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How to use up leftover salad leaves: 8 clever zero waste hacks

14th August 2019

How often do you find a forgotten bag of wilted salad leaves at the back of your fridge? It’s said that us Brits throw away 40% of bagged salad every year. But if we knew what to do with leftover salad leaves, would we be so ready to waste it? Eco-chef and food waste activist, Tom Hunt, gives us his top tips on how to store and revive our sad leaves. And with 8 delicious ways to use up wilted greens, you’ll never have to throw an iceberg again…

leftover salad leaves

Endive, radicchio, dandelion and mizuna, red Russian kale, lollo roso, lamb’s cress and frisée, frilly mustard, tat soi and tango. One thing we grow well in the UK and in glorious diversity is salad leaves. These are just a few colourfully named favourites of thousands of cultivars. Organic market gardens and small-holders usually grow a myriad of these flavourful and nutritious greens to sell at the market, sold in bags containing eight, nine or even twelve different species. Each with their own distinct flavour. 

salad leaves

Salad bags from local organic farm, Grown Green. We counted 10 different different varieties of salad leaves!

They’re a reliable and consistent crop. The problem is highly perishable foods like this have a short shelf-life and need to be stored properly and eaten in good time. Following my Root to Fruit sustainability philosophy, I’ve put together some handy zero waste tips to keep your favourite leafy greens fresh. Plus eight ways to use up any less-than-perky leftovers.

How to store salad leaves properly

Whole lettuces are best stored in the lower drawer of the fridge, ideally wrapped in a clean cloth or tea towel. To keep a whole lettuce alive for longer still, trim the cut end and stand it up in a glass of water, it may even continue to grow.

Bags of salad require a different approach. Line a container (ideally glass) with a piece of kitchen paper and place your leaves inside, being careful not to pack them too tightly, to avoid bruising. Cover with another sheet of paper, pop the lid on and store in the fridge. The paper and cloth help absorb extra moisture, keeping your greens fresher for longer.

How to refresh wilted salad leaves

If your salad does wilt, don’t throw it away. You can restore a droopy leaf to its original perky state simply by refreshing it. First, remove any brown or mushy leaves, then refresh the rest in a bowl of very cold water for 5 to 20 minutes with a few slices of citrus and sprinkle of salt. Then lift the leaves out of the water and allow them to drain or give it a spin in a salad spinner before serving or storing as above.

How to use up leftover salad leaves: 8 clever ways

1. Barbecued & grilled 

Grilled lettuce

Cut whole heads of lettuce into wedges, drizzle with a little oil, sprinkle with salt, herbs and spices, then char over hot coals. Experiment with different toppings, like mayonnaise, citrus zest, crushed nuts or torn fruits to make this dish even more extraordinary.

2. Leftover salad soup

Add salad leaves to any soup (blended or chunky), or make them the hero of the dish. Transform watercress or kale by blending with a little cooked potato, hot water and a dash of cream to make a simple watercress soup. Or make a refreshing chilled soup with delicate leaves, like cos and romaine blended with cucumber, herbs, avocado, radishes and some yoghurt, topped with olive oil.

3. Make green pancakes

spinach pancakes

Baby spinach is a common variety to find in your salad bags year round. Blend a bunch into your pancake mix for a savoury twist that Popeye would be proud of. 

4. Toss leaves through pasta…

seaweed pasta

Got a bag of leaves looking a little sorry for themselves? Roughly chop them and stir through hot pasta, with a dash of oil and some Parmesan for a simple money-saving supper.

5. … or risotto

Freshen up plain risotto by adding chopped leaves just before serving.

6. Bashed or blitzed: leftover salad smoothies & pestos

pesto

Add leaves into a green smoothie with ingredients like apple, ginger and lemon, or whizz up a quick pesto with whatever nuts you have to hand and a splash of olive oil.

7. Stir-fried salad leaves   

Oriental leaves such as mizuna and frilly mustard are common in good salad bags and taste incredible; potent, citrusy and full of flavour. These leaves are delicious added to a stir-fry or chopped and sprinkled over the top.

8. Chopped into salad

Chickpea salad

Make an Arabic-style salad with diced tomato, onion and cucumber. Add roughly chopped leaves instead of (or as well as) herbs. Dress with lemon juice and oil.

Nailed those leftover salad leaves? Make your kitchen zero waste with these easy tips to use up your leftover herbs, too. Or check out these 15 food waste hacks to help you waste less this summer. 

Read more here on how to ditch boring supermarket salad and embrace diversity in your leaves, and how to make them more exciting with these easy jam jar salad dressings.

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