ar Salads” are my new go to Lunch this Summer. Salad in jars is not anything new and if you are not already packing your lunch this way, right now may just be the perfect time to start. After all, Summer is just around the corner. I love my canning jars for everything from storing grains in the pantry to bring my “Cold Brew” everywhere I want to. But by far one of my most favorite ways to use my canning jars is to pack them with salads.
Bringing lunch to work can feel like a chore – it requires planning, getting up early to pack our lunch or remembering to prepare it before we go to bed.
“Jar Salads” are here to solve all our lunchtime problems.
They are portable, healthy, easy to make and offer room for plenty of variety. We can layer so many vegetables and grains in the jar, and mix and match so many different ingredients that we will never get bored. It is the perfect formula for a happy and healthy desk lunch, perhaps even picnic in the park.
“Jar Salads” are guaranteed to have us eating with our eyes first, so our work lunch will no longer be a sad state of affairs. But – there is always a “but” – it is what’s on the inside that counts. Eating lunch from a jar can help us eating healthy because the limitations of the container provide automatic portion control. And layering a range of ingredients makes it easy to see whether we are covering all of the basic elements of a healthy lunch, from protein to vegetables to grains.
Salads are hard to pack for lunch because of their multiple moving parts: we need chilled lettuce, toppings, and a tablespoon or two of dressing. When the salad is tossed in a large plastic container, the ingredients mingle, which means, quite often, we are left with wilted greens come 12 p.m. But with the proper technique, we can combine and store all the components of a standard salad, including the dressing, in one jar, until we are ready to eat.
The trick is to use the least absorbent components of the salad to create a barrier between the dressing and the more delicate leaves and toppings. Start with the dressing as the base layer, followed by grains, legumes, and hard vegetables like cooked potatoes, beets, and carrots. Next, add your proteins, anything from cheese to meats to tofu. Then throw in more delicate vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and strawberries. Finally, add in your greens: Kale, romaine, and other sturdy greens work best. Top with nuts, seeds, and other crunchy add-ons, like roasted chickpeas and tortilla chips and seal the jar.
My “Jar Salad” ideas will help you turn lunch into a perfectly portable art form. Get ready to be inspired!
Packing a salad jar is a combination of chemistry and engineering.
Add the Dressing
The secret to a “Jar Salad” is layering. It is important to add the dressing first, to ensure that the salad ingredients do not get soggy or limp. Start with the dressing on the bottom. I use about 3 to 4 tablespoons of salad dressing per jar. Tipp: If I have onions with my salad I always pickle them – therefore I place onions at the bottom because soaking them in the dressing helps dilute the strong onion taste and prevents onion breath at work.
Add Your Base Layer
Next add hard, robust vegetables such as root vegetables, fennel or cabbage or anything that is big and chunky. This should be stuff that will benefit from marinating in the dressing, cut thinly enough to soften nicely. This layer is very important because it is used to shield the dressing from the lettuce and other vulnerable ingredients. Third in line is the fairly firm vegetable that won’t mind the weight of a few more ingredients on top. Basically, this layer acts as a second defense between the dressing and lettuce. Green beans and peas are perfect.
Continue to layer your salad with your chosen ingredients. Pack the layers as tightly as possible, the less air between layers, the longer your salad will stay fresh. It is the turn of rice, pasta or couscous, or whatever starch you want to add. Another layer of vegetables can go on top, more delicate things such as roasted aubergines.
Top With Greens and Cheese
Finally, layer on your salad greens. By ending with the greens at the top, you will create a moisture barrier that prevents the entire salad from becoming soggy. If you are including cheese and or nuts, add them last. Also, if you are making salads with soft ingredients or perishable proteins, like avocados, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, or cooked chicken breast, add those ingredients until the day you plan to eat the salad.
Twist on the tops to seal your salads, place the jars in your refrigerator, and you are good to go. These salads can last for several days in the fridge with the lid sealed tightly.
When you are ready to eat your salad, just unscrew the cap and shake it into a bowl. Everything gets pretty compacted in the jar, so some vigorous shaking may be needed. This shaking also helps to toss the salad ingredients with the dressing. Once the salad is in the bowl, you can toss it some more with your fork to make sure everything is evenly coated.
