Convenience is salad fixings in the bag Julienne vegetables take the hassle out of nutritious dining

February 02, 1994|By Teresa Gubbins | Teresa Gubbins,Universal Press Syndicate

Convenience-minded cooks who can't live without good nutrition have made prepared salads and coleslaws the hottest item in supermarkets since onion soup mix.

Sales have jumped 76 percent in the last year, according to a study by Information Resources Inc., a market research firm in Chicago.

"Fresh-cut" salads that are bagged and ready to go include julienne vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and broccoli; assortments of greens such as Italian and baby lettuces; and salad kits such and Caesar and spinach, complete with dressing and croutons.

xTC Stir-fry fans can cut preparation time in half by using bags of chopped or shredded vegetables. Making a salad every night seems a lot easier when the greens are prewashed and ready for dressing. "A lot of people are eating at home but want items they'd get in a restaurant," says Robin Sprague, director of the National Association of Fresh Produce Processors, an industry group in Alexandria, Va.

"It's easier to follow programs like 5-a-Day, which stress the value of fruits and vegetables, when you can just pop open a salad," she says. The National Cancer Institute program encouragess eating five fruit and vegetable servings daily.

Sophisticated packaging techniques have given fresh greens a longer shelf life, says Steve Taylor, president of Fresh Express in Salinas, Calif., the largest packager of prepared salads. The company grows its own lettuce and creates blends such as Caesar, with dressing and croutons, or Riviera, a blend of butter lettuce and radicchio.

"We've arrived at the right amount of oxygen inside the package so that the lettuce stays healthy without turning brown," he says.

Fresh Express guarantees its salads a life span of 14 days from the date of packing. The salads sit on the store shelf about eight to 10 days. Keep the item refrigerated and you can extend its staying power up to 20 days, says Mr. Taylor.

Shredded cabbage and carrots -- the components of coleslaw -- were packaged salad pioneers.

"Coleslaw has been available for a long time," Mr. Taylor says. "That's because cabbage is so hardy that it can handle abuse."

Lettuce was too fragile to withstand shredding and shipping until companies such as Fresh Express and Dole, the No. 2 company in packaged salads, figured out how to package it properly.

Perhaps the most unusual packaged salad is the broccoli coleslaw from Mann Packing, also of Salinas. It consists of finely julienne broccoli stems and shredded carrot, and can be eaten raw, steamed or stir-fried.

The product was an effort by the company to salvage leftover stems, says spokeswoman Laurie Nucci.

"We'd always done broccoli florets and were feeding the stems to dairy cattle," she says. "But it was edible food. We wanted to create something that was easy for people to consume.

"At the same time, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine released a study on anticarcinogenic compounds that said broccoli harbors one of the most powerful anticarcinogens ever detected," she says.

The price for this convenience is not prohibitively high. Fresh Express' Caesar salad costs about $3 for a 16-ounce bag at area stores such as Giant. The broccoli slaw, available at area Super Fresh stores, is about $2 for 16 ounces. For some working folks, spending the extra dollar or two is preferable to investing the time in chopping and dicing.

Stir-fried ginger broccoli

Makes 2 to 4 servings

1 package broccoli slaw

1 tablespoon oil

1 small slice ginger, finely shredded

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Blanch the broccoli slaw in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then immerse in cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Heat oil in a large wok or skillet. When moderately hot, add the ginger shreds and salt. Stir-fry for a few seconds, then add broccoli. Stir-fry at moderate to high heat for 4 minutes, until the broccoli is thoroughly heated through. Add sesame oil, continue to stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Stir-fried broccoli with hoisin sauce

Makes 2 to 4 servings

1 package broccoli slaw

1 tablespoon oil, preferably peanut

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons water

Blanch the broccoli slaw in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then immerse in cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. When it is moderately hot, add the garlic and broccoli pieces. Stir-fry for about a minute, then add hoisin sauce and water. Continue to stir-fry at moderately high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the broccoli is thoroughly cooked. Serve at once.

SOMETHING EXTRA

Here are some suggestions for improving on the basic bagged salads:

* Coleslaw: Add raisins or chopped fruit

* Mixed baby greens: Add warmed goat cheese

* Caesar salad: Add grilled chicken

Here are some suggestions for using prepackaged salads as ingredients in meals:

* Arugula: Add to pasta dishes

0$ * Broccoli slaw: Use in stir-fry

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