Speed up my Salad!
January 21, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I best speed up my salad-making?

I’ve been eating more salads and such recently, but making them takes too long. By the time I chop and otherwise prep, it often takes me longer to make the salad than eat it. I’d love to spend an hour chopping one day, store everything in the fridge, and have all my ingredients for the week. I’m using a knife and cutting board for most of my work now. I’ve seen mandolines recommended often in cooking threads and plan to get one, but what else will help me?

The recommendations in this thread were great for ingredient ideas. Now how do I speed up the salad-making process? How do I best process and store your favorite fresh/raw salad ingredients? Tools, techniques, and storage methods for specific ingredients all appreciated.
posted by BlooPen to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I’d love to spend an hour chopping one day, store everything in the fridge, and have all my ingredients for the week.

That's how I do it. I store everything in glass jars. For things that are super moisture sensitive, like mushrooms, I'll add a paper towel to the jar to wick away excess humidity. I buy big boxes of baby spinach, and it'll last for a week or two -- I typically eat it all before it goes bad. Takes me about 2 minutes to make a salad. If I'm feeling really lazy, I'll put all of the ingredients in a bag, add dressing, shake, and then dump it into a bowl. Even faster than using tongs to toss the salad together.
posted by amelioration at 9:47 AM on January 21, 2010

I don't know if it will speed up your salad-making process, but I have this pampered chef salad chopper tool at home and absolutely love it. I use it almost everyday.
posted by pghjezebel at 9:47 AM on January 21, 2010

Carrots and other root veggies are plentiful and cheap right now, so I've been making a lot of slaw-style salads in the food processor. You can do the same prep on a mandoline (but watch your fingers!) If you do get a food processor, shred veggies you need for the week in cooked dishes as well. I get my carrots for soup, salad and my roast chicken's bed of veggies all done at once that way.

I tried Madhur Jaffrey's carrot salad to start and found it stored well for several days in the fridge. An easy variation on this is to skip the hot oil and mustard seeds and use olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a 2:1 ratio. If you add this slaw to shredded greens at serving time, you have colour, crunch and dressing all in one go.

Shred any other veggies that would go with carrots. I'm using red cabbage and broccoli stems with the carrots this week, and will try out beets some time soon.
posted by maudlin at 9:53 AM on January 21, 2010

Basically, think like a salad bar.

Wash your lettuces and greens as soon as you get home, spin them pretty dry, and store them in the fridge in a big plastic or glass tub with a lid, with a crumpled-up paper towel in the bottom to regulate the humidity. Keep large leaves like those of bibb lettuce and romaine intact to minimize browning/oxidation along cut surfaces. The fresh arugula and loose leaf lettuces we buy at the farmer's market last for a week and a half without any serious quality loss this way. When we want salad, we just grab a handful out of the tub, and tear the leaves, three or four at a time, if necessary.

Chop up your sturdy/crunchy raw veggies like carrots, radishes, celery, even bell pepper, chopped or sliced, submerged in jars of water in the fridge. Change the water every couple of days. They'll stay fresh and crispy.

Cooked beans and other legumes can be rinsed, drained, and again stored in water, ready to scoop.

Softer veggies like mushrooms, etc, you'll need to prep every couple of days, since they don't do well with longer-term storage once cut.

Store cut fruit sprinkled with a little lemon juice and water to prevent browning.

Where you can, think small - grape tomatoes are way easier to store and grab a handful of when you need it, rather than trying to figure out how to store a cut larger tomato.

Use the food processor to shred and slice large quantities of crisp vegetables. A mandoline is good, too. But really, it doesn't take that long with a knife, especially if you do it all in one go.

Portion dressing, homemade or boughten, as you like, in little jars or other small containers, so you can just grab some and then dress at your leisure and avoid salad sogginess.

Keep leftover unsauced pasta and grains in the fridge, tossed with a little olive oil, to scoop into a salad that needs bulk.

Keep crunchy things like nuts and seeds and croutons on the counter, easily accessible, so you can just grab some when you need.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:04 AM on January 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

(Self link) Paula Wolfert's method for prewashing and storing salad greens. It makes them last much, much longer and speeds up the salad-making process considerably. Be sure to discard bruised leaves ruthlessly, and don't omit the clean dishtowel. Paper towels work too.
posted by redfoxtail at 10:07 AM on January 21, 2010

For greens, you should definitely invest in a salad spinner. Not only is it the easiest way to wash greens, but you can let them sit in water and hydrate a bit which will extend their shelf life. And you can just store the washed/spun greens in said spinner if you want.

If you're thinking about a mandolin, I'd encourage you to get a Benriner--it'll run you $20, much cheaper than the other options and a complete workhorse that's easy to use and clean.

This might be obvious, but one way to speed up chopping and other prep is to ensure you have a good knife that's sharp--it makes prep work much quicker and more enjoyable.
posted by donovan at 10:08 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Consider buying a food processor to do your chopping; you can get a mini one for under $40.

2. Make a biiiiig salad and then scoop out portions into individual containers so you have salads for three days.

3. Buy these containers. http://www.shopfitandfresh.com/products/on_the_go_containers
The dressing can be stored in a container on the top so the salad dressing doesn't go on it until you're ready, eliminating that dreaded salad sogginess. I realize that has nothing to do with prep time, but it does provide distraction & encourage creativity. You can purchase bento box type containers, etc. to mix up your salad style, e.g., maybe store celery sticks and/or hummus in the little boxes instead of making a traditional salad.

4. You can also buy pre-cut, pre-washed lettuces along with pre-cut veggies. Trader Joe's has a good and reasonably priced selection of different lettuce blends, along with pre-cut mushrooms, carrots, etc.

5. Do you have friends who'd like to do a salad potluck with you? That is, you could each bring an item or two, then share.

6. I also use the paper towel technique as amelioration mentions. So if I have a bunch of mushrooms chopped, I store them in an airtight container with a paper towel to absorb moisture so they won't go bad as quickly.

7. My friend swears by those green bags that apparently keep produce fresh longer. I haven't used them, but here's a link. Theoretically, you could slice and dice a bunch of stuff and stick everything in one of these bags for a few days so you wouldn't have to dedicate time to doing so every day.

8. When I'm making ground beef or chicken for a dinner, I always make some extra so I can use it for taco salads or to have some additional protein in the salad. You can freeze the beef and chicken to save it for future salad use.

9. When I don't have a lot of time to prepare a full blown salad, I'll take a bunch of frozen Bird's Eye veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and corn and throw them together in a microwavable container to create a lettuce-free salad. A bit of parmesan cheese or bacon bits on top after microwaving and voila...

10. As peachfuzz mentions, I store crunchy veggies in water in the fridge. This also makes it easy to grab a healthy snack.

11. Consider fruit salad, too, which is pretty quick. Grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries taste great with some honey drizzled on top.
posted by December at 10:10 AM on January 21, 2010

Slap Chop?
posted by basthrohmnse at 10:10 AM on January 21, 2010

Probably not the type of salad you're looking for, but my family makes an overnight salad similar to this one (except we use grated parmesan instead of cheddar). I've seen plenty of recipes that add other veggies as well if you want more variety. Anyway, the dressing forms a seal at the top, and the lettuce stays crisp until you mix it. So rather than making one big salad, my mom divides the recipe into several single serve containers. As long as the dressing seals at the top the salad will stay fresh and crunchy in the fridge for several days. You just mix one when you're ready to eat.
posted by thejanna at 6:52 AM on January 22, 2010

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