Salad Dressings can be divided into two main types: Vinaigrettes and Creamy Dressings. Both categories have a multitude of variations.
Knowing how to make a basic vinaigrette for salads is one of the best skills a home cook can have. At its simplest, a vinaigrette contains an acid, either vinegar or citrus juice, salt, and oil, but the possibilities for personalizing it are infinite.
Vinaigrette may be easy to prepare, but there is a method to its magic. The keys to success start with good ingredients and end with emulsification – whisk the ingredients together, shake them in a jar, or combine them in a blender – thoroughly blending the oil’s fat molecules and the watery vinegar. Adding a touch of creamy Dijon mustard helps the emulsification happen more easily.
From there, flavor as you see fit. Additions can be as simple as a pinch of salt and pepper or as complex as a bit of honey, fresh herbs, or minced shallots.
Vinaigrettes are not just for salads. They also make a light and brightly flavored topping for poached or grilled fish or poultry, roasted meats, and cooked or raw vegetables.
Once you start making your own salad dressings, you will never go back.
Follow my 5 step guide to build the perfect vinaigrette, and then master variations using different ingredients to balance the flavors and emulsify the mixture.
Since tasting a vinaigrette on its own can give you a skewed idea of its flavor, taste it by dipping the edge of one of the greens into the vinaigrette. This will give you a much better idea of how your vinaigrette will taste with the finished salad.
Salt is crucial, because it tempers the acid while amplifying its flavor as well as that of the olive oil. Fine sea salt and kosher salt are both recommended for their clean finish; regular table salt has added chemicals that can leave a harsh aftertaste. Sweeteners such as sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or agave are optional, but a little can help round out the sharpness of lemon juice or more acidic vinegars. And lightly sweetened dressings usually need less oil to achieve balance—a bonus for those trying to lower their fat intake (but keep the amount small, as calorie counts go up). The French are fans of adding minced shallot for sweetness: For the best flavor, wilt the shallot in the acid and salt for 10 to 15 minutes before whisking in the oil. Another way to counteract the acid is to dilute the dressing with a few drops of water.
Mustard: A prepared mustard, such as Dijon, mixed with the acid will help a vinaigrette emulsify when the oil is slowly incorporated. Use a minimum of 1 teaspoon mustard for each tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice; the more mustard used, the better the emulsion will be, but be aware that the dressing will also be thicker.
Egg Yolks and Whole Eggs: Raw egg yolks, or hard-boiled yolks that have been forced through a sieve, can be whisked into the acid before the oil is added. A classic Caesar salad uses a coddled egg, which is an egg that’s been simmered in its shell for 1 minute. When incorporated into a Caesar salad, the coddled egg provides a creamy mouthfeel.
Keep in mind that raw eggs or yolks are not recommended for infants, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system—and this includes the coddled egg used to make a Caesar salad. To avoid the risk of salmonella infection, you can use a pasteurized egg or yolk.
Garlic: Mashed roasted garlic or fresh garlic paste (made by mashing garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle or by mincing and mashing the combination with a heavy knife) can help bring a dressing together. Garlic’s flavor is best when fresh, and its pungency tends to increase a bit over time, so if you plan to keep leftovers, go easy on the fresh garlic.
Miso: Chefs and home cooks are coming around to the miracle of miso, a fermented soybean paste that is widely used in Japanese and Korean cuisines. Miso adds depth and body to any kind of dressing, but it can be salty, so hold off on adding salt until you’ve tasted the dressing.
Additional emulsifiers include purchased anchovy paste, honey, and molasses.
One of the simplest ways to change or enhance the flavor profile of a basic vinaigrette is to use different oils or acids.
- Add briny elements such as capers, olives, dill pickles, or cornichons (French sour gherkins). Even the brine they’re packed in can add a welcome hit of flavor. Use anchovies to add depth to dressing. Start slow and use just enough to let the anchovy work its magic without overpowering the dressing. Anchovy paste is much easier to use than canned fillets.
- Season with spices such as freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika, or toasted and coarsely crushed cumin seed, fennel seed, or coriander seed.
