the personal salad bar that doesn't spoil
July 9, 2006 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have experience with freezing salad or any other method to keep produce around? I want to have more salads with lots of variety at home. Unfortunately, the more variety I add, the more produce I have that rots before making it into my belly.

For example, a lovely salad for me would include lettuces, cabbages, spinach, turnips, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, sprouts, and other less perishable items... I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Anyway, making a salad like that leaves me with a lot of leftover produce. Since I live alone and don't eat at home that often, the produce often gets spoiled before I get around to eating it all.

I've thought about making salads and freezing them, but I don't know how well that would work.

Anyone have experience with freezing salad or any other method to keep produce around? Any not so obvious (or obvious) tips?
posted by mrkohrea to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you freeze vegetables, they usually turn into goo when you thaw them. This is because the water in the cells turns into large ice crystals, which destroy the cell walls and render the vegetable into mush. Sometimes, this isn't a problem, such as with fruits that you're just going to use as dessert toppings.

If you really want to make your own Bird's Eye-style frozen vegetables, you need to freeze them fast, which freezes the veggies but also prevents large crystals from forming. I mean, faster and at a lower temperature than your household freezer can provide. For this, you'll need a specialized, commercial freezer which you probably don't want in your house anyway. A hacker method of doing this kind of freezing would be to use an airtight cooler and several pounds of dry ice (via Alton Brown). But again, this isn't something you'll probably want to do every day.
posted by frogan at 3:24 PM on July 9, 2006

You could buy less, more often?
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:29 PM on July 9, 2006

More upscale/hippie stores (Whole Foods, farmers' markets, co-ops) tend to sell loose vegetables, which let you buy just a few stalks of celery or one salad's worth of mixed greens, for example, rather than a pre-packaged too-much amount.

(Though I'm actually working on the opposite approach lately: Having too many about-to-expire perishables in the house so that I feel stupid going out to eat!)
posted by occhiblu at 3:34 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Turn the temperature of your fridge down. Way down. You want the temperature on the bottom shelf to be 1 to 2 degrees -- not quite freezing. A pound of spring greens will last for up to three weeks at this temperature.

The downside is that other parts of your fridge may get colder than freezing; I often find that my juices and sodas freeze. And you don't want your lettuce to freeze, so you have to be careful.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:34 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Lettuce will not freeze well, no matter what you do to it. It's almost all water. Do not try this at home or elsewhere. The same goes for celery and sprouts.

Many other veggies will freeze without a problem (although you may not be able to use them in a salad, since they do lose crunch and often must be cooked first). Mushrooms will freeze OK if you saute them first. Likewise chopped or sliced onions (although onions last well unfrozen). Turnips similarly - they last weeks in the crisper drawer. Tomatoes will freeze well, but will come out mushy and must be used in cooking afterward. Bell pepper strips can be frozen, as can green beans, berries and similar small items. To freeze things like this, lay them on a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet in the coldest part of your freezer until they're hard, then dump them into a ziplock bag. You can freeze spinach (and many other things) if you blanch it first (blanching being basically dipping it in boiling water for a few seconds, not long enough to cook it). However, blanched items generally have to be cooked afterward.

Basically, you can freeze a lot of fruits and veggies for later use, but freezing salads isn't going to be an option. Does a nearby store have a salad bar you can go to and make your own take-home salad? (More expensive upfront but possibly cheaper than throwing away a lot of rotten lettuce and veggies.)
posted by jaed at 3:35 PM on July 9, 2006

I think buying salads is much cheaper for singles if you're going for variety.
posted by sweetkid at 3:41 PM on July 9, 2006

Since I cook for one, I have the same problem. I've solved it by planning a week's worth of recipes that use the same ingredients but prepared in different ways.

For example, if I buy a bag of baby spinach, I'll have a spinach salad one day, a goat cheese and spinach quesadilla the next day, and a pasta dish with spinach the third day. The spinach doesn't taste the same in any of the recipes, so I don't get bored. The salad dressing, goat cheese, tortillas, and pasta all last a long time, making it easy to have variety while still using the same perishable ingredients.

Sites like Allrecipes and Snaksby let you search by ingredients, which can be helpful in doing this kind of meal planning.

For salad variety, try using ingredients with longer shelf lives, like dried fruit, nuts, croutons, and bottled veggies such as roasted peppers.
posted by chickletworks at 3:46 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: There are some things that you can do to help things out. Store mushrooms in a paper bag, so they can breathe but not get soggy. Store lettuce in the crisper with a paper towel so it remains humid but doesn't sit in water. Also, tear your lettuce instead of cutting it, because cutting damages the tissue and releases enzymes that cause the browning.
Store onions, potatoes, and carrots uncut at room temperature and they'll keep for a while. Broccoli, cauliflower and green onions will keep for a long time as long as you keep them cool and dry, so store them in the fridge, but loose in the drawer so air can circulate.

Tomatoes keep a couple days at room temp, and there's not much you can do about it. Don't refrigerate tomatoes or you'll lose all flavor.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:51 PM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

evil holiday magic : "You could buy less, more often?"

That doesn't really work, though. You can't buy half-tomatoes or single sticks of celery, because they aren't sold. And if you buy a single head of lettuce, a single cabbage, a single bunch of spinach, a single pack of turnips, a single carrot, a single pack of mushrooms, a single head of broccoli, a single head of cauliflower, a single onion, a single tomato, a single bell pepper, a single bunch of celery, and a single pack of sprouts, you're going to have the exact problem that the poster is talking about.
posted by Bugbread at 3:54 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: I would also buy less, more often. I do have a way of keeping lettuce fresh and crisp for a week or so:

Use a rectangular plastic container with a lid.

