How to Clean and Store Lettuce

After I pick up my weekly Colvin Family Farm CSA share from the Market Square Farmers' Market, the first thing I do is come home and clean the heck out of my produce. The vegetables are so farm fresh that you'll find farm dirt and sometimes a bug or two hiding in the folds of your greens or pressed onto the sides of root vegetables. Also, when you clean and process your produce right away, they'll typically keep for up to a week -- enough time to eat and enjoy them until your next pickup.

Here's what I do with lettuce in order to have a week's worth stored and instantly ready for sandwiches, salads, wraps, and more.  It's a simple process and only requires a big bowl or plastic basin, salad spinner, and some kind of large plastic container with a lid.

Step 1: Fill a basin with cold water.

I bought a big ol' blue plastic bowl from Walmart a few years ago. It was on sale for 50 cents, so I picked up a couple. And these things have proven to be extremely handy.  Especially when it comes to lettuce washing.

I stick the basin in my sink, and fill it up with cold water. You could use a Rubbermaid dish pan or something similar.  

Step 2: Separate the lettuce leaves.

Now get your head of lettuce and start pulling apart the leaves. I typically peel off the outer leaves (discarding/composting the outer leaves that are pretty rough) and then chop the bottom off as I peel the inner leaves.

Peeling the leaves reveals the dirt that's stuck in the crevices. And there can be quite a lot of dirt in there. 

Look at that dirt! 

Look at that dirt! 

Step 3: Place the leaves in the basin of cold water, and shake 'em up.

I push the leaves down in the water, shake them around, and let them sit in there for a bit. Most of the dirt will sink to the bottom of the basin. 

Step 4: Rinse off any remaining dirt (or bugs) and give the leaves a spin.

Most of the dirt will be at the bottom of the tub, but you still might find some clumps in those folds. Simply give the leaves one last good rinse, and then place them in a salad spinner. You'll need to do the spinning in batches. 

The salad spinner is your best friend during the CSA season. The one I use is a super cheap spinner from IKEA. It has a wheel that I crank. It works really well, but the next time I get one of those amazing Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, I'm going to invest in a heavy duty OXO salad spinner with the pump mechanism. 

I spin the excess water off the leaves, and when they're dry, I give them a final look. It's always good to double check. 

Step 5: Store your lettuce leaves.

Some people put their leaves in plastic bags, which is a great idea. I put mine in a big plastic container with an air-tight lid. If you don't think your lettuce will stay dry enough, you can also line the container with paper towels. My lettuce stays cold and crispy for days, and this is an easy way for me to use my lettuce. I just pull out the container and grab however many leaves I need for a salad or a sandwich or other dish.  

And that's it! Only five steps to clean, crispy lettuce for a week. 

Finally, just so you can see, here's the dirt that's pulled from the leaves: 

And here's a little guy that was hiding in this week's head of green butter lettuce (which is why it's important to always wash your lettuce!):