh and ready to use for up to two or even three weeks, says Tam Serage, head grower at Revolution Farms in Caledonia, Michigan. Here’s how:
When possible, buy greens grown in or near where you live – and from farms and growers who process and package on-site. The longer produce spends in a processing facility or refrigerated truck before getting to you or your grocer, the shorter its shelf life is likely to be in your fridge, says Jennifer Struik, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, culinary educator and executive chef for Root Functional Medicine in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Keep the clamshell
If your greens come prepackaged in a sturdy plastic container – called a “clamshell” – pop it in your fridge as is. “It acts kind of like its own mini crisper drawer,” says Serage. If the clamshell is sealed tightly, you may want to remove the seal, so air and moisture can escape.
If you buy loose greens, excess water sitting on leaves in your fridge can be a death sentence. While heartier varieties like kale and collards can stand up to moisture better than, say, arugula and baby lettuces, all greens should be kept dry. So if the leaves are wet when you bring them home (ie, from being misted on the grocer’s shelf), consider washing them right away, then drying in a salad spinner or rolling in a paper towel to remove droplets. Once dry, Serage suggests storing them in a resealable bag, leaving a small opening in the corner to allow some moisture to escape. For delicate greens, you may want to add a dry paper towel in the bag to absorb residual moisture.
Control the humidity
Here’s the paradox: While you want greens to stay dry, you also don’t want to dry them out. So if you have an adjustable crisper drawer, set it to medium humidity, and store your bagged greens there, Serage says.
(The more closed the drawer’s “vents,” the higher the humidity; on the other hand, opening the vents allows more air and moisture to escape, creating a lower-humidity environment.)
Quarantine your greens
If you have only one crisper drawer, keep apples, pears, peaches, kiwi and other fruit elsewhere. As these ripen, they emit the natural gas ethylene, which can speed up the rotting or wilting of other fruit and veggies.
Think beyond the salad
Nobody wants to eat a bowlful of wilted or wilting greens in a salad, of course. But just because they’re nearing their end – or you see a few brown or slimy leaves among otherwise fine-looking peers – doesn’t mean the whole bunch is bad. Instead, use them in other ways. Pick out rotten leaves, wash and sauté them, or incorporate them into hot dishes like pastas, soups, casseroles or stews, for which they’d be served wilted anyway. You can also add greens to sauces and smoothies – think a sauce like pesto or smooth marinara, or chop greens and combine with herbs for a chimichurri-like sauce, Struik suggests.