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Food and Drink

Mason jar salads make it easy to pack in your vegetables

  • Author: Shannon Kuhn
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 21, 2014

My fridge is overflowing with Alaska grown greens and vegetables. Between my tiny garden, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, weekly share of veggies, and the raised beds at my mom's house, I can barely chop fast enough to keep up.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite poems by Marge Piercy called "Attack of the Squash People." She writes:

Get rid of old friends: they too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: befriend
them in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Sneak out before dawn to drop
them in other people's gardens,
in baby buggies at churchdoors.
Shot, smuggling zucchini into
mailboxes, a federal offense.

Partly as a way to eat my abundance of produce, I've tackled my dislike of making salads through a challenge to eat one for lunch every day at work. I love salads, but I hate making them. The mason jar method and a hand-me-down salad spinner are total lifesavers in that department. Don't have time (or the patience) to chop and prep every single night? Make your five work salads on Sunday night all at once. If you layer and pack things correctly, your salad should taste as fresh on Friday afternoon as it does on Monday. Also, remember that even if you make them all at once you can individualize them with different toppings and dressings. Have fun with it!

I recommend using a wide-lid, quart-sized mason jar. Just make sure it stays upright to keep the dressing at the bottom. Layer your salad as directed below, packing the layers as tightly as possible: The less air between the layers, the longer your salad will stay fresh. Putting greens on the top ensures that your salad won't go to soggytown. Store in the fridge and then dump out into a larger bowl (keep at work) when ready to eat.

Salad layer directions:

Bottom layer: dressing

Layer 2: Vegetables / Beans

Layer 3: Grains / pasta / protein

Layer 4: Lettuce

Top layer: Cheese / nuts / seeds

Salad ideas

Add a protein to the top any of these salads: grilled chicken, tofu, leftover salmon burger or a hard-boiled egg would all be delicious

Garden Salad

Dressing: citrusy garlicky vinaigrette. Layers from the bottom up: dressing, carrots, broccoli, snap peas, cooked quinoa, lettuce, wild blueberries, feta, almonds

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad

Dressing: garlic vinaigrette. Layers from bottom up: dressing, chopped red peppers, cooked and diced sweet potato, black beans, red leaf lettuce and/or kale, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds

Roasted Beet Salad

Dressing: basic vinaigrette. Layers from bottom up: dressing roasted beets, apples, spinach and beet leaves, pecans, goat cheese

Caprese Salad

Dressing: basic or garlic vinaigrette. Layers from bottom up: cherry tomatoes. (plus other types if you have them), lettuce, freshly picked basil, fresh mozzarella. Cold tortellini is also delicious added.

Zucchini "Pasta" Salad

First, make long, thin zucchini "noodles" using a vegetable peeler or mandolin. Dressing: ranch vinaigrette. Layers from the bottom up: dressing, chopped tomatoes, yellow peppers, black olives, peas, zucchini, black olives, feta

Dressing base ideas

Basic balsamic vinaigrette: ½ cup balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey or 1 tablespoon white sugar, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ¾ cup olive oil, 1 and ½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste.

To make: In a half-pint mason jar, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, honey/sugar and salt until well combined. Add the balsamic vinegar and whisk well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Screw on the lid and shake the jar until everything has emulsified. You can refrigerate up to several months.

Garlic vinaigrette: Basic vinaigrette, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1-2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste. To make: Pour the basic vinaigrette in a mason jar. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Screw on the lid and shake until combined. Add more olive oil, salt, and pepper, if necessary. You can refrigerate for up to a week.

Ranch vinaigrette: Leftover garlic vinaigrette, plus 1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon sliced chives, 2 large dollops plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt, salt and pepper to taste. To make: Pour the leftover vinaigrette in a mason jar. Add parsley, chives, and Greek yogurt. Add more Greek yogurt for a thicker dressing. Screw on the lid and shake until combined. Adjust the seasonings as necessary. You can refrigerate for up to a day or two.

Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture.

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