- Incorporate fresh flavor-boosters including chopped tomato, grated onion, or finely grated fresh ginger—you can also use any juice squeezed from these. The Japanese restaurant favorite, carrot ginger dressing, is basically a vinaigrette puréed in the blender with lots of carrot and ginger.
- Stir in one or more chopped fresh herbs. Tarragon and thyme are good on their own, while mint and basil pair well. Cilantro is surprisingly wonderful with dill. And chives and parsley go well with any herb.
- Bump up a lemon-juice-based vinaigrette by adding fresh citrus zest, which packs an intense zap of citrus flavor.
- Incorporate grated or crumbled cheese, such as Parmesan, feta, or blue cheese. Use a whisk if you prefer a chunkier texture or a blender for a smooth one.
- Season your dressing with condiments such as Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or steak sauce.
- Use rendered bacon fat in place of oil to add a wonderful smoky, savory quality to salads, such as in the classic hot German potato salad. It’s also delicious with other cooked vegetables or drizzled over broiled or grilled seafood. Whatever foods the dressing is going on need to be warm or at room temperature, though, so that the bacon fat doesn’t cool off and solidify.
How much should you make?
A quarter of a cup (50 ml = 2 fluid ounces = 1/4 cup) is generally enough for four servings of a leafy green salad. If you are making a vegetable salad or like to go heavy on the dressing, make a half cup (125 ml = 4 fluid ounces = 1/2 cup) per four servings. If you are dressing a potato salad, make extra as potatoes tend to soak up a lot of vinaigrette. You can always double the recipe and store the excess vinaigrette in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two week.
How to Keep ItStore vinaigrettes in a jar or other container with a tight lid so that it is easy to shake it up again when you need it. If you made a basic vinaigrette with just olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, you can store it in the cupboard for several weeks. If any of the ingredients in your vinaigrette were previously refrigerated or are fresh, like lemon juice or minced shallots, then store it in the refrigerator up to five days. The oil and vinegar will separate; just whisk, shake, or whir them to re-emulsify. If the oil has solidified, let the vinaigrette come to room temperature.
Acids, which add brightness, include vinegars (balsamic and wine-based white, champagne, red, verjus, sherry or rice) or citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit). Varying the acid will change the taste. Soy sauce and rice vinegar are often the right match for Asian-inspired salads.
Vinegars range in acidity from about 4 to 7 percent. The higher the acidity, the sharper the pucker power, and the more oil you will need to balance it. Rice vinegar is less acidic (about 4 percent) so it needs less oil than others with higher acidity. Be sure to check the label for the acid level.
Oils and other fats
Oils and other fats, like warm tendered bacon fat, balance the acid and add a soft sheen to the salad. Extra-virgin olive oil is the classic, but you should also experiment with nut oils like walnut and hazelnut or Asian sesame oil. It is a good idea to keep two olive oils in your pantry: one for cooking, and a high-quality one for dressings.
Seasonings add depth to the acid-fat foundation. Salt and freshly ground black pepper are traditional additions, but there is no shortage of possibilities: a pinch of a fresh or dried herb, minced shallots, or a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard for body, a hot spice like cayenne, or a touch of sweetness from honey or maple syrup. Try chopped capers or anchovies to build flavor, too.
To assemble your jar salads: Layer the chickpea salad at the bottom of the jar along with an additional tablespoon or two of dressing – enough to lightly coat the salad when you turn the jar upside down.
Chickpea, Mexican Rice and Greens Salad
- 500 g chickpeas cooked
- 4 stalks celery thinly sliced crosswise and roughly chopped
- 1 red onion chopped
- 25 g parsley chopped
- 500 ml Greek Dressing or Basic Vinaigrette
- 300 g Mexican Rice
- 150 g Feta Cheese crumbled
- 250 g snap peas or greens
- 150 g carrots finely sliced
- 250 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 125 ml red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tbs thyme dried
- 1 tbs dijon mustard
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- Prepare “Mexican Rice” see recipe down below.
- Make the Basic Vinaigrette or prepare the Greek Dressing: Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until emulsified.
- Make the chickpea and celery salad: In a serving bowl, toss together the chickpeas, prepared celery, red onion and parsley. Stir in enough dressing (or olive oil and lemon juice) to lightly coat the salad. Toss and set aside.
