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Salad : Keeping 'Em Green

August 25, 1994|LESLIE LAND

When storing lettuce at home, plastic food bags are the best choice (for once), because lettuce likes some humidity. Just be sure it's not wet when you put it away, and tuck some folded paper towels in the bottom of the bag to absorb any excess moisture.

* For maximum convenience, rinse the lettuce as soon as you get it home, separating outer leaves and leaving the hearts whole. Lay out several thin tea-towels or long strips of paper towel and arrange the damp leaves on it, just touching. Roll up like a jelly roll, place in a plastic food bag and refrigerate. Lettuce prepared this way will stay dry and crisp for up to three days.

* Does it matter whether you cut or tear? No, says Harold McGee, who argues in "The Curious Cook" that a sharp knife does no more damage than tearing and may in fact do less. (Note that word sharp .) McGee also persuasively demonstrates that it is the oil--not the vinegar--that wilts tender lettuce leaves. Pre-coating lettuce with oil to preserve crispness is, therefore, exactly the wrong thing to do.

* The best way to preserve crispness is to toss the salad with its dressing at the last minute--assuming, of course, that you're using dressing. A mixed green salad made of leaves left slightly damp, well seasoned with minced herbs and salt, doesn't need any dressing.

* The best green salads are just that--lettuce, spinach, cress, endive, etc., lightweight, leafy items whose variations of taste and texture are subtle ones. A smidgen of onion in the dressing or a shaving of Parmesan cheese won't jar, but crunchy chunks of carrot and pepper and weeping (or bouncy) tomatoes have no place in green salad. If an ingredient is heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the bowl, it's too heavy to use.

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