Welcome to Spend Less, Eat Well. In this new column I’ll be sharing all of my kitchen knowledge, tips and tricks to make cooking easier for you. These are my methods for making the most of the food I buy, resulting in delicious, affordable dishes and less food waste.
This week I’m focusing on salad leaves. They are much more than a side dish, and there are so many many ways to embellish a salad to make it a balanced main course. There are many Irish-grown salad leaves available in supermarkets now so check the label and see where they’ve been grown. Of course, it goes without saying that buying whole heads of lettuce is better than bags of washed leaves.
One of my part-time jobs while I was in college was in a kitchen supply store. We had everything from serrated grapefruit spoons to brass salmon kettles. It really taught me what home cooks value and need, what they use the most and what they can’t do without. This was where I bought my first salad spinner.
I fill the bowl with water and add all of the salad leaves then leave them to soak for a minute. Next, drain the leaves and give them a good whirl to dry them. Alternatively, if you don’t have a salad spinner, lay each leaf on a tea towel and pat dry. Salad leaves need to be handled with care as they bruise easily and can wilt. I usually store the leaves in the spinner with a napkin on top to soak up any residual water. They last me for up to a week.
Before I begin to build any salad, I tear each leaf into bite-size pieces. Really this has to be done, unless you’re using endive or radicchio that will be cut with a knife and fork or picked up. No one wants to struggle to get a huge leaf of rocket into their mouth, so bite-size is the best option.
Next, choose your main ingredients. It’s always nice to have something fruity such as dates, orange slices, wedges of peach or apple slices. Pair these with a nice cheese like mozzarella, feta, Gorgonzola or thin shavings of Parmesan. Then add texture and protein. Toasted seeds or nuts such as toasted flaked almonds, hazelnuts or roasted chickpeas are good options. I usually buy bags of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, toast them and store in jars, ready to use.
Lilly’s kitchen tips
Invest in a salad spinner. The iconic OXO one was my first, and it lasted me 10 years. I then bought a Zyliss but have since gone back to OXO. It’s such a sturdy design.
Improve your olives. To give life to dull-looking olives or cheaper brined olives, immerse them in a nice olive oil and leave them to soak for at least 10 minutes. They’ll plump up and provide that glossy saltiness that tastes so good in this fragrant salad.
Squeaky clean leaves. Add a little splash of vinegar or salt to the water you use to wash your leaves, to get rid of any insects.
Recipe: Orange, olive and mint salad