Rinse your lettuce, and spin it in a salad spinner. Separate the leaves of lettuce and place in layers sandwiched in-between dry, white, or dye-free paper towels. Keep the lid on tight, and keep the container in the back of a cold refrigerator.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:56 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Have you tried these? I found they work quite well if you don't forget what's in them.
posted by b33j at 3:56 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: I've encountered this problem. To make my lettuce, sprouts spinach, and bell peppers last longer I:
(1) wash
(2) dry in salad spinner
(3) place single layer of each item on a paper towel
(4) roll up paper towel (with single layer of produce inside)
(5) Place in plastic ziploc baggie
(6) Put in fridge

I find that the paper towel helps soak up any extra moisture which can lead to quick spoilation.
posted by click at 3:57 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Buy one or two tomatoes at a time. If you use half of the tomato one day in a salad, have tomato slices with eggs for breakfast. If they tomatoes become too soft, throw them in spaghetti sauce.

I love grape tomatoes. They last longer, and you can keep them refrigerated without losing too much flavor.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:03 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: substitute dried or pickled vegetables for some of the fresh ones in your salad and you can get a nice variety of ingredients with a fraction of the storage issues.
posted by judith at 4:14 PM on July 9, 2006

My suggestion: start your own garden. Even if you're stuck in an apartment with a small balconey, you can likely grow enough to make your own self happy. Check out the "Square Foot Gardening" sites for details.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

You've probably thought of sun-dried tomatoes, canned tomatoes, dried mushrooms, and frozen corn as nonperishables to keep around.
posted by salvia at 4:19 PM on July 9, 2006

Clean them and dry them thoroughly as soon as you get them home. They'll last longer dry.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:14 PM on July 9, 2006

Seconding five_fresh_fish. No veggies are as fresh as those you've just picked yourself from your own kitchen garden.
posted by flabdablet at 5:36 PM on July 9, 2006

Rip lettuce, don't cut it. Cut lettuce will go brown much faster than lettuce ripped by hand.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:19 PM on July 9, 2006

bugbread: You can't buy half-tomatoes or single sticks of celery, because they aren't sold. And if you buy a single head of lettuce, a single cabbage, a single bunch of spinach, a single pack of turnips, [....] you're going to have the exact problem that the poster is talking about.

I see some good suggestions have rolled in. However, I still don't think there's a practical way to suspend many of the veggies mentioned in their prime if they're going to be used infrequently. Granted, I don't know how infrequently. I love to buy varieties of veggies myself, but in order to save money from being wasted I've limited my purchases to those I can use right away: as in within the next three days. This has greatly reduced the amount of wasted food.
posted by evil holiday magic at 12:07 AM on July 10, 2006

bugbread, OK, I grokked what you're saying just now.

I still think moderation of the ingredients used would provide a better economy, since, as you outlined, the more ingredients included, the less of each used, presenting issues of longer term storage.
posted by evil holiday magic at 12:10 AM on July 10, 2006

Best answer: You can greatly increase the life of your produce by getting one of these: an Ethylene Gas Guardian.

They are two small plastic eggs you put in the fridge that absorb all of the ethylene that produce gives off. Ethylene causes produce to go off more quickly.

All of my veg lasts the entire week and well into the next when we put one of them into my crisper tray. Really, I couldn't recommend it strongly enough.

I buy mine off eBay, but you might have luck in your local organics/health food store.
posted by randomination at 1:59 AM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Salad bar.
posted by grateful at 6:40 AM on July 10, 2006

Best answer: Vegetarian Times recently did an article about prolonging the shelf lives of veggies through proper storage. I've yet to try the products they tested, but have begun to seperate the veggies as they advised, with good results.
I second the suggestion that you wash and spin your lettuce and then store it in a tupperware with paper towels. I like this method not just because it prevents spoilage, but because it means that the most onerous part of salad making, the washing of the lettuce, is all done at one go for the entire week, reducing prep time and aggravation.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:17 AM on July 10, 2006

Best answer: Shop at a local farmer's market instead of a supermarket (even a high-end one). Those vegetables haven't been sitting around in a warehouse or shipping crate for a week or two (or more), so they'll be fresher when you get them, and they'll last MUCH longer.

Some of the more sensitive greens won't stay long, but lettuce from the farmer's market easily lasts 1-2 weeks in my standard temperature fridge.
posted by Caviar at 5:58 PM on July 10, 2006

I also eat a raw foods diet and do a lot of juicing. I have a similar problem. Here is what I do. First, I got these special green produce bags. I keep the veggies in these bags in the refrigerator and the veggies last longer than when in normal plastic bags. My girlfriend gets them for me so I'll have to ask here where to get them. The trick is to NOT wash the veggies in water until just before you are ready to use them. I've found that once they get wet, they tend to go bad faster - I'm not sure why. Second, we have a local farmer's market where I go every Saturday and get just enough for the week. I can get one one or two of all the items that I like in my salads and they generally last all week in the bags without going bad. Perhaps there is a similar market in your area? Third, I do a lot of juicing. This lets me get tons of raw juice loaded with vitamins and live enzymes without having to eat so much. I usually make enough juice to last 2 days, so I only have to juice about 2-3 times per week. If you put the raw juice into sealed containers, it will last up to 48 hours. This way, you can go ahead and use up the veggies by juicing them while they are fresh. It generally takes a pretty large quanitity of veggies to make enough juice. For example, I buy a 25-lb bag of carrots (it lasts me about 8-10 days). I drink three 8-oz glasses of carrot juice per day. It takes about 5-8 carrots (depending on size) to make one 8-oz glass of carrot juice. So, by juicing, you can use up your vegetables and still get all the nutrition. If you want to investigate more about juicing, see my website.
posted by tendecades at 7:04 AM on July 13, 2006

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