If you’ve been hanging out with me for any length of time, you know I’m pretty wild about making Gifts in a Jar, now a free downloadable ebook. I’m talking about wide-mouth glass canning jars with screw top lids. Seriously, you can stuff just about anything in one of these amazing containers and come up with a unique, lovely gift.
Over the years we’ve made Cookies in a Jar, Light in a Jar, Garden in a Jar, even a Journal in a Jar (instructions for all are in my Gifts in a Jar ebook). I have no idea why I’ve never embraced what is quite possibly the most practical use of a jar—Salad in a Jar.
I didn’t think of this, but I’m pretty much in love with the person who did. Simply brilliant and so practical.
Basically, you assemble the ingredients for a fresh, healthy salad by layering them in a specific order in a glass canning jar.
If you do it right, you can make up a bunch of jar salads on Sunday, put them in the refrigerator, and have your lunches made up and ready to go for the entire week. Prepared well, a jar salad kept in the refrigerator will be as fresh up to a week later as it was the day you assembled it. And no vacuum-sealing is necessary.
To eat, simply dump the contents of the jar into a bowl, give it a quick toss and you have a delicious, nutritious, and affordable meal.
The operative words here are “do it right.” I promise if you do it wrong, you’ll end up with a soggy, slimy mess of a salad and that will be disappointing at best. You do not want that to happen, so let’s go through the simple steps to make Salad in a Jar.
Let’s talk about jars
You want to use wide-mouth canning jars. This makes it easier to get the layers in and the salad out. Glass (not plastic) jars are what you want for salads, as the ingredients will stay fresh and lovely longer than if stored in plastic. And you want jars that have lids—typically you’ll find two-part lids—a lid, and a ring.
While quart-size wide-mouth canning jars seem to be the salad-size of choice, a pint jar makes a dandy fruit salad and a two-quart size canning jar is perfect for bringing a family-size salad to a picnic, barbecue, or potluck.
You may be able to find canning jars at your supermarket. You’ll have to search them out but typically you’ll find them in the baking aisle. Walmart, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and Joann carry canning jars, however, it can be a seasonal product, so you’ll need to check. I get my jars on Amazon because they are readily available and with Prime shipping, I get them in a couple of days. When they arrive I immediately load them into the dishwasher and run them through a sanitize cycle.
This is not an exact science. Mostly it’s just common sense. However, generally, this is the process I’ve found that works best for make-ahead salads that turn out so well:
- Salad Dressing. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of your salad dressing of choice (more or less depending on the size jar and your taste) into the bottom of the jar. This needs to be the bottom layer so that the dressing remains separated from the greens of the salad until it’s time to eat. You do not want the greens and the dressing to meet one another until then. Any other method will create a soggy mess.
- Sturdy raw vegetables. The next layer will be vegetables that will do well marinating in the dressing. Think of things like sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chopped celery, and carrot. This layer should not include anything that will become withered or soggy while sitting in or next to the dressing.
- Soft vegetables. Next comes beans, mushrooms, sprouts, corn, and so forth, which are softer vegetables. In this location, they will be separated well from the dressing. However, if there’s a little migration along the way, that will not be a problem.
- Cooked pasta, grains, rice. If you’re adding pasta or grains like quinoa, couscous, or rice, they come in the next layer—quite far now from the dressing. This is just another layer that will keep the greens even farther from the dressing and any chance of getting soggy.
- Protein. This layer will be any protein you want in your salad. This might be chicken or bits of deli ham; chopped egg, cheese, and so on.
- Lettuce, spinach, greens. Now, fill the jar almost to the very top with lettuce, spinach, field greens, arugula—whatever kind of greens you want in your salad.
- Seeds, nuts, bacon crumbles, seasonings go on the very top. NOTE ABOUT BACON: Even if you put crisp bacon on the top far away from wet ingredients, once the jar is closed up, the bacon will begin to get soft. For this reason, I put the bacon into a snack-size sandwich bag, fold it in half and place it on the top. That fixes the problem.
- Close it up. Once the jar is well packed, apply the lid and place the jar in the refrigerator.
That’s it. Your salad will patiently wait until you’re ready to eat it. And when you are, simply dump the contents into a bowl, give it a toss and enjoy. You can eat it from the jar once you turn it upside down and shake it a bit, but I find it to be a bit awkward.
I line up jars on the counter, get out all of the ingredients and away I go. Sometimes the salads are all the same, other times they’re all different. It just depends on what I have on hand and what sounds good.
This has simplified my life by eliminating the “What’s for lunch?” annoying disruption in the day. The decision has been reduced to deciding which jar to grab and go.
Here are three extraordinary recipes to get you started on your own Salad in a Jar Life Simplification Program:
Red wine vinaigrette, chopped plum tomatoes, cucumber slices, pitted Kalamata olives, chopped yellow peppers, chopped red onion, Feta cheese crumbles.
Not all salads have greens, this one being a good example. For that reason, I make this salad in a pint-sized canning jar.
Shrimp Feta Cobb
Start with your favorite Italian dressing (or other), then add in this order: chopped avocado, grape tomatoes, chopped red onion, chopped cucumber, romaine lettuce, and baby spinach, crumbled Feta cheese, cooked shrimp, chopped boiled egg. and two slices cooked, crisp bacon, chopped (see the note above regarding bacon).
Spring Pea with Feta, Cucumber, and Radish
Creamy buttermilk dressing, crumbled feta cheese, sliced cucumber, sliced radishes, fresh spring peas (removed from the pod), torn hearts of Romaine lettuce, sunflower seeds.
Now it’s your turn to come up with salad ideas. Start with what you have on hand. Get creative!
First published: 5-21-15; Updated 10-22-22.