So after my last post where I used home-grown salad leaves from out the back in my shaved fennel, nasturtium and radish salad, I thought it might be the perfect time to give you all a few tips on how best to prepare your salad greens before use and my favourite way to keep them once picked.
Like I mentioned last post, the rocket (arugula) and mizuna are growing like crazy! I'm quite excited to see just how fast things are growing here in Perth compared to back home in NZ. I'd say the lovely warm sunny weather has something to do with that? (Don't hate me fellow kiwis!). I've been filling a large bowl everyday with greens and have started giving it away to family just to keep up with it all! The kids and Si love mizuna, but find rockets peppery taste a little too full-on so I'm the only one eating it... at every meal!
With all this lovely spring warmth we've even planted our tomato plants in the past few days. Something I wouldn't normally do until late October in NZ. But as we've already been getting into the mid 20's, it seems now is the perfect time to get them in before the insanely (and somewhat unpleasant) heat of summer hits (you kiwi's back home will be laughing at me in a few months time I'm sure. There is nothing mild about summers in Perth).
Right, onto the salad greens. Choose a time either early in the morning before the sun naturally wilts the leaves or later in the day once the heat of the day has passed to pick your leaves. Pluck the large outer leaves off, close to the base. Leaving the smaller leaves to keep growing.
Fill a bowl with water and sprinkle in a few teaspoons of salt. This kills any bugs that may be hiding in the leaves, making them float to the top. Gently swish the leaves around in the water and if you have time, leave them to soak for 5 or so minutes. Take extra care not to bruise the leaves of the delicate rocket (arugula). Take handfuls of leaves and transfer to a salad spinner, if you have a removable inner colander bowl you can give them another quick rinse under running water if you like. I cannot emphasize just how amazing salad spinners are if you grow your own salad leaves. You can pick them up for under $10 and mine gets used at least once or twice a day. Don't throw out the washing water either! Carry the bowl out to the garden and give your plants a drink.
Give the leaves a good few spins until pretty much dry. This is an important step as it not only keeps the leaves fresher than if they were still wet, but when you go to use them your salads, they will taste that much better because you will not end up with a wet soggy puddle in the bottom of your bowl and a watered down dressing.
Once spun, transfer the leaves to large plastic air-tight container, pop on the lid and store in the fridge. You can eat salad leaves straight from the garden but I think they are way nicer to eat if they've had at least half and hours chilling time in the fridge. They crisp up nicely.
Keeping them airtight will extend their shelf-life hugely compared to just storing in a bowl or plastic bag. Rocket (arugula) is pretty sensitive and will wilt within an hour or so if just placed in a bowl in the fridge. Packed correctly in a lidded container it should hang out in the fridge happily for 4-5 days. I do the exact same thing when I'm preparing kale or cavolo nero. Which means I've always got one or the other in the fridge ready to use, with minimal effort.
I know I probably sound like a broken record, but there really is nothing better than growing, picking and eating your own salad greens (or any other fruit & vegetable for that matter!). A packet of rocket seeds will only set you back a couple of dollars and can be planted in all sorts of containers if you don't have room for a garden. I've even grown it in an old ice-cream container with holes in the bottom for drainage when I was really desperate for some rocket in the middle of winter. I grew it in our little hot-house and although the leaves didn't get anywhere near as large and healthy as they would have if grown in a bigger space, they were fine to add a little bit of freshness to my winter salads.
I like eating simple salad greens with a really mustardy red wine vinegar dressing (and back in the day there would have been a good few shavings of Parmesan cheese in there too)... but what's your favourite way to eat them?