Lily Higgins on why salad leaves are so much more than a side dish – The Irish Times

Welcome to spend less, eat well. In this new column, I’ll share all my 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 minimizing food waste.

This week I focus on salad leaves. It’s much more than just a side dish, and there are many ways to garnish a salad to make it a well-balanced main dish. Many of the salad leaves grown in Ireland are available in supermarkets now, so check the label and see where they grow. 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 when I was in college was at a kitchen supply store. We had everything from serrated grapefruit spoons to copper salmon kettles. She really taught me what home cooks value and need, what they use often and what they can’t do without. This was where I bought my first spinner salad.

I fill the bowl with water and add all the salad leaves and then let them marinate 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, place each leaf on a tea towel and pat dry. Salad leaves should be handled with care because they bruise easily and can wilt. I usually store the leaves in the spinner with a napkin on top to absorb any remaining water. It took me up to a week.

Before I start building any salad, I tear each leaf into bite-size pieces. This should really be done, unless you are using a dandelion or radicchio which will be chopped with a knife and fork or picked up. Nobody wants to struggle to get a huge sheet of rocket in their mouth, so bite size is the best option.

Next, choose your main ingredients. It is always a good idea to have something fruit like dates, orange slices, peach slices, or apple slices. Pair it with a nice cheese like mozzarella, feta, gorgonzola, or thin Parmesan shavings. Then add texture and protein. Roasted seeds or nuts such as toasted almond flakes, hazelnuts, or roasted chickpeas are good options. I usually buy bags of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, roast them and store them in ready-to-use jars.

Night Kitchen Tips

Invest in a salad spinner. The iconic OXO game was my first, and it took me 10 years. Then I bought Zyliss but have since gone back to OXO. It is a strong design.

Good olive. To give life to faded looking olives or cheaper salted olives, dip them in nice olive oil and leave them to soak for at least 10 minutes. They’ll fill up and give off that shiny saltiness that tastes so good in this aromatic salad.

Leaves clean and squeaky. Add a little vinegar or salt to the water you use to wash your leaves to get rid of any insects.

Recipe: Orange salad, olives and mint