Grand Slam Greens
All leafy greens are good for us, but some are better than others. In fact, the more research into nutrition continues, the more important leafy vegetables appear to be. Consider six of the healthiest greens available:
Arugula, Also known as rocket. It has a pungent peppery flavor and generally requires a lot of rinsing to get rid of sand. Arugula has more vitamin C than other lettuces and also brims with calcium. Like cabbage, arugula is a crucifer (meaning it has cross-shaped flowers). Cruciferous vegetables contain indoles, which are heavy-duty cancer-fighting compounds.
Beet Greens and other dark leafy vegetables, including turnip, dandelion, and mustard greens, can be used in salads when they are young and tender. These vegetables are full of beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) and vitamin C, both of which fight some forms of cancer. Turnip greens are also a fair source of calcium.
Kale has a chewy, ruffled leaf with a light cabbagey flavor. Like other members of the cabbage family, it is a crucifer and cancer fighter. It's a source of vitamin C as well as beta-carotene, which may help to guard against heart disease and some cancers.
Parsley, we see it as a garnish and seldom actually eat it. That's too bad, because it is loaded with vitamin C and beta-carotene. Its spicy bite adds interest to salads, dressings, and green smoothies.
Spinach, like arugula, often needs lots of rinsing before using, but its worth the effort. Spinach is a superb source of beta-carotene, vitamin A, folacin (a B vitamin), and potassium. Those taking high blood pressure medications know to eat plenty of bananas, but now we should add spinach to the list.
Watercress is pungent, peppery, and deserves to be used often as a salad green. Like arugula, it's a crucifer and believed to combat certain forms of cancer. It also provides lots of vitamin C and calcium.
I know I'm not really telling you anything you don't already know - we KNOW we should be eating more leafy greens. We know there's more to salad than dead iceberg lettuce. But even though we know this, not many of us actually eat this stuff. And do you know why? The anecdotal research reveals the common excuse: "It's such a pain in the rump to clean those greens. I hate washing the stuff. Even with a salad spinner I just don't like it!" Honest, that's what I kept hearing over and over.
With this information in mind, I went looking for the best of the best salad spinners - easy to use and efficient in getting the job done with as little muss and fuss as possible. Here's what I found - first some salad spinner background:
Salad spinners help prevent waste by extending the usable life of fragile produce, such as lettuce and berries. Loose salad greens cost less and generally remain fresh longer than pre-bagged, pre-washed greens. What's more, ConsumerReports.org found bacteria that are "common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination" in 2010 tests of a small sample of 208 pre-bagged salad greens, and a 2003 study at the Rome Institute of Food and Nutrition, showed that nutrients are lost in the processing of bagged salad greens.
The mechanics of a salad spinner are simple: Wet salad greens are whirled around in a basket, and centrifugal force whisks away the water on the leaves. The best spinners have bowls that aren't perforated, so you can wash and spin greens in the same bowl. If the bowl is attractive enough, it can do double duty as a serving bowl.
There are two main types of salad spinners: corded and pump-driven. Both are manual models. Although salad spinners with pull cords tend to dry greens a little better than pump-driven models (that's because they spin faster), pull cords can break, become tangled or fail to retract. Hand pumps - which are either plunger-style or lever-style - are also a bit easier to use than ripcords, most reviewers say.
The Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner (about $30) has all the attributes reviewers look for in a salad spinner: It's easy to operate and comes with a brake that allows you to quickly stop the basket from rotating, so greens remain in place when you remove the lid. The hand pump can be locked down for easier storage. The inner bowl can be repurposed as a general colander and the outer bowl used as a serving bowl. The Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner comes in white or lime green.
More than 650 owners reviewing the Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner on Amazon.com and Cooking.com contribute to an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Owners say its size (10 inches wide by 10 inches tall) is adequate for use with a whole head of lettuce but is bulky in the refrigerator (for storing greens) or in the cabinet when not in use. The majority of owners say this spinner is effective and durable, although there are a handful of complaints about the bowl or lid cracking after about a year of use.
If cupboard space is somewhat limited or if your household is small, reviews say that the Oxo Good Grips Little Salad and Herb Spinner (about $25) is an excellent choice. In function and features, it's nearly identical to its larger sibling, but at 8 inches tall, it's more compact. About 30 owners posting to Cooking.com are satisfied with this spinner, noting it's especially useful with herbs. One owner specifically mentions using this spinner in her RV due to its small size.
Even the most well-designed plastic salad spinners tend to break or crack over time. The Oxo Stainless Steel Salad Spinner (about. $50) offers a couple of advantages over the other spinners in Oxo's line-up: Its steel bowl is unbreakable, and it's handsome enough to use as a serving bowl. The stainless steel version of the Oxo salad spinner earns positive feedback in the Los Angeles Times' salad-spinner review and in Chow.com's review, but owner feedback is a bit mixed. While reviewers at Cooking.com say this spinner is attractive, easy to use and durable, we found several complaints from owners posting to Amazon.com that the spinning mechanism breaks after only a few uses. The unit is slightly larger than the plastic Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner, but it has the same capacity. Like the Oxo Good Grips, it does come in a smaller version: the Oxo Stainless Steel Little Salad and Herb Spinner (about $40).
Reviews say corded salad spinners rotate faster than hand-pump versions, so greens emerge a little drier. Yet Louisa Chu of Chow.com notes, "The cords [on these spinners] always break first - either the cord itself or at its point of attachment." Still, she concedes that the Zyliss Easy Spin Salad Spinner (about $25), which comes in two sizes (the larger size costs about $30), is a decent performer.
Reviews of this spinner at Amazon.com and Cooking.com are mostly favorable (it has an average rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com and 4.6 out of 5 on Cooking.com), with most agreeing that the Zyliss does an excellent job of drying greens. There are a few complaints about the plastic tabs - which attach the spinning mechanism to the lid - breaking, and some say the lid doesn't stay on well during spinning.
We have a cheapie salad spinner from either Target or Walmart (can't remember which), and it works OK. But the thing I make myself do each week when I bring my fresh greens home is soak them in cold water in the sink. I drain the water, and soak them one more time. This usually does a good job of getting the grit and bugs out.
Then I lay them out on an old extra-large bath towel (think they're called "bath sheets" today) that I've saved for this purpose. Then I gently roll up the towel and greens (jelly roll style) and let them sit this way for a couple hours. The towel absorbs the excess water.
Next I lay my greens on paper towels, stack the layers, and shove it all in one of those plastic green produce bags. I close it tightly and store it in the fridge. I'm in this bag several times a day to get greens for my smoothies, our salads, and for steaming. It sounds like a bit of work, and it is. But for this lover of grand slam greens, it's worth the effort it takes.