A few years ago I stumbled across a pin on Pinterest that seemed just too good to be true. I read Paula Rhodes’ suggestions at salad-in-a-jar.com, and though I was skeptical, I had to give it a try. We are, after all, avid salad-eaters in our family, and I absolutely hated throwing out lettuce that wilted before we got to it. We purchased a wide-mouth jar attachment for our FoodSaver and gave it a try. Paula was not exaggerating.
We were immediately in love with the whole thing. It was practical and convenient. We found ourselves eating more salads because it was so quick and easy. And best of all, just a little bit of prep time each week or so kept us from having to assemble salads each night for the next day’s lunch. Grab-and-go salads save us so much money on lunches out on days that we just don’t have time to fix lunches. They’re the perfect bento-style lunch! And over the past few years I’ve discovered and developed a few tips and tricks I’d love to share with you.
Tip #1: Choose Your Lettuce Wisely
We’ve tried lots of different lettuces and they all store longer with this method. But some last longer than others, and romaine seems to hold up forever. Okay, not forever. But for well over a week. We’ve had it after being stored for two weeks and it was still fresh and crunchy and delicious. It really depends on how fresh and crunchy and delicious it is when you vacuum pack it. We especially love this with our garden-fresh lettuce. Spinach doesn’t last quite as long, and here’s an important bonus tip: NEVER vacuum pack cabbage or other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower due to the gasses that they emit. This tip is particularly important if you buy bagged lettuce that includes shredded cabbage, because it’s easy to forget it’s there.
Tip #2: Leave the Lettuce Alone
Have you seen the salad jars with all of the toppings included? They’re so cute. And handy. But keep in mind that when you add other veggies and toppings the lettuce doesn’t stay crisp and lovely as long. And you end up with a lot less lettuce in your salad. If you’re going to eat it within a few days these work great. I make a few this way if I’m also sending a sandwich or roll along with the salad to help fill the hungry teenagers up. Most of the time, though, I layer the toppings separately in a pint jar and seal it up just like the lettuce. I only package enough of these for 3-5 days because they really, really don’t last as long. Another advantage to a separate toppings jar is that you can have a variety, and choose the salad that you’re in the mood for that day. We love a mix of veggies with turkey or ham, but sometimes a taco salad with black beans, tomatoes and cilantro is just the thing. I’ll be posting a few of my favorite topping combinations in the next few months, together with dressing suggestions.
Tip #3: Layers
Layers make a difference. Try to put the moistest toppings at the bottom to keep other ingredients from becoming soggy and to keep them fresh longer. If you’re adding your dressing to the jar, it should be the very bottom, followed by tomatoes and cucumbers. Shredded carrots make a nice divider layer, keeping the wet ingredients separated from those that need to stay drier. If I’m adding cheese it’s generally at the top of the toppings. Lettuce is the very top layer if you’re including it with the toppings. I like to package my dressing separately because our family has such varied preferences (and allergies). I tried the little disposable dressing cups, but vinaigrettes leaked, and part of the charm of this system for me is that it’s all reusable – nothing to throw away. I found the perfect solution in little 4oz jars – 1/2 full is approximately one serving of dressing. As a bonus, they’re fantastic for mixing up a single serving of homemade dressing.
PLEASE NOTE: this method does not result in a shelf-stable salad. YOU MUST REFRIGERATE. You can call that Tip #4 if you like.
Give it a try! Do your own experimenting. Find what works for your family. And don’t forget to watch here for upcoming posts on delicious ways to top your jar of salad, including black bean taco salad with lime, Greek salad and a delightful Italian caprese, complete with dressings.