- To assemble your jar salads: In a quart-sized jar (32 ounce/ 950 ml capacity), layer the chickpea salad at the bottom along with an additional tablespoon or two of dressing (enough to lightly coat the salad when you turn the jar upside down). Top with carrots, then snap peas and cooled “Mexican Rice” - leave about an inch of room at the top. Finish with Feta Cheese.
- Store the prepared jar - salads upright so the dressing does not get to the greens. You can also store the components separately and mix and match as desired. If the olive oil in the dressing solidifies when refrigerated, just let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes, then whisk the dressing back together.
- Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until emulsified.
- Store vinaigrette in a jar or other container with a tight lid so that it is easy to shake it up again when you need it. Store it in the refrigerator up to five days.
- 175 ml olive oil extra-virgin
- 20 g dijon mustard or 1 tsp
- 30 tbs vinegar such as red or white wine, cider or balsamic
- 5 g black pepper freshly ground or 1/2 teaspoon
- 5 g fine sea salt or 1/2 teaspoon
- 50 g honey or 3 tsp
- Place a medium bowl on a folded damp kitchen towel to steady it. Whisk together the vinegar and salt until the salt begins to dissolve. If using, whisk the mustard into the vinegar-salt mixture.
- Add the honey and gradually add oil while whisking rapidly in a circular motion. As you whisk, the ingredients will emulsify and thicken.
- Whisk in the pepper. Taste the finished vinaigrette and add more salt and pepper, if desired. If using the vinaigrette to dress greens, dip a piece of the greens into the dressing to see how they taste together.
- Taste the finished vinaigrette and add more salt and pepper, if desired. If using the vinaigrette to dress greens, dip a piece of the greens into the dressing to see how they taste together.
- Store vinaigrette in a jar or other container with a tight lid so that it is easy to shake it up again when you need it. If you made a basic vinaigrette with just olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, you can store it in the refrigerator for several weeks. If any of the ingredients in your vinaigrette were previously refrigerated or are fresh, like lemon juice or minced shallots, then store it in the refrigerator up to five days.
- 200 g tomatoes peeled or canned
- 1 onion medium, peeled and roughly chopped
- 150 ml water
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cumin and paprika ground
- 75 ml cooking oil such as canola or safflower
- 250 g long grain white rice
- 2 chile peppers seeded and minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 20 g cilantro finley chopped
- juice from two limes
- 100 ml coconut milk optional
- Place the tomatoes and onion in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer the tomato onion mixture to a medium saucepan. Stir in the water, salt, and cumin and bring liquid to a boil over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is sizzling, add the rice and sauté, stirring frequently until lightly toasted and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the jalapeños and cook until they have softened, about 2 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary. Add garlic, and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
- Pour the boiling tomato mixture and the coconut milk over the rice and stir to combine. Turn heat to low and cook, covered, until liquid has evaporated and rice is done, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and gently stir the rice. Re-cover the pot and allow to rest undisturbed for an additional 10 minutes. Add cilantro and lime juice; fluff gently with a fork.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Serve with additional lime wedges.
Spinach Salad in a Jar with Mozarella, Orzo and Snap Peas
- 250 g orzo or couscous
- 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon zest grated
- 1 tbs lemon juice fresh
- 15 g herbs fresh (such as dill, tarragon, and chives)
- 5 g sea salt fine
- 5 g black pepper freshly ground
- 500 g cherry tomatoes
- 150 g mozzarella
- 50 g baby spinach leaves
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- Cook the orzo or couscous according to the package directions. Drain and let cool.
- Use the Basic Vinaigrette or whisk together the oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, herbs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour about 1 to 4 tablespoons of dressing into the bottom of each jar, to taste.
- After the dressing, layer the salad ingredients into each jar in order: start with the cherry tomatoes; then green pepper; then cooked couscous and mozzarella and last the baby spinach leaves, just fill the remaining space in each jar. Screw the lids onto the jars tightly and refrigerate immediately.
- When you are ready to eat, unscrew the lid and shake the salad out into a bowl. The action of shaking the salad into the bowl usually mixes the salad and dressing conveniently; if not, just toss the greens a bit with your fork to combine. Then enjoy!