As Tesco reveals that 65% of its bagged salads end up in the bins, is it time to rethink how you treat them? Jane Hornby explains how to get the best from your leafy greens
How often do you end up culling the cabbage or ditching the dill? Here's how to get best from your shopping, and keep the compost bin a little bit hungrier.
At the shops or market
It's an obvious place to begin, but only buy what you need for the week ahead. Pre-chopped greens can spoil quickly, so try buying great value whole heads. Avoid BOGOF (buy one get one free) deals in the big supermarkets unless you have specific meal plans or can share your shopping with someone else. As Tesco revealed this week, as much of 68% of their bagged salads are wasted, with 35% ending up in the customer's own bin.
I tend to leave out the greens when shopping online, preferring to pick my own. Untrusting maybe, but worth it if you have time. Veg box folks should be receiving tip-top produce, but it can be a struggle to get through all that kale before it's past its best...
Buying the best
Leafy greens should have firm stalks and stems. Avoid anything limp or with signs of yellowing. Sometimes outer leaves look worse for wear, but the insides should be perky and have a fresh green smell. Have a good rummage for long sell-by dates or the bushiest bunch on the stall.
Shun floppy herbs or any with squidgy bits or fading colour. I use soft herbs like parsley such a lot that bunches work better for me than growing pots. However, I do avoid buying packs of hard herbs such as rosemary, as most recipes only need a sprig or two. A pot on the sill or in the garden lets you pick little and often.
Where to store
Once home, keep leafy veg in the salad drawer of the fridge. A chilly garage is a handy store for sturdier greens, but if that's not an option then washing, sorting and packing as soon as you get home is time and fridge-space saved for later in the week. Nearly all greens benefit from a rinse, a dry, and then wrapping in damp paper or cloth before bagging up for the fridge. For the full treatment, read on.
For loose leafy heads, snap each leaf away and discard any tough outer furls. Swoosh in cold water, soak for 5 minutes, then lift out and pat dry. Give delicate salads a turn in a spinner instead (or gather in a clean tea towel, hold tight and windmill it out of the window). Spread kitchen roll or reuseable cloth over the worktop, cover with the leaves, then roll up like a cigar. Pack into a plastic food bag, seal and chill.
For prewashed, bagged salads, once open, wrap in damp kitchen roll and you'll gain a day or two. Unwashed leaves seem to last longer than washed.
Rinse and dry then gently wrap herbs in a duvet of just-damp kitchen roll. Sealed into a plastic bag or box, the herbs will stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge. Spare bay and makrut lime leaves freeze brilliantly.
Prioritise and plan
Despite all these tactics, it's still best to prioritise what needs eating up first. Plan to use salad leaves first, and hardier greens towards the end of the week. Make the greens the hero, in creamy pasta with simple garlic, chilli and lemon perhaps, or a steaming bowl of kale and chorizo soup.
Reviving tired leaves
Lacklustre leafy and stalky greens can be revived like cut flowers; trim the bottoms, stand in cold water and cover loosely with a plastic bag. Useful when the fridge is full, too. If herbs or bagged leaves have lost their vim, revive in a bowl of icy cold water in the fridge. A freezer pack has the advantage over ice cubes as the herbs won't stick to it.
Put into practice: Frisee and herb salade chapon
A mix of fresh herbs, a lemony dressing and a subtly garlicky "chapon".
For the dressing
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1½ tbsp shallot, finely chopped
¼ tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the salad
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, gently smashed and peeled
4 x 2cm slices of country bread, grilled or toasted
225g frisee (curly endive)
55g baby spinach
25g mixed herb leaves (eg mint, basil, coriander and chives)
3 radishes, very thinly sliced
1 Make the base for the dressing by stirring together the lemon juice, shallot, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2 For the salad; in a small saucepan, combine oil and garlic and gently heat for 5 minutes until the oil is fragrant and the garlic softened. (Tilt the pan, if necessary, to keep the cloves submerged in the oil, and take off the heat from time to time to keep from colouring.) Remove from the heat and whisk in a pinch of salt. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
3 Put the grilled bread on a plate, drizzle with the infused oil, and spread the cloves on top. Tear the frisee into bite-size pieces; combine in a bowl with the spinach, herbs and radishes.
4 For the dressing; whisk the reserved dressing mixture and add the good-quality oil in a slow and steady stream. Vigorously whisk to emulsify, then drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss the salad to combine. Season with several pinches of flaky coarse sea salt and toss once more. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Tuck the breads among the greens.
Jane Hornby is the author of What to Cook and How to Cook It (Phaidon). To order a copy for £18.49 (RRP £24.95), visit theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846. Recipe from The Perfectly Tossed Salad by Mindy Fox (Kyle Books)
Photo: On a knife edge: maintain ultimate freshness in your greens with our vital tips Photography: Jill Mead for the